Soon I will be teaching a photography workshop underwater. The topic is wide angle photography, and we will concentrate on turtles in their environment. Turtles make great subjects for wide angle photography and fortunately they are common on many reefs in Maui.
For me, the best way to photograph turtles is to meter the light in the water column near the turtle, position my strobes, and establish the right buoyancy before approaching the turtle. This enables me to minimize turbidity in the water column and back scatter in the photographs. Approaching slowly and smoothy allows the turtle to become comfortable with my presence. If I were to swim toward the turtle while trying to sept my strobe arms, it would feel threatened and swim away.
When setting up my exposures for wide angle images, I meter for the background then set up the strobes to light the foreground subject. When the turtles are resting on the reef I also take into consideration the bottom topography and use flash exposure compensation as needed.
Depending upon equipment used exposure compensation can be used in both manual or TTL settings. This means you can fine tune the quality of light in small increments dialing it up or down as needed. When turtles are swimming it is important not to cut them off or get on top of them. This will quickly change their behavior. Swimming on a parallel course will not bother them and provides good camera angles.
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles were classified as an endangered species in 1978. In the times before this, turtles were hunted for food and ornaments. Since becoming protected the species is slowly rebounding, but they do face new threats. Loss of natural habitat and food sources along with a virus called Fibropapilloma which causes tumors. These papilloma tumors ( benign growths) can infect all soft portions of a turtle’s body. Tumors grow primarily on the skin, but they can also appear in the mouth, on the eyes, and on internal organs. The sad reality is that scientists are not yet certain what causes the tumors or how they spread. Some scientists believe they might be caused by a herpes virus might, but more research needs to be done.