U/W PHOTOGRAPHY IN ST. LUCIA
Text and Photography by Bill Harrigan, Nov. 1997
St. Lucia is one of those places that makes you wish a roll of film had more than 36 frames. The reefs on this Caribbean island consistently produce all the things that make U/W photographers happy. There are an abundance of subjects, clear water, dependable sunlight, easy diving conditions and dive operators who understand a photographer's special needs. With all that it's not surprising your film is exposed far too soon.
Close-up and Macro Photography: If you page through the second edition of Paul Humann and Ned Deloach's excellent Reef Fish Identification guide for Florida, the Caribbean and The Bahamas, you'll see quite a number of photos taken in St. Lucia. Many different fish species are represented here, especially the smaller and more unusual fish that are perfect for close-in work.
During the daytime, my favorite lens is the Nikon 105mm macro. It focuses as close as 1:1 but lets you maintain enough distance to avoid spooking shy fish. Colorful subjects such as the Yellowhead Jawfish, Banded Coral Shrimp and the Harlequin Bass are easy to find. I often switch to the 60mm macro at night because I find it a little easier and quicker to use and fish are generally more approachable at night. If you are using macro tubes on a Nikonos, take your pick of the ratios available; you are bound to find good subjects for any of them. Unless I'm looking for a specific creature, I like to mount a 1:2 macro tube because it offers such a useful combination of depth of field and picture area. At night in St. Lucia I have been able to get subjects such as Cardinal Fish, Peacock Flounders and Sharptail Eels into macro tube framers.
Normal Lenses: Normal lens photography, where you use lenses in the 35 to 28mm range, can be the most challenging of all. You have to find subjects of the right size and then photograph them from the right distance with a fairly limited depth of field. One of the most successful ways to get good normal lens photos is to try for environmental portraits, showing fish in their habitat or indulging in their natural behavior. Taking a photo of a Queen Angelfish under a sponge covered ledge is a good example, because the angelfish eats sponges and often hides among them. The healthy coral and sponge formations on St. Lucia's reefs, along with the large number of fish species found here, provide many opportunities for this type of photo.
Wide Angle: When conditions are good for wide angle photography in St. Lucia, they are very good. Most of the time conditions are excellent but if it has been raining a lot the visibility will be temporarily reduced and a macro setup will be more useful. When the weather is right, the visibility exceeds 100 feet and the wide angle possibilities are endless. St. Lucia has walls, pinnacles, ledges, caverns and wrecks that beg for photographers with wide angle lenses. I like to use the structure of wrecks or the natural lines of coral ledges to frame part, or even all, of a wide angle photograph. In St. Lucia I can pick natural frames with colorful corals and sponges to really make the photo sing. For instance, Azure Vase Sponges, Red Finger Sponges and Orange Elephant Ear Sponges are so plentiful they can be easily placed in the foreground of most photos.
Unusual Creatures: Sightings of the unusual are somewhat normal in St. Lucia. Regardless of which lens you are using, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for some of the creatures rarely encountered elsewhere. Viper Eels, recognizable by their extremely long teeth, are an example of a fish I have seen several times in St. Lucia but nowhere else. Spotted Snake Eels, Lesser Electric Rays and Cardinal Soldierfish are found in other places, but they can frequently be seen in St. Lucia.
Topside: Don't forget to bring at least a point and shoot camera for topside photos. St. Lucia's rugged volcanic topography and interior rain forest provide many dramatic photo opportunities. The towering Pitons are impressive and the palm lined beaches are very inviting. In most locations you can choose any activity you want, from nature tours to parasailing. Wherever you go, you'll be glad you brought your camera.