Sea stars (often referred to incorrectly as starfish) are an excellent photo subject. They are colorful, full of texture and easily found. Most importantly, they sit still. With sea stars, the beginner can have a field day creating images that are dazzling and impressive, while the seasoned pro can spend time refining techniques of lighting and composition. Just a few tips and new ways of looking at this ubiquitous animal will give you the best possible images of one of the most easily recognized of undersea creatures.
MACRO OR WIDE ANGLE?
The most common and effective way to photograph sea stars is a close-up lens more commonly referred to as macro lens. With a macro lens you will gain much more of the detail on the star. And macro tends to be easier, particularly for stationary subjects like the sea star.
Wide-angle photography of sea stars can also be quite effective. It can put them in their natural setting giving them a perspective of size and color. The addition of a diver also adds perspective with regard to size and human interest.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of a sea star is its texture. They vary from mosaic to spiny to corrugated. An entire dive can be spent just doing photo studies of the various textures of a handful of sea stars. Work with a variety of lighting techniques, exposure ratios, and angles as each will bring out a different feature of the star’s unique texture. If you are shooting macro get in very close to bring out a texture that can appear other-worldly.
Second only to textures is the fascinating colors of sea stars. As with techniques for texture, experiment with various lighting techniques, angles and exposures. Even so, to maximize color a front lighting is generally best.
Using contrasts is the most powerful tool you can use for dramatic images of sea stars. You want to create a contrast of the star’s color or texture against its background or even next to another star.
One of my favorite techniques is to pick up the star and put the sun streaming through the water above in the background (see cover). Another technique is to lay a warm-colored star on a blade of kelp. Kelp makes an excellent background. Other possible backgrounds include coralline algae, encrusting sponges, eel grass or even ordinary sand.
Creating contrasting colors and textures with sea stars will likely involve moving stars around. Also, some of the scenes you create may appear a bit contrived. If it looks good, and marine life is not harmed in the process, go for it!