Malapascua is worldwide famous for its elusive thresher sharks, but there is much more to explore in this little gem in the Philippines. There are several other dive sites, that word has it, were packed with macro life and corals in the past that are slowly recovering from the devastation caused by Typhoon Hainan in 2013. This natural disaster also had a massive impact on the diving industry with resorts and boats destroyed, but this seemed to be a very far away reality.
In fact, I was very surprised to see so many diving boats in every single dive site, particularly at Gato Island, that looked like an open water certification pool. Too bad for us, I really had high expectations and photographic plans for this site, because of its underwater passage connecting both sides of the island, creating something like a cave, with white tip sharks swimming at the exit in a cathedral light. The white tips were hiding in complete terror given the number of divers, kicking sand and each other all over the place!!!
We went back to Gato Island few more times, but the conditions for wide angle were never really great. To our disappointment, the macro life of Malapascua was not at its best and we could also see a lot of coral destruction, with some dive sites being a bed of dead coral and rubble. I wonder if this has only to do with the typhoon or if this place is being wrongly explored, with thousands of divers coming every day without any control. Locals tend to say the destruction is related to typhoon Hainan, but I felt like the training centers could be more mindful when choosing the dive sites where they bring students for check out dives. I saw a lot of fins kicking soft corals and people poking go-pros in the sharks faces. Soon or late they will leave.
Putting that aside, we were on holidays, meaning shoot shoot shoot. It was the opportunity to try different techniques, and this time I chose to use a lot of Bokeh in my macro images.
But what is BOKEH?? It is a term derived from the Japanese word for blur, and used in photography to describe the areas of a photo that are out of focus, mostly used to enhance the characteristics of a subject, to make it pop amidst a distracting backdrop. Bokeh can help to create very distinct images, to bring a dreamy atmosphere to an otherwise boring photo. It can be produced by using larger apertures, which may sound a bit odd, for we are always trying to maximize our depth of field in macro photography, but that’s the idea here, to use that narrow depth of field to put the eyes/rhinophores in focus and probably everything else out of it.
A difficult aspect of this technique is to control the amount of light from the strobes when using such big apertures, it’s very easy to get overexposed images. Another challenge is to lock in the focus in the right spot with such a narrow depth of field for moving subjects. This is almost like meditating underwater, breath slowly, be patient and keep your focus…
Bokeh is a powerful tool, especially when the subject is sitting on a bed of ugly algae or pebbles or even if you simply want to emphasize one feature over the whole body of the animal. I quite like the “dissolving” appearance of some images, almost like an Impressionist painting.
Here are a few more examples of the technique. Focus in the eyes with everything else intentionally blurred.
Note that choosing a different background will completely change the photo effect.