After racking through the old series of photograph for some noise cleaning in this entry not too long ago, I found sudden urge to play with underwater creatures. No I did not make a return to Aquaria, not entirely. However did find my way to KLCC to meet up with a friend, and before doing so, I stopped by the entrance of Aquaria and captured whatever I could find being exhibited there. Just before the main entrance, there was a Fish Spa (those little vampires that suck out your dead skins) and it has a long stretch of aquariums showcasing some really cool looking underwater creatures.
I have been shooting outdoors a lot lately, have I not? Unfortunately the sky was rather unfriendly that Sunday, and I had to play at the park some other time. Nevertheless, the aquarium itself has enough interesting subjects to feed my shutter hunger. There were some nice shiny colourful fishes, and of course, the most interesting attraction of all, the seahorse !! I made a quick estimate and there were easily three to four dozens of seahorses swimming freely in display aquarium.
Choice of Pancake: F2.8 for DOF and Shutter Speed balance
I actually left behind my 35mm macro lens at home, and forced myself to just bring the 25mm pancake for the day, because I know I have been overly obsessed with macro. The Olympus 25mm Pancake lens proved to be the most suitable lens for the job, because it provides the brightest aperture amongst my other lenses: F2.8. I know many of you will point out to me that, hey, the better lens for the job would be something with lower F-number (wider aperture) like an F1.4 which is more useable in low light conditions, right? It all actually comes down to your application, and each conditions of shooting would differ from another. For this case, yes, a lower F-number would benefit from faster shutter speed and not bumping up the ISO too high, but there is the issue of depth of field (DOF) to consider. Even at F2.8, you can see on my photos that the zone of focus is so narrow I could not even get the entire body of the seahorse sharp, only selectively the head and eye area. Some of you may love this effect but I prefer to have my subjects as sharp and as in focus as possible. I want my subjects to be clearly visible.
Inescapable need of High ISO
Flash is strictly prohibited in the vicinity. I had the strong urge to use my usual macro photography technique and fire off my flash wirelessly to obtain those nicely illuminated shots, but that would have gotten me a permanent ban from ever entering KLCC Aquaria again. Therefore, no flash in extreme low light can only mean one other solution: to bump up the ISO to achieve good enough exposure. I have also overcome the fear and restrictions of adopting high ISO, and now I have come in terms with what my camera can do as well as its limitations. It is my belief that getting a decently sharp and well exposed subject should be the priority, and deal with the noise issues later.
Even at F2.8, under such dim lighting condition, I had to use ISO800 to ISO1600 to push the shutter speed on 1/80 seconds and above. The underwater creatures never stayed still, and were constantly in motion, hence an ideal shutter speed of 1/100 seconds and above would be recommended to properly freeze any blurring due to motion. I still tried my best to stay within ISO800, and only go 1600 when absolutely necessary. A little noise cleaning was performed in post processing, not to get rid of all the noise, which would have rendered the shots smudged and creamy ugly, but just to reduce it so the photos will still look at least presentable with good enough amount of details in tact.
Extreme Focusing Struggle
It was bad enough trying to freeze the forever moving underwater subjects, but focusing is an entirely different issue. Many other more advanced DSLR (or some newer compacts) has the AF tracking capabilities which will automatically hunt for the selected subject while it is in motion and always keep it in focus until the shutter is released. I am not entirely sure how accurate and effective those AF tracking would be under such horrendous lighting. Nonetheless, I only had one option, to use the single focus, and once I got my focus right, I must quickly press the shutter button. Half a second too late, the tiny creatures would have moved the head 1cm away and all you will see in the end would be a blur. Keeping the subjects in focus by manually tracking it on full time was quite a stressful thing to do. Out of many trials, I could only get a small number of successes, and those are the few that you are viewing now on this entry.
Oh and have I mentioned how much I love those tiny little seahorses? I could not show you the motion of their fins or whatever thing that kept moving at the back of their body to propel their movements in water. They just seem so adorable, and it is too bad that seahorse population is somehow being endangered. There were generally a few types of seahorses in the tank, one with reddish white skin, and another with darker yellow tone skin. Some of them have really huge bellies. They really love to tangle around with each others tails.
So have you seen a real seahorse before? If not, do not fret. The next time you visit KLCC for shopping spree just drop by at the entrance of Aquaria, and there you have it, living seahorses swimming around freely.
Hmmm, is seahorse edible?