Photography Workshop – Mamtha Surendra

Over the past 5 years I have given a few people tips, instruction and help in achieving better images, both underwater and on land. My first “official” underwater photography workshop, however, commenced on the 12th of October, 2013. Mamtha Surendra arrived in the Andamans on the 3rd day of the cyclone that swept past these islands and ravaged the Vizag coastline not so long ago. She arrived for an underwater photography course with little working knowledge of a digital SLR camera beyond its automatic functions. She arrived on a day of beating rain and howling 20-knot winds and probably the worst visibility I have ever seen. All odds were in our favour!!

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A half-in half-out shot of a Rhizophora tree. North Wandoor

On account of the weather, ocean conditions and her unfamiliarity with the basics of controlling exposure manually on a DSLR, Mamtha’s underwater photography course very quickly morphed into a more general introduction to photography – primarily taking full manual control of the camera and using this control to achieve various kinds of images. This knowledge and practice gained on land was then also applied in the water. All in all, we didn’t restrict ourselves to any narrow genres and, instead, focused our cameras on many things that lent themselves to a good photograph. We shot some landscapes and macro, went on 3 macro photography dives and also did a session on half-in half-out photography in a mangrove swamp. Here are some of the images she managed to capture in three very short days.

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A half-in half-out shot of an Avicennia tree with its “snorkel” roots. North Wandoor

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A slow shutter-speed shot captures the cascading effect of this little waterfall in the forest. North Wandoor

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A juvenile cricket perched on a leaf. North Wandoor

Underwater images are that much harder to take. Period. Everything is constantly in motion on the best of days, and with three preceding days of cyclonic weather, the ocean was a surging, churned up mess. Beyond developing an understanding of exposure and a comfort with the camera inside a housing that she had never used before, Mamtha had to contend with horrendous visibility and a constant back and forth surge on every dive. We didn’t even bother with wide-angle photography in the green, soupy waters. This meant shooting macro, and trying to focus on smaller subjects through a macro lens while both subject and photographer rocked to and fro with every swell passing overhead. With some help from me (trying to minimize her movement against the surge) Mamtha managed to pull off a series of underwater shots that were great for a first timer working under such difficult circumstances.

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Portrait of a moray eel. Allen’s Patch

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Portrait of a sand perch. Allen’s Patch

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A macro shot highlighting the incredible detail of coral polyps. Allen’s Patch

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An anemonefish peeping out from between the tentacles of its host anemone. Allen’s Patch

The equipment used for this course included Nikon D800 & D5200 cameras on land and a Nikon D300 camera in a Sea N Sea housing for the in-water shots. We used a Nikkor 105mm macro lens for all the macro images and a combination of a Nikkor 10-24mm lens and a Tokina 10-17mm lens for the wide-angle images. The underwater images were lit with two Sea N Sea strobes while the above water images that required a flash were lit using the Nikon R1C1 flash system. A tripod was used for all the slow shutter speed landscape shots with a regular white-light torch used for the light-painting.

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A mudskipper in the mangroves. North Wandoor

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A slow shutter speed, light-painted landscape. New Wandoor

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A slow shutter speed, light-painted landscape under moonlight. New Wandoor

Mamtha proved to be up for all of it – anything from attempting underwater macro photography in dive conditions that most other people would cringe at to squelching about in a waist-high mixture of water and mangrove muck. She was attentive and untiring in her learning – our days started at 6 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. From an instructor’s perspective, she was the sort of person who was a pleasure to teach, and whose progress was a joy to observe.

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