Photographer Richard Brown shares his approach for capturing underwater creatures on his Olympus camera …while still staying firmly on dry land.
When I moved house three years ago, one of the first things I did was build a wildlife pond. It has now become established, and has a variety of creatures, from amphibians to various types of insects living in it – most of whom have made their own way there.
I am a keen wildlife photographer and I wanted to be able to take shots of as much of the life in the garden as possible including, and especially, the inhabitants of the pond – so I researched techniques and adopted one to suit my needs.
My set up is relatively straightforward. I use a small aquarium which, as you will see from the pictures below, is divided into two compartments. The divider is a made-to-measure Perspex sheet which I ordered from a well-known auction site and sealed using aquarium sealant, so the two parts are totally separate. The rear, larger part, is full of pond water, pond weed and detritus and is used both as temporary living quarters, and as background to the shots of the creatures.
The front part, about an inch and a half wide, is filled with clear rain water or in long dry spells (rare in Scotland!) tap water that’s been left for a week or so to stand to clear any chlorine, so there is nothing to obscure the view of the subject. So that’s the tank set up.
As for equipment – of primary importance, as you would expect, is the lens: I use – almost exclusively – the M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 Macro lens, although on occasion I have also used the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12‑40mm F2.8 PRO. Both these lenses can be used with the Olympus STF-8 Macro Flash which is invaluable for both this indoor set up as well as shooting round the garden.
To get even closer I regularly use, depending on the size of the subject, a 10mm extension tube or tubes. One thing to mention is that the front of the tank must be scrupulously clean, as the excellent autofocus will pick up on any streak or dust in front of the subject.
The tank sits at the edge of the table so my OM-D E-M1 Mark II, mounted on a tripod, can get as close as possible to the subject. The two flash heads are inclined towards the centre to get as much light as possible. Because these are live subjects, and constantly on the move, focus stacking is not possible – so a small aperture is essential to get as much detail as possible. I usually have the autofocus set to the single spot but occasionally use the touch screen, again depending on the subject.
The photos I have included here are of a Great Diving Beetle (which have created some interest online as it appears to have an infestation by sort of mite). I have been asked to continue to record its ongoing progress (if that is the right word), as apparently the only reference that beetle specialists were able to find od something similar was in a book published in France in the early 1900s!
In the current situation, my photography project has become a good way of keeping busy. You may want to try it yourself as you never know what you might find, both in or out of water!