Have you seen those incredible images of weird and wonderful creatures taken by underwater photographers during black water dives. But what exactly is black water diving and where can you do it?
What is blackwater diving?
Blackwater diving is essentially diving at night over deep channels of offshore water to witness the largest vertical migration of marine life in the world!
Plankton, larvae and juvenile fish that spend their days many hundreds of metres beneath the ocean’s surface come up to the surface at night to feed on the nutrients in shallow water.
These are creatures that either exist as plankton for their entire lives or those that are still in their larva or juvenile stage that will eventually find their way onto the sandy slopes and reefs as they mature.
Blackwater diving is addictive as you will see marine life you would not usually see on any other dive or night dive!
How do you do blackwater diving?
At night, a weighted rope is suspended from a floating buoy and strong lights are placed down the rope at 5m intervals. The lights attract the plankton and juvenile larvaes and also provide divers with a visual reference to stay close to.
As the buoy is free floating, it will drift with the current and the divers drift along with it.
How to find your subjects
The best way to do a blackwater dive is to search for critters with a hand held torch with a small spot beam. Once you have found your subject, approach it slowly so that the vortex of water caused by your movements does not collapse or spin the subject or move it away from you.
It is therefore important to hang vertically in the water with precise buoyancy and move slowly.
Once you have found your subject, let the focus light of your camera take over from your focus light. A soft, wide beam mounted on the top of your camera is best for this.
Do some test shots when you first enter the water and once you are happy with your strobe positioning, try not to make any further adjustments – try to keep everything as stationery and as still as possible – keep it simple!
Keep your strobes tucked close to your port, pointed slightly inwards, in traditional macro style.
Lense to use
The best lense to use is a 60mm lense for a wider angle of view and shorter working distance (even on a full frame camera). 100mm lenses can make it tricky as your working distance will be greater.
Diopters are not advised as you want to get a good depth of field so that you can identify the already hard to recognise critter afterwards. So, the more of your subject that is in focus, the easier it will be to identify later!
Suggested settings are as follows:
Shutter speed: 1/200 or the fastest synch speed your camera / strobes will allow
F-stop: F18 for a DSLR, F14 for mirrorless and F5.1 for compact
If the subject is too reflective, increase your f-stop to get brightness in your whites and not to blow them out.
Set strobe power to 1/2 so that you can have a fast recyle time
The best time to do blackwater diving is just after the new moon.
The best places to do black water diving include Romblon and Anilao in the Phiippines, Lembeh, Palau, Kona in Hawaii, Pico Island in the Azores, Singer Island in Florida
Want to try black water diving? Join us in Romblon in the Philippines in May/ June 2020 for some really incredible black water diving!
Photos: Courtesy of Philip Eschweiler, 3P