“What could be easier than photographing sea stars?” you say. (“Sea stars” is the more correct term, by the way, as they are not “fish” as in “starfish.”) Stars move very slowly, if at all, a prime criterion for easy close-up underwater photography. Sure, its easy to get a flat, correctly exposed, sharp picture of a star, but you want to bring to light more drama to your underwater photos than just clinical type shots. You want to give your photos pop, snap, crackle—hence the title of this article.
Sea star pictures are best done with a macro set-up, but wide angle will also add a variable to your technique. Because stars do not scare easily, framers on macro lenses or tubes will work just fine. Use a fine grain film. This will better bring out the intricate details of the star. A lower speed slide film is best. Do not use high speed print film.
Sea stars have fascinating textures. You will want to light your photo to bring out that texture. A single strobe, pointed straight on, tends to flatten your subject. If you have only one strobe, angle it slightly to give a better look at the star’s intricate skin.
If you are using two strobes, use a lower power setting on one of the strobes. Vary your strobe angles.
Get close, real close. Texture on sea stars is often very subtle and intricate. You will need to get close to fully bring it out. Do some ultra close- up studies of just the star’s skin. You’ll be fascinated by the results you get.
Contrast textures. If you are not adverse to moving stars around, lay one star across another with a contrasting texture, then photograph them together. Contrasting textures and colors add drama to what would have otherwise been a flat photo.
MAKING THE STAR STAND OUT
Making the star stand out from its background will enhance the 3D effect of the picture. It will give it “depth.” Shoot the star at an angle, bringing only part of the star in focus with the star’s arms in front, and behind, out of focus. Hold the star up to make blank water your background. Depending on your exposure, this will usually bring the background to black which will separate the star from its background. An even more effective lighting posture is to hold the star in front of the sun underwater. Set your exposures carefully and the effect can be quite dramatic.
You can also move the star to a background that contrasts it in color and texture. A coarse red star, for example, will stand out against a soft green algae. In some cases, this will look downright unnatural, but the drama will remain. Replace the star to its natural surroundings when finished.
ADDITIONAL DETAILS AND TIPS
Watch your rules of composition. With stars it’s real easy to get “line of force” going in the right direction (and wrong too). Try putting the star’s center off-center for more interest.
Photograph the star’s underside. Give the star a chance to extend its tube feet and with an extreme close-up lens, shoot away.
Photographing sea stars is a low stress pursuit. It’s good for beginners with almost guaranteed excellent results. With a few modifications in your shooting techniques, you can take home some exceptional photos of the stars.