The juvenile sweetlips is becoming the latest must-have shot for underwater photographers with I think one of the Alex’s either Tattersall or Mustard not sure which was first ( doesn’t really matter) using a very particular technique to portray the dancing motion of this peculiar creature.

Scuba Travel, Sweetlips, juvinale
A slow shutter speed of 1/3 second and an aperture of f22 was necessary to record the movement, whilst freezing part of the shot of our dancing Sweetlips.

Unlike the adult, juvenile sweetlips is very tiny, rarely over an inch or so long, and mysteriously I have never seen an intermediate version, of course, I’m sure they must exist unless they spectacularly increase in size a 1000% overnight, I want to be there when that happens!

Anyway, they dance around in an exaggerated form of snake hips belly dancing, and they do this to mimic a poisonous flatworm to put off potential predators.
They are a very pretty fish, but a lot of their charm is in the movement, and so the technique used by Alex and Alex is to use a form of “shutter dragging” to combine a flash exposure with ambient light exposure, to show the movement in a still picture.

You can do this too if you have an underwater camera that you can control manually.
To record enough blurring from the motion of the fish, I experimented with shutter speeds from around 1/2 a second to a 1/20 second, but the best results fell into the range of 1/3 to a 1/15 of a second.
A lot of this has to do with how much ambient light there is, and the background that the fish is moving around on. You’ll have to be patient as the little bugger weaves around incessantly in an area, but if you wait you’ll find that it follows a route of sorts and will eventually move across your choice of background.
To balance the long exposure necessary for the blur you may well find that the prevailing light requires you to shut down the aperture very small in this case I’m showing I was down to f22, this will have the knock-on effect of you having to up the power of your strobes a lot more than usual.
Your strobes provide the frozen element of the shot and provide the contrasting colourful foreground elements, and is another reason why these shots look attractive because the orange-yellow of the Sweetlips contrasting with the bluey-green of the blurry background.

You need patience, be prepared to wait a while to get the shot. It will also help if the camera you are using has some form of focus tracking like the Nikon 3D system, as this will raise your hit rate. It can be done without but I took nearly 30 shots to get all the elements to fall into place and for me to be happy with the outcome.
If you check out Alex Tattersall’s FB posts recently he has posted my current fave example, but of course, it’s nice to have your own, so next time you encounter a juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips and want to get a shot like this, follow the tech tips and be prepared for a long wait.

I posted a while back a couple of How I Got the Shot pictures which give other examples of a similar technique using motion blur.

Please just click on the pictures below to take you to the relevant blogs.

Scuba Travel, wreck, Thistlegorm, fast fish
Slow shutter speed picture of the Fusilier action at the stern of the Thistlegorm.
Scuba Travel, pier, schooling fish
Panasonic GX7 and 8mm Fisheye Lens. F16 at 1/25 of a second. ISO 200 and twin strobes. Shutter dragged with the motion of the fish. The technique is to follow them at the same speed as they are moving and hope for the best that the shutter speed you’ve chosen gives just the right amount of blur.

If you’d like to put these techniques into practice, with me on hand to offer help and advice then why not join me on a photo workshop? they’re perfect for beginners to advanced alike, with a relaxed itinerary that gives divers a lot more freedom to dive how they want.

Check back soon for the latest blogs and news.