Snooting With a Macro Lens
Ghetto Snoots - The building process
I decided that I had been snooty for a long time, but I just hadn’t considered venturing out in public to demonstrate this particular idiosyncrasy without a little coaching. I read several articles written by Scott Geitler, Keri Wilk and Lee Peterson to get some insights on how to proceed. Apparently the first hurdle is to decide whether to make your own snoot or rely on the ingenuity of one of my colleagues.
Lee pointed out that “Studio and commercial photographers have been using light modifiers forever to shape and direct the light from their strobes to specific areas of a subject.” So the snoot is a device that you can attach to the front of your strobe that will concentrate the beam of light into a smaller beam, usually in the shape of a circle. The snoot allows you to do a variety of things including cutting down backscatter, spotlighting your subject and obtaining some interesting creative lighting effects. There hasn’t been a great deal of experimentation with snoots in underwater photography to date. There is a company out of Singapore that is making a version available on the market. Until recently, almost all efforts in using these devices was focused on macro and super macro photography.
After taking a look at some of the snoots that had been built to date, I decided to come up with two different versions. To simplify attaching the snoots to my strobe, I obtained some extra diffusers for my Sea & Sea YS 250s. For the first version, I simply glued a conically shaped device (such as a small funnel) to the front of the diffuser, sprayed the outer surface black and came up with the aptly named “Ghetto Snoot.” For the second version, I wanted the snoot to have the capability of bending light. I used Loc-Line as the outer covering for lengths of fiber-optic cable. With a bit of experimentation I came up with a PVC part from the hardware store that I could glue to the diffuser and use the other end as a receptacle for the threaded end of the loc-Line/fiber-optic contrivance.
Trial and Error – Use of Snoots
My first attempts with the snoots proved difficult at best. I plunged into the surgy water of Point Lobos Marine Reserve, in Carmel California. The visibility was great. I left a single strobe on an arm, with a downward angle over the center of the lens port. I decided I could just shoot at a set focal length with a macro lens and adjust the F-Stop as necessary. I also tried holding the camera in one hand and the strobe in the other. There are several problems I encountered. I found that it was extremely difficult to line up the spotter light while I was looking through the viewfinder. The spotting light from the snoots is not that visible except when it is dark. The easiest way to the use the snoot is (1) setting it up on a tripod or (2) giving it to a dive buddy to hold. While I did get a decent image of a trumpet tubeworm, it became apparent early on that you need still water, and that it would be a lot easier using a tripod or a dedicated strobe Sherpa.
Selection of your subject is definitely one of the most important aspects of this type of photography. It is a lot easier if you find a stationary, slow moving or cooperative subject. The use of an aiming light or a tripod for the strobe is essential. It is also a good idea to select a calm area with no surge. The effect of the snoot lighting can be very subtle or very dramatic. The closer you hold the end of snoot (either the fiber optic version or the concentrated light version) to the subject, the more dramatic the spotlight effect.
There are three things that make Snoot shoots a workable project. First you really need to use a strobe that has a built in spotting light. I found that the use of a strobe with a spotting light, also known as an aiming light, was extremely helpful regardless of whether I was using a tripod, buddy holder or trying to aim the light myself. Initially I tried to guestimate the distance of the lens to the subject and position the light so that it hit the subject at that distance. This is hard to do. Dave Reid of Light Ultralight Control Systems supplied me with a tripod that I could attach different length arms to. This seemed to work very well and it was extremely sturdy. This worked great with stationary subjects, but you have to be careful how you balance the strobe. The optimal situation is to have a buddy aim the strobe at the subject. Angles and positioning can be worked out in advance of the dive. Using a competent and interested buddy will produce some very interesting results even with the unpredictable movements of subjects like anemonefish. I want to thank James Bassett for working with me in a recent trip to the Philippines. Of course, take multiple images and review your results as you go. You can tell very quickly whether your strobe is placed properly and make adjustments as necessary. Snooting drastically cuts down the amount of scatter in your pictures. It also allows you to get really interesting and creative lighting effects. So get out there and tryout your own ghetto snoots.