I’ve talked many times about the difficulty in using large video lights in conjunction with getting photos of Synathiformes, a fancy name for Sea Horses & their relatives. They really don’t like bright lights! So how do you get shots like this without a strobe or two? If you have had experience shining your lights on Sea Horses and seeing them immediately turn their backs to the lights, move away, or dig deeper into their hiding spot, you will know the pain of checking your photos later to see that you didn’t get a single nice shot of the little bastards.
So here is my trick, pretty simple really. Find your subject Sea Horse, don’t go anywhere near him yet. Have a look around where he is and find something similar to where he is actually sitting or hanging on. This might seem difficult, but Sea Horse tend to be in an area of good camouflage options, even if they are sitting of the sand with nothing around just pick some sand close to them, that will work.
Now use this working space to get your setting correct & think about your shot. If you sea horse is sitting on a sea fan, use another part of the sea fan to get your color, lighting and desired aperture correct before you go anywhere near the Sea Horse. In my head I’m usually imagining the Sea Horse in my shot, attempting to get lighting correct because I know from experience you don’t get many chances once the lights are on your subject. SO get your photo correct before the approach, truly that is the key here.
Once you have your camera settings locked in, approach your subject with the lights on, shining down, up, anywhere but on/at the Sea Horse, get set, steady yourself, and only bring your camera and lights up for the photo when the Sea Horse is in the right position. For this shot I wanted a head shot, I needed him completely side on, not tucking in his chin and mostly upright. I waited a minute, maybe two for him to shift into the position in this photo while I waited next to him. Then I turn my camera to face him and snapped up this shot.
I admit, this method might not be fool proof, but it definitely gives me and hopefully you, a far better chance a getting good photos of Sea Horses without tampering, poking or other stupid behavior. Plus this method won’t trigger their natural run and hide reaction to big lights quite as much, especially if you only take one or two shots and move the light/s away each time.
Give it a go, I think you will be surprised at the results.