Dan Schwartz: Up-Close & Beyond

  • Clip from Zoom video

By Alan Throop & Dan Schwartz [photos by Dan Schwartz]

Dan SchwartzOn Thursday July 23, Aqua Tutus offered a Zoom-based program by our own Dan Schwartz on macro-photography, where Dan showed his beautiful images and offered tips and his thought processes for doing macro. The program was recorded and is available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/XLhAaiStqEI.  Dan has been part of our dive club for the past couple of years, and is an excellent photographer, both UW and topside, as any of you know who have seen his images from the “member night” programs at our club meetings or his Instagram account “aquaterraphtotos”.  Dan has been diving since the 1990s and has been doing UW photography almost from the beginning. He has been able to dive and photograph around the world – in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and Indonesia. But he loves diving and photographing California waters, and dives with both Aqua Tutus and the Barbary Coast Divers in San Francisco.

Besides UW photography, he became involved in several marine environment organizations, working as a volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center since 2002 and with Reef Check as a citizen scientist since 2007 – both of which he still volunteers for, when COVID allows.  He has become interested in photo-journalism, having published in the Air Fiji in-flight magazine, and he has produced two podcasts so far for Reef Check within the Apple Podcast program called “Coastal Horizons”. One deals with how Reef Check began – called “Origins, Global Fins in the Water” – and the other about the UW temperature sensors that Reef Check has deployed along the California Coast – called “HOBOs, Temperature Monitoring Sensors”.

With all this going on, Dan actually has a day job! He lives in Berkeley and owns his own company in electrical and security systems.

Due to space limits here and the fact that you can see Dan’s great images on Instagram and the YouTube recording, I’ll I’ll focus here on his excellent photo tips for all the budding photographers.

Copyright Dan Schwartz

Pink Abalone

Dan began by showing us his gear. He began with a Nikonos V film system and had has progressed to a mirrorless Olympus OM-D EM-I camera in a Olympus housing and two Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes. For macro he uses either a 60-mm dedicated macro lens or an in-housing 14-42mm macro lens with a “wet” macro lens that he can remove underwater to give him the versatility of either shooting macro or, when removed, larger subjects.

He continued by showing a great macro shot of the head of a red abalone, where one of his eyes and his oral tentacles gave an intimate sense to the image. Dan stressed how important it is to get at eye level or below to achieve this.

Dan used a photograph of a translucent hermissenda nudibranch (see photo below) to illustrate how one often needs to use the background or negative space to highlight the subject. He also showed how one could use the intense contrasting colors of Cup Coral to separate it from the background. He also used an image of an acorn barnacle to illustrate how one can use differing texture of the background to separate and highlight the subject.


Hermissenda translucent 

Dan showed a nice shot of a Painted Greenling to discuss that it is important to pick a subject for the photograph and then try to help the viewer’s eye move to that. One way is to have the subject clearly dominate the foreground. Another example he showed to highlight a subject, using the image of a Dorid nudibranch, is to use a snoot on your strobe to light only the subject. He also  demonstrated this with a beautiful image of a Spanish Shawl.

Dan interestingly compared still and video photography by noting how a good video clip needs to have a build-up, apex, and follow-through of the action, whereas a still image needs to capture the apex of the action. An image of a coon shrimp showed it with its feeding maxillipeds at its mouth. He also showed a gobi fish with its mouth open as in feeding and a hermissenda nudibranch arched over algae and feeding.

Next Dan talked about lighting. He showed some good examples of using one or dual strobes to control the lighting to gain shadows and depth on the subject. An image of a Cabezon with a 30%/60% strobe split had a pleasant look, while he showed side lighting of a nudibranch to obtain details of its cerate/gills. Dan also illustrated some of the appearances that you can get by placing the strobe well below or even behind the subject. He had a beautiful image of a metridium anemone for which he had used backlighting.


Shrimp in action

Dan then showed some images where he reiterated camera and strobe positioning. Underwater photography almost always involves getting

close, to reduce the amount of water between the camera and the subject, and to have the subject fill the frame. He showed a photo of a Scorpianfish taken at eye level and then the more-dramatic image taken at lower levels shooting close and looking-up. He also illustrated images using different strobe positions. He emphasized that, while getting low and close, you also need to be aware of your positioning so that you don’t inadvertently hurt or damage the marine-life around you. Dan also showed that, while a well-defined subject is important in macro-photography, abstract images are also possible using patterns and colors. In response to some questions he also spoke about compositional aspects of photography such as Rule-Of-Thirds, the Golden Ratio, use of negative space, etc.

Finally, Dan described an interesting story where he was diving off Hopkins Reef in Monterey and saw a “puppypile” of mating Kellet’s Whelk snails that looked a bit odd. At he moved in closer, he saw small tiles with numbers glued to many of them. Odd! When researching this after the dive, he found that a researcher at Hopkins Marine Laboratory had assigned a graduate student to capture, tag, and release over 500 snails in this area for further study.

While Dan answered a lot of questions during his talk, during Q&A at the end he discussed the tradeoffs of using a wet-lens and responded to several questions and clarifications regarding the tips he gave throughout the talk.

We are grateful to Dan for sharing his images and the useful photography suggestions with us in this program.

Many thanks also to Linda Phillips for setting up, hosting, and moderating this program.

Please let us know if you enjoyed this or have suggestions at board@aquatutus.org.

Following the program, we opened the mic to all.  Keith Rootsaert, a colleague of Dan’s and a leader in an effort to restore the kelp forests in Monterey that have been devastated by sea urchins, was in attendance and, with Dan, offered an great interactive discussion on this topic. This is discussion is available at the end of the YouTube video.