Here's How: Octopus in a Bottle

Here is the first of a new series of blog posts to show an example of a photograph and explain the techniques used in making it. I hope to provide some insights into the choices I made for how the photograph was exposed, the lighting used and anything else that went into making a specific image.

For the first example, I wanted to show a photograph of a small octopus that I found while diving in Anilao in the Philippines. If you are a macro shooter and have not been to Anilao…go. It’s that simple. The place is littered with amazing creatures and a mecca for those who love nudibranchs. On any given dive you may find a broad range of subjects and there will be lots of them.

While it is sad to find trash in the ocean, one thing is for sure…if an animal can use it as a home or hiding place, it will. A fairly common item one may find on the sandy slopes in a place like Anilao are bottles. Have a look inside and there is a good chance you’ll find a range of creatures hiding out. From gobies and blennies, to octopus and mantis shrimp, a bottle on the sea floor is a great place to start when looking for an interesting photo.

Here is a small octopus, just a few centimeters in size that was peeking out of a bottle. As soon as I saw it I knew it would make a fantastic photographic subject. The image is a straight forward portrait which I shot using a single strobe, fitted with a ReefNet fiber optic snoot. Here is a sample of the images I was making using only the one source of light:

Image made with a Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 100mm f/2.8L and a single Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe fitted with the Reefnet Fiber Optic Snoot, directly overhead. Exposure: 1/160th sec. f/20 ISO 160

As you can see, the snoot was giving me a pleasing light on the top edge of the bottle, as well as the eyes and tentacles of the octopus, however I was getting far too little light under the eyes. While I wanted to bring out more texture and detail in the octopus, I did want to preserve some of the dark areas under the eyes.

The solution was actually quite simple: use a second strobe to provide the needed light to “fill in” the shadows with just enough light to provide some illumination and bring out the texture in the skin.

This image was made by using my second strobe (no snoot) positioned to camera left. The strobe was set to -1.5 stops, and the camera settings were the same as the first image, resulting in an under exposed image. I had turned off the snooted strobe while I was making this photo.

I achieved this by simply pointing the second strobe which was set to camera left and tucked in quite close to the port. It was angled at roughly 45 degrees downward into the sand towards the octopus. I set the power on that strobe to -1.5 stops and allowed it to act as a fill light…providing just enough light to bring up an otherwise underexposed area of the subject. After a few exposures and some minor adjustments I was pleased with the results and was then able to turn my attention to the final image. The octopus was completely comfortable with my presence and seemed to almost play with me, reaching out from time to time to explore my lens with it’s arms.

Here is the final image. This is a combination of the primary strobe which was fitted with the snoot providing light from directly overhead (top photo), and the second strobe placed at camera left to provide the fill light (middle photo).