Saturday, September 02, 2006

Shooting fish in a barrel at 6400 ISO

Since the opening of Siam Paragon Mall earlier this year, Bangkok has its own aquarium, Siam Ocean World. I've been to the ones in Singapore, Lisbon (built for the World Expo), and Monaco, and I must say, Bangkok's is definitely world class. The main tank's glass surfaces are absolutely huge and the coral setup is very natural. Siam Ocean World has less annex tanks than other places and, in that sense, it is less of a museum, but it's a visually stunning experience nonetheless.

One of the journalists from my magazine was invited to dive in the main tank. To do this, you normaly need to dish out 6,500 baht for non-divers and 5,500 for those who already have their PADI. I was very, very jealous. I might never get over it.

the dive-master
the gear
the main tank seen from above.
the journalist

I tried a lot of stuff shooting this assignment, going through at least 3-4 strategies--some of them that included tripod, others placing the main flash, at the end of a cable, against the panes of glass. You don't get glare from that but the light from the flash can't go very far in water and besides, it spoils the mood. You expect light to come from above underwater. With the dive lasting only 30 minutes I was getting a cold sweat when all my pictures turned out like shit. In the end, I shoot at 6400 ISO.

Your DSLR probaly doesn't go beyond 1600 ISO which in this light gives you a shutter speed too slow to freeze the movement of the little fishies. The trick is to set your camera on -2 EV. -2 EV means you tell your camera to purposefully take pictures two stops too dark, hence two stops faster for the shutter speed, which will reduce the amount of motion blur on the fish. The downside is your pictures turn out 2 stops too dark and you need to raise their levels in post-production, with added grain as a side-effect. The uspide? You get the shot. This trick is not unlike pushing film two stops, in this case to 6400 ISO, which is pretty damn fast!


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