How to Photograph the California Spiny Lobster

As the clock struck twelve, thousands of hard-core lobster-hunting divers invaded many popular California dive sites on the night lobster season opened, either by crashing through the surf or by jumping off boats in search of that oh-so-delicious crustacean, the California spiny lobster. For some, this invasion proved rewarding, but for many others, myself included, we returned home holding an empty game bag and perhaps the memory of the big one that got away. In my days of a wannabe lobster hunter, I unfortunately came up short more times than not. Perhaps it was poor technique, location, water conditions, or simply “dumb luck.”

After washing up on a beach after another unsuccessful lobster dive, I decided it was time for a change. I packed up my game bag, dive light, and lobster gauge and exchanged them for my underwater camera. Since then, I have had more success capturing interesting images of these fascinating crustaceans than I ever had of physically catching them. Here is how it’s done:

Where: I cannot answer this question for certain, but lobsters may be found in a number of different locations and depths. However, rocky reef areas, rock quarries, and breakwaters seem to be quite popular lobster hangouts.

Camera: A SLR in a housing with a macro lens attached seems to work best. However, an underwater photographer may be successful photographing lobster utilizing an extension tube and framer, or a close-up kit with an understanding of the equipment’s limitations

Lighting: Since lobsters may be found under ledges and in holes in the reef, I prefer using small strobes to photograph them. Smaller strobes allow for greater flexibility in positioning the strobe(s) in cramped quarters. In some instances, one strobe might be all an underwater photographer might be able to use in such tight quarters. However, never underestimate the value of a second strobe for controlling shadow detail when the opportunity permits itself.

Other Equipment: A flashlight will aid an underwater photographer tremendously. At night, it will be the only source of light to find lobsters and can serve as a focusing aid for the underwater photographer to compose and capture stunning lobster photos. Many strobe manufactures have developed strobes with a built-in modeling lights. This dual-purpose flashlight allows a photographer to visually see the direction a strobe is pointing, while at the same time being utilized as a primary light source or focusing light. However, these conveniences do not come without offsetting disadvantages. Strobes containing built-in modeling lights generally tend to be large strobe units and do not offer nearly the amount of light that a good flashlight may emit at a fraction of the size. Also, modeling lights create an extra-heavy drain on the strobe’s battery and significantly limit the number of flashes per charge.

Strobe Position: As an underwater photographer inches slowly into position with the diver’s eye stuck behind the viewfinder of the camera, it is easy to forget to pay attention to proper strobe positioning. The path of a strobe’s light may easily be obstructed by kelp leafs, an overhanging ledge, or even a rock formation. This is why I prefer to utilize short strobe arms while photographing lobsters. With short strobe arms, my strobe(s) are never too far away. Also, if found in tight corners trying to capture the perfect lobster photo, an underwater photographer is freed from worrying about how to best bend down the strobe arms while simultaneously attempting to properly position the strobe(s).

Finer Points: A lobster recessed in a deep hole makes for a poor photo subject. Look for a lobster near the hole’s mouth or under a ledge where there are no places for the critter to scurry away. Approach cautiously, watching for signs of stress in the animal. Avoid contact with the lobster’s antennas, which are used as feelers to study a potential predator before making a quick decision whether or not to flee back into their hiding holes. Try to position your camera just beyond their reach.

With an understanding of these underwater photo tips and tricks, a photographer will have very little trouble “limiting out” on great lobster images.

California Diving News © 2016