For UW Photographers Flasher Wrasses are very popular and hated subjects at the same time. Because they are very beautiful but also very tricky to shoot and demand a lot of skill and patience. The Flasher Wrasses swim in the water column, frequently change speed and direction and the males display their beautiful colour pattern by “flashing” their fins (and even change direction more randomly while doing this). This is the moment the Flasher Wrasse hunting UW Photographer wants to capture – this is the moment that will be giving you a hard time trying to photograph it. Here are some tips to keep frustration as low as possible:
Lens Choice: As subjects that swim freely in the water column, they usually require some working distance. That means you usually can’t get as close as you would want to. So you’ll have to go with minimum 100mm on APS-C or 150mm on FX. Shorter than this will not bring you close enough and longer will make the tracking through the viewfinder quite tricky and you’ll frequently loose your subject just in the wrong moment.
Strobe Positioning: You will be shooting from a relatively long distance to the subject. My preferred way of shooting Flasher Wrasses is therefor with my strobe arms far out to the front and the strobes slightly pointing outwards and set to full power. This reduces the illuminated water column and brings the light source closer to the shy subjects.
Camera Settings: To compensate achieve focus on these randomly moving fish i try to maximize my results by shooting high f-Stops. I usually shoot Flasher Wrasses at f22. I normally prefer Bokeh and only parts of the subject in Focus, but i think Flasher Wrasses can be crisp from mouth to tail. The long shooting distance and the high f-Stop usually require you to bump up you ISO a bit. 300-600 depending on how strong your strobes are.
Shooting: In Lembeh, Flasher Wrasses are mainly found over deeper rubble patches from 15 meters downwards but can also be found shallower at times. But a depth around 20 meters is usually ideal, as you get enough no decompression time (also on air) plus you achieve good black backgrounds even when shooting upwards. I also think that Flashers at greater depth are more actively displaying during daytime. In that deeper rubble habitat it is usually always good to keep your eyes open for Rhinopias as this is where they hang out and feed on the flasher wrasses. Problem is, that when you find one while shooting flashers you’ll have the wrong lens on 😉
You are gonna be shooting either hovering or – if available – with your fin tips pivoting on a empty sand patch. Please don’t rest on the rubble – no picture is worth that. What i usually do is to pick out a male that displays a lot and moves in a more predictable pattern than others. If you have a slight current then you just stay sideways of the fish as it will face into the current more frequently. If not … well, than you either wait for better current or get a lot of “tail shots” …
You can either try Autofocus or Tracking AF – or you can prefocus with AF-ON and release the shutter manually. Depends on your shooting style. With quick swimmers i usually use AF-ON and rather shoot many frames and then sort our the out of focus ones. If i get males that nicely stand in the current i try the Tracking AF because then every shot is in focus. The downside of the Tracking is that your camera will take relatively long to capture focus again if the subjects leaves the frame or crosses other subjects – this depends also on the AF Engine of your camera of course.