Photographers@Google: Eric Cheng

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 21.09.2012

>>Presenter: Welcome everyone to Photographers at Google. My name is Ricardo Lagos. Iím
a software developer. Itís my distinct pleasure to introduce you to our special guest, photographer
Eric Cheng. Ericís award-winning photography has been published in over 60 magazines and
books worldwide. He has won contests such as Natureís Best Magazineís Photo Competition,
which placed some of his work in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
Eric is the editor and publisher of, the premier online community for underwater
photographers. Wetpixel provides a forum for photographers to share their work and to discuss
ocean-related issues, in turn educating viewers about the beauty and fragility of the marine
ecosystem. Ericís work with was awarded the prestigious Underwater Imaging
Website of the Year from the Antibes Festival. Through Wetpixel expeditions, Eric leads regular
photography expeditions and workshops around the world. He has given seminars and lectures
internationally at events such as TEDx, Boston Sea Roverís Clinic, DEMA, Digital Shootouts,
Kona Classic, scuba diving magazine events, and others.
Eric is also involved in ocean conservation, and is technical advisor and photographer
for the Sea Shepherdsí Conservation Society. He was head photographer for the Operation
Musashi, Sea Shepherdsí 2008 and 2009 anti-whaling campaign in Antarctica, which was featured
in season two of the hit TV show Whale Wars. You can find more info about Eric and his
photography at Eric, thanks for taking time to come to Google today, and welcome.
>>Eric Cheng: Thanks so much for having me. That was a very official bio. Itís funny
because Ricardo told me that in the version that he sent out to Google, he said something
like, ìEric was bumming around for a few years and took some pictures.î [laughter]
Both are accurate, and I fully own up to both. Thanks again for having me. I actually started
out as a software engineer. Twelve years ago, or I guess even longer now, I worked in a
cubicle. I guess cubes are not in anymore. But I started out in software.
I discovered photographyóI had discovered photography earlier than that, but had not
gone underwater with a camera. So nothing had ever stuck in the photography realm. It
was really when I took a camera underwater that it changed my life. It was the inspiration
I needed to move my photography beyond something technical into something that really felt
like photography. Before, I could take a picture that was sharp, well-exposed, but it never
did anything for people. It was missing the inspiration.
It very quickly changed my life. I worked as a photographer and publisher for about
ten years before coming back into industry. Now Iím at Lytro. Thereís a big Lytro contingent
over here, on the right side. I want to talk a little bit aboutójust a
little bit about the gear and technique involved in photography, but mostly tell stories of--
underwater photography, but mostly tell stories about specific shots and locations.
This is a quick summary of the housing market out there for cameras. Thereís a huge range.
You can get OEM plastic housings for point-and-shoot cameras for $150, $180. But in the high ends,
typically, a full rig for SLR aluminum housings, machined aluminum housings with strobes and
all the support necessary to hold those strobes with articulating arms runs $12,000+. So itís
a huge range. Up there on theóin the middle is a GoPro
housing. These are becoming more and more popular for underwater video and photography,
although until a few months ago, they didnít focus underwater without third party housings.
I have met film crews out in the field who have discovered that after the shoot, because
their, in fact, topside videographers taking cameras underwater, thinking itís very much
the same. But it is not. Whatís happening now, as well, is that these
mirrorless cameras are becoming more and more popular underwater. Hereís a little line
up of Nauticam housings. The Sony NEX series is pretty popular. The NEX 7 in particular
is really interesting because you can put magnified obstacle viewfinders to look at
their very large electronic viewfinder underwater. This Olympus OMDEM5, easy to remember model
name, is also really popular. People have been getting great results with them. So things
are changing underwater. Typically, a little bit behind what happens on land.
This is a very old picture of me in the water. This is from 2003, with my second SLR rig.
It was a Canon D60. Sea and Sea Housing. But pretty much the anatomy of an underwater rig
has not changed. You have some kind of housing, a very large dome port for wide angle, for
the optics thatófor clear, sharp wide angle shots underwater. Some kind of lighting, so
in this case, two Ico Light strobes, and articulating arms. [pause]
This is a shot thatís a little bit more recent. Again, the cameras have not changed that much
in the professional underwater photography world, still photography world. This is a
Seacam housing with a Canon 1DS Mark III. [pause]
So one thing that is very specific to underwater photography is that we basically carry around
mobile studios. Weíre carrying strobes, articulating arms, and underwater photography is almost
completely manual. We shoot manual exposure, manual strobes. The idea is basically to expose
to the background and fill the foreground. Thereís not very much color underwater. Water
strips out light starting from red all the way down the spectrum. We need to bring full
spectrum lighting down to get these colors to pop.
This is a picture taken with a setup like the one you saw on the previous slide. Itís
a very wide angle shot taken in eastern Indonesia, in Raja Ampat. Those of you who are divers
will recognize Raja Ampat as being the place where the reefs are the best. Itís an incredible
location. Itís incredibly diverse. In fact, if you go underwater and count fish for a
fixed amount of time, which is how they measure diversity, this area has the highest diversity
of any area in the world, underwater. Thereís some theories about why this might be. One
theory is that during the Ice Age, everything froze over except for this section, and so
the fish survived here and then repopulated around the world.
Because itís incredibly remote, most of the diving in places like this are done by Liveabord
dive vessel. The Liveaboards are usually pretty nice. This is one that I went on, on the upper
left. The divingís done by tender. When I started going here, nobody was there.
There were maybe two boats out there. Now, it is incredibly popular, and is managed as
a national park. But because itís very remote, and there are dozens of Liveaboards operating
there, you still donít see very many people when you go.
In addition to really nice reefs, thereís a lot of marine life here. This is a school
of baitfish over a reef that looks what a reef looks like if youíre 20 feet away. So
this is what everything looks like underwater until you light it. This was really cool.
These baitfish were actually being hunted by jacks. You can see the whole school moving
as one organism. The action is pretty interesting, but itís hard to get an interesting picture
from something like this. While itís interesting to look at, you have to think about how to
get a shot. In this little ledge there, or a bunch of
interesting corals, these are really interesting corals to see under the water. Theyíre very,
very shallow, and particularly interesting because theyíre in a location where you can
shoot upwards through the surface of the water and see some trees. So I played around here
and took some shots, but I felt like something was missing. So I went back to that location
and just waited, and I noticed that those baitfish were moving around a lot on top of
me. So I just waited. I took a lot of pictures. Eventually, I got the shot that I wanted,
which was a shot where the baitfish were above me, but you could see through the school to
see some of the surface elements. So this isó
>>Male #1: How shallow is it, and is it natural light?
>>Cheng: How shallow is it, and is it natural light? Itís very shallow. Itís like ten
feet deep. It is natural light in the background, but strobe-filled in the foreground. This
is in the shadow of a cliff. So thereís no light. If you had taken this without, you
would have gotten just silhouette. So lighting is really interesting underwater
because there are a lot of particles floating around. If you use a flash thatís very close
to the lens, it lights up all of those particles between you and your subject. Thatís called
ìbackscatter.î Even though the visibility was not that great in the shot that I showed
before, you donít see very much backscatter. Thatís because we light things like this.
This is a picture my friend David Fleetham's set up. It illustrates how we position strobes.
Where the fall off lighting intersects is where you want your subject to be. The reason
we do that is so that none of the water between you and the subject is illuminated, so it
doesnít ruin your shot.
>>Male #2: In this shot, and in the previous shots, it wasnít very obvious: are your cameras
neutrally buoyant?
>>Cheng: Are cameras neutrally buoyant? They can be made to be neutrally buoyant.
>>Male #2: How about your setup?
>>Cheng: Mine is slightly negative. Historically, manufacturers have not paid attention to buoyancy,
and they should. Video housing manufacturers do pay quite a lot of attention to buoyancy.
But if itís too heavy, it becomes very difficult to hold, so we will typically put closed cell
foam floats on the setup to make it more buoyant until itís where you like it. If itís totally
neutral, I find that it also becomes difficult to use for stills.
So again, hereís the shot from before. You can see the strobes are really never pointing
at the subject. Theyíre always pointing slightly out so the fall off light is what brushes
the subject in front of you. Itís a nice soft light. And, of course, the choice of
strobe matters. Some strobes have a very hard edge, and itís hard to use that fall off
lighting to light your subjects. So again, the goal is really to expose the
background and to fill the foreground. You get these nice colors popping in the front,
but a nice dark blue in the background. Cameras do not exposeóTheyíre not designed to expose
well underwater, so if you just take a camera underwater and just take a picture in auto
mode, youíll get a very bright background. Who knows what youíll get in the foreground.
We just fill-- use these strobes to fill. If youíre in the shallows, you can shoot
a little bitóYou can use white balance. You donít need to use strobes as much. You can
use the strobes to fill as much as you can for these scenes that have subjects that go
further off. But the strobes that weíre bringing are actually quite big, but they still donít
light the reef up for very far. They like maybe six feet in front of you. We shoot super
wide. A lot of fisheye. These reefs are from Raja Ampat, that same
area. This is one of my favorite shots. Itís a giant clam in the foreground, reef in the
background. This school of juvenile convict fish swimming around. Whatís interesting
is I had gone there the day before, and the reef had been dead. Same dive, same location,
different time of day. And when the current picked up, all the fish came out. Itís a
highly dynamic environment. [pause] This is a shot of a reef called Mikeís Point
in Raja Ampat. Thereís a ton of current flow through here. These upwellings that feed the
coral. This is what that point looks like from land. It looks like nothing, really,
but itís ringed by really incredible reefs. And, in fact, this little island leaves a
wake because of the current, and was bombed in World War II because they thought it was
a boat. [laughter] [pause] Okay. On the other side of the spectrum, we
have very, very small things underwater to photograph. This is the smallest seahorse
in the world, a pygmy seahorse. Thatís one of my friendís eyes. So you can see it in
the upper right hand side of the frame. Tiny, tiny seahorse. Very hard to see. If youíre
over 40, you may never see one in your life. We have a lot of people who take pictures
where the guide points, and hope itís in the frame. Thatís not a good way to do it.
[laughter] That shot was taken in Papua New Guinea. This
is an idea of one of the resorts there. Thatís Lota Wata Island. We used wheelbarrows to
get our gear around. We hopped on a boat, went to Rabaul, and the volcano blew while
we were there, and covered the reef with ash, which was very interesting, but not great
for photography. This is the typical picture people get of
pygmy seahorses. A macroshot. We typically use 100 millimeter macrolenses. Sometimes
with diopters to get even closer. I took a bunch of these shots. Didnít really like
any of them. Theyíre hard to shoot because they donít like you. They donít like divers.
They donítí like light. So if you get really close to one and try to take a picture, theyíll
turn away and youíll get shots of themóof their backs a lot. This picture took a while
to get. I asked a friend to take his mask of underwater, and just sit in front ofóbehind
this fan. We waited a long time for the pygmy seahorse to just continue doing its thing,
until it totally ignored us. Then I was able to get these shots. So this is that final
shot. I like this shot a lot because it shows scale.
Typically, youíll see a full frame shot of one of these things, and it looks interesting
because itís a bizarre animal, but you have no idea how big it is. [pause]
This is another one of my favorites. Itís unusual. Most people think this is a forest
scene when they see it, but thereís of course a fish in there. These corals are less than
a foot tall, so the scale is deceiving. The equipment that was necessary to get this was
a little bit unusual. Itís not used very often.
This is the camera setup I used for that. Itís an SLR, a typical SLR rig. But it has
this very long lens in the front, which is pseudo endoscopic. So itís a relay lens with
many, many different elements. I think there are 18 elements or something. Bad for image
quality, but great for composition. And so what happens is you get a fisheye view, a
very, very wide angle view at the end of the lens. You can focus all the way up to the
lens. Very unusual underwater. Normally we use big dome ports for wide angle optics that
prevent you from getting very close to your subject. Shooting wide angle and macro, close
focus wide angle, is typically very difficult. We call this the ìinsect eye lens.î I think
in Japan they call it ìbug eye.î So thatís where that name came from.
This is one of the shots that you can get with it. If you donít know what these are,
it might seem like a normal shot. But that hole in the coral is less than a centimeter
in diameter. And so these are two tiny little coral hermit crabs shot wide angle from probably
less than a centimeter away. Then you have the reef falling off in the background. Pretty
unusual shots. Again, these shots were taken in New Guinea.
But very, very remote New Guinea. These were taken in a place called the Eastern Fields,
pretty much halfway between Papua New Guinea and Australia. Itís about 100 miles from
Port Moresby, and thereís a very large sunken volcano thatísóI think itís 400 miles in
diameter. But it never breaks the surface, so treacherous for ships. No boats go there.
Thereís only one dive boat I know that goes here, and one captain who knows it well. So
itís pristine. You can see in this picture here. Itís just
shallow reefs when youíre above one. Beautiful water. These are the corals that I was talking
about. Theyíre very common corals. These are the kinds of corals you just swim by,
because theyíre so boring. But you can get a very different view of these corals with
this lens. Specifically, you can insert the lens under the canopy and get shots from inside
this coral forest, really.
>>Male #1: So the strobes have to go under the lens?
>>Cheng: So the strobesóThe question is about strobes. The strobe do not go under the lens.
What Iím doing is putting the strobes on top of the entireóon top of the corals, and
looking for holes I canófrom which I can insert the light.
>>Male #1: So you have them separated? You donít have them attached to each other?
>>Cheng: Yeah, the strobes are attached to the housing by articulating arms, so we can
position them wherever we want. Yeah. [pause] So hereís the final shot. It looks like this
mossy bank of the left. You can get some other interesting pictures with this setup. This
is an Emperor shrimp on a rather large nudibranch. With a normal macrolens, you canít get the
depth of field necessary to capture this picture. You get the head and the rhinophores, or you
get the shrimp, or you get the tail. Because weíre shooting super wide angle here, the
depth of field is quite large. You can also shoot small animals from their
point of view. These are Coleman shrimp on a fire urchin. Theyíre shrimp that live on
a fire urchin. They snip off the spines in specific areas and live with the protection
of these urchins, which are really nasty if you touch. These kinds of shots that show
blue in the background and portray these animals as very laróas potentially being large are
pretty cool. These are striped catfish, Plotosus, striped
catfish. Again, shot from their point of view. They school and feed off of stuff in the sand.
You can just get in front of them and stick the camera in their face. [pause]
And then again, another very common coral. This is a mushroom coral, or leather coral,
mushroom leather coral. Itís a really boring coral. But if you get very close, the polyps
suddenlyóthe polyps and the shape can be very interesting. I took this and posted it
around Valentineís Day, because it looks kinda like a heart. [pause]
More close-up polyp detail. This is a large heart coral. Hard to photograph in wide angle
in an interesting way. This shows the alien landscape.
I have a short video [video starts, water sounds] of me actually shooting this rig.
You can see how the working distance is really close. Thatís a frogfish, that orange blob.
[video playing] This is a flamboyant cuttlefish. [video playing] Maybe less interesting than
the frogfish. It just looks like a blob, really. And these are those Plotosus, striped catfish.
You can see the way they move, this is at night. And Iím putting a red light on, because
they seem to not like the white light. A lot of animals donít respond much to red light,
because thereís not very much red light down there. [video playing] [video stops playing]
>>Male #3: Was that on a DSLR, or a different camera?
>>Cheng: It was on a DSLR. I mean, the shots that I was taking, yeah.
>>Male #3: How about the video?
>>Cheng: Oh, the video. I think they shot on a camcorder. A friend shot. Yeah, just
camcorder. Okay, back to wide angle stuff. I think Ricardo
used this picture on one of the events. Itís a school of scalloped hammerheads taken in
the Galapagos off of Darwin, which is the northernmost island, which is a place only
divers go to, because you canít go on land there. So of course, the Galapagos are very
well known, are very famous for their giant tortoises, the blue-footed, red-footed boobies,
the northernmost penguins, and marine iguanas. Albatross, some other stuff too. But underwater,
it is a fantastic place. Itís really for advanced divers. The currents
areócan be pretty interesting there. You can see bubbles going sideways on that picture
on the upper left. These bubbles on the right are bubbles that we exhaled, that are now
below us. So there are lots of down currents and weird whirlpool-type things. If youíre
not comfortable in the blue, you shouldnít go. [laughs] But itís a really great place.
I have been there one or two times a year for many years before I got this picture of
the hammerheads. They donít like bubbles. They donít like people or bubbles, so typically,
when you get close to them, they just swim away from you very quickly. So everything--
all the conditions lined up one year. In fact, this picture in the lower left was taken right
before I got that shot of the school of hammerheads. Basically, thereís a very, very strong current,
but there were large boulders we could hide behind, so we didnít have to fight. But the
currents would sweep our bubbles away horizontally away from the hammerheads. And so this large
school of hammerheadsóIt was also just two of us. A large school of hammerheads swam
right above us, and the bubbles were swept away without disturbing them. So I got this
series of shots. You do have to hold your breath for these shots, which they tell you
never to do underwater.
>>Male #1: So the rebreather is not an option?
>>Cheng: Rebreathers? Rebreathers are an option. I have never taken them to Galapagos.
>>Male #1: Have you ever taken {inaudible}?
>>Cheng: Oh. Shops for re-. Yeah. I would not trust another rebreather. Yeah. Bring
your own rebreather. The problem with rebreathers is theyíre deadly when there are accidents.
[laughs] And so this shot on the lower right is actually
the scatter shot. At the moment the hammerheads decided they had enough of me, they scattered.
You can see them going every direction. Most of the scalloped hammerheads here in
the schools are female. They actually joust for position within the school. And theyíre--
One of the reasons theyíre there is to be cleaned by other fish.
Incidentally, itís very hard to find hammerheads now. If you go virtually to any dive site
in the world, thereís always a hammerhead point with no hammerheads. The reason is that
they are pretty muchóMost sharks have been fished out of the ocean for their fins. And
so one thing that I fight against a lot is shark finning for the purpose of putting it
in shark fin soup. If youíre interested in sharks, please contact me.
This is really one of the last places on the planet where you can see large schools of
hammerhead sharks, another being Cocos Island and Malpelo off of Costa Rica and Columbia.
That might be it. Those two places. Only two places I can think of on the planet where
you can still see this. [pause] There are other things in Galapagos underwater.
Thereís a healthy turtle population. This is a green turtle at a dive site called Cousinsí
Rock. Of course, there are whale sharks too. This is one of the best places to photograph
whale sharks. Very large whale sharks, mostly female. Iíve only ever seen one male whale
shark in Galapagos. This was one of the only really friendly ones
Iíve ever seen there, who just hung out. I mean, all of those divers on the surface
are out of air. What weíre doing is trying to snorkel around this whale shark whoís
just hanging out and rubbing up against boats, doing weird things.
The other thing is: this whale shark would pick one diver and swim towards it until you
got out of the way or it forced you out of the way. [laughter] This is our dive guide,
who just couldnít get out of the way fast enough. Theyíre harmless. Theyó
>>Male #1: Is he snorkeling? Is he actually snorkeling?
>>Cheng: I donít know if he has a snorkel on, but heís out of air. So heís in dive
gear, but on the surface. Yeah. So these sharks are the biggest fish in the
ocean. They can get up to around 40 feet long. They are totally harmless. Theyíre plankton
eaters. Amazing fish to see. [pause] Some more sharks. This is a lemon shark. It
isóThis was taken in the Bahamas. We call this sort of shot a ìlemon snap.î Itís
taken at a very, very close range. That water line is on my camera. So the water line is
on the dome port of the camera, and the shark is a couple inches away.
The Bahamas are one of the best places to photograph sharks, big sharks. This is the
boat that Iíve been going on a lot. Itís called the Shearwater. It goes out of Palm
Beach. Itís four hours overnight to this area of the Bahamas.
The trips that I run are very camera-heavy, of course. We have serious photographers coming
along, and we typically have a dozen high-end, very large cameras on these trips.
In the lower left you can see the population of lemon sharks. Itís very healthy there.
What we do is sit on this swim step here and put our cameras in the water. Then we use
hookless lines with a little bit of fish to attract them to the boat. They donít do this
anymore, unfortunately, so if you want to do this, you can now go and use a pole cam.
This was in the early days when things were a little more free. [laughs]
So you can see some shots of how weíre getting these shots. Thatís me in the upper right
hand corner there with the shark coming in. [pause]
There are also tiger sharks there. Itís a really great place to photograph tiger sharks.
Iíll show some pictures of those in a minute. Here are shots of a tiger shark coming in
on some fish. Again, we use no hooks here, so thereís no chance of hurting the sharks.
[pause] So for those lemon snaps, that mouth open-close
motion can last a fraction of a second. It can be very difficult to capture. The trick,
really, is to take a lot of pictures, and not toócertainly not to retreat, because
the camera is the thing between you and the shark. If youíre not there, they can sometimes
swim on the swim step, which is really uncomfortable for those people around you who have not moved
yet. [laughs] Or I was yelling, ìHold the line! Hold the line!î because you have to
make sure that you have a solid line of cameras there. [laughter] Yeah.
Also, we use both acrylic and glass stone ports underwater. Acrylic isóhas the sameóa
very similar index of refraction as water does, so itís more invisible in the water,
but it scratches very easily. Shark skin will scratch an acrylic dome port. If a shark brushes
by your port, it basically goes opaque, and then you have to polish it off. Glass doesnít
really have that problem, but if you have a damóif you damage your glass dome port,
itís not possible, really, to fix it. Certainly not in the field. [pause]
So hereís one of my favorite lemon snapshots. And Iíll show you a few more. It makes them
look pretty vicious, and so Iím a little bit torn about sharing these pictures, because
I donít want to portray them as being vicious. But I love that they have teeth, and theyíre
these amazing predators. So itís always thatóItís always trying to walk that fine line in terms
of balance. Pretty much, if you see a shark with small, pointy teeth, itís not dangerous.
Small, pointy teeth means they eat fish. Youíre not on their prey list. If they bite you,
itís probably because of something you did. [pause] [laughter]
>>Male #4: Theyíre swallowing.
>>Cheng: [laughs] So these areóThese sharks are five to seven feet long. Maybe some eight
footers. Theyíre not very big. [pause] This is that moment that they snap their jaws shut.
And some stuff shot later in the day. This is pretty close to nighttime.
>>Cheng: We are baiting them using fishing lines with no hooks. We tie a little piece
of fish on. You can see a little bit of water coming off of the piece of fish on the top
of this frame. Baiting can be a controversial issue for sharks.
>>Male #5: Are these second curtain sync or something? That looks like a couple different
>>Cheng: A second curtain sync? Yeah. These shots are second curtain sync, yeah. But shot
at the max sync speed. So 1/200 or 1/250. Yeah. Baiting can be controversial. Many conservationists
do not like baiting sharks in. But I think, really, the two options are: donít bait sharks,
which means you donít get any pictures of sharks, or video, so you canít share how
amazing they are to people, and they get killed. Thatís basically how I see it. Thatís on
the one side. The other side is: do a little bit of baiting. Have areas that are very carefully
managed for tourism where people pay. Sharks are worth much more alive than they are dead.
That has been shown in many, many reports. Tourism brings in much more money than killing
one shark. [pause] Okay, hereís anotheróthis is another shot
that is a little bit unusual. Itís the eye of a tiger shark. Iíve spent a ton of time
in the Bahamas photographing tiger sharks. In the Bahamas, we have very clear water when
weíre in with these tiger sharks. Itís very shallow, and they move very slowly in these
situations. Thereís not theseóItís not a place where tiger sharks are ambushing marine
mammals, so theyíre probably more scavengers here than they are ambush predators. So we
really do find that they move very slowly. You have to be careful, of course, because
they are wild animals. But as you can see, you can get very close. They are so fixated
on finding out where that fish smell is that they just swim around you looking for the
stuff. We do know many of these tiger sharks individually
by name. Weíve been photographing some of them for eight years or so. Some individuals.
Theyíre pretty friendly. This is one of the on the bottom. Sheís probably one of those
famous tiger sharks. Sheís named Emma. She has a Facebook page. [laughter] Maybe a Google+
page, even. So this is the best place to photograph tiger
sharks. You have lots of opportunity. Iíve had up to ten around me at a time. Other people
have had 25 show up.
>>Male #6: Is that a shipwreck or something on the upper left?
>>Cheng: The questionís about the photo on the upper left. It is a shipwreck. Itís called
Sugar Wreck, a very shallow shipwreck full of life, so itís a great place to dive or
snorkel. Although I wouldnít recommend snorkeling when tiger sharks are around, which weíve
had happen before.
>>Male #1: Why? Whatís the difference between snorkeling and diving?
>>Cheng: The difference is youíre on the surface, and sharks pretty much always investigate
anything floating on the surface. So if you want to get attention from a shark, just jump
in and float around, and youíll getó[laughter] There will beóAnd there are sharks around.
Theyíll investigate you. Theyíre not necessarily going to just attack you, but what they will
do is bump you a lot. Theyíre very, very careful. And eventually, they might take a
test bite if you donít react. So you do have to be very aware in these situations. You
have to always face the shark and react. I mean, I found many times that the sharks almost
always approach from behind. If you turn around a look at a shark, thereís a good chance
itíll turn away. Theyíre very in tune to where youíre looking.
>>Male #1: Thereís a chance of {inaudible}? [laughter]
>>Cheng: Good chance. Well, no. Iíve tried pretty hard down there. [laughs] Iíve escaped
without ever having contact. Of course, I have a large camera between me and the animals.
I decided I wanted to get some different shots, shake things up a little bit. So we have done
some night dives with these sharks as well. You can get a nice black background. Then
what I did was I put a macro lens on. That shot in the lower right is how you feel
when you look at the shark. Most shark pictures are shot super wide angle or fisheye, and
so you get this looooong serpentine look to the shark. That is not what they look like.
This shot really shows the girth of these animals. And then as they get closer, you
can start to focus on detail. Some gill detail, eye detail. This shot is an uncropped shot
of the eye. If you zoom in a little bit, you can see the shape of the pupil, even, this
baseball diamond-like shape. [pause] People feel like tiger sharks-- like they
communicate more because their eyes are lessótheyíre a little bit more like ours. If you look at
a lemon shark eye, it looks very feline. It looks alien.
Okay, another unusual shot. [laughter] Pigs!
>>Male #7: Iíve never seen one of those.
>>Cheng: Yeah. Domestic pigs that have gone feral. These are also shot in the Bahamas.
These pictures were taken during a trip to look for oceanic white tip sharks. White tips,
which are starting to make the way back in the ocean. They were almost completely fished
out. In the Bahamas, in the tongue of the ocean, in the middle where itís really deep,
thereís a population now growing of these oceanic white tips. Thereís an island there
called Big Major Cay, which has these pigs living on the beach with babies. So little
piglets there occasionally. The locals feed them, so theyíll come in and feed them scraps.
What the pigs are doing now is swimming out to the boats that are coming in. And so we
just take cameras in the water and itís a lot of fun. [pause]
Hereís some behind-the-scenes shots. Theyíre actuallyótheyíre pretty big, and theyíre
focused. A couple of my friends there put peanut butter on their cameras. [laughter]
That really draws the pigs in. Yeah. They can, in fact, swim over you. It hurts. [laughs]
[laughter] So this might be the most fun you can have
with a pig, legally. [loud laughter] These areó[laughs] These are some shots on the
way to taking this shot, which is one of my favorite portraits. And, of course, there
are people in it, so I had to crop them out.
>>Male #1: Whatís the trick to the split shot?
>>Cheng: Whatís the trick to the split shot? The trick is to use a large dome port. The
more surface area you have, the less chop in the water will affect the shot. Itís also
toóDepending on the material and how old the dome port is, water will sheet differently.
These shots were almost all taken with water completely covering the dome port. I dipped
the dome in the water, and I pulled it out of the water. Before it beads, I take a picture.
Some people have managed to figure out ways with their dome ports to make it completelyó
>>Male #1: {inaudible}
>>Cheng: The coating isóPeople use spit, and they use baby shampoo sometimes. Iíve
seen {raynecks} attempted, which does not work because it beads most of the water off,
but then it leaves lots of little beads, which show up. I find that the way Iíve been most
successful is by using clean glass dome ports that have not been etched by diesel. Diesel
will etch these dome ports if you leave them in the bottom of the tender of a boat. The
water in there has some gas and some fuel in it. That, I found, has been pretty disruptive
to glass. There are a lot of tricks.
>>Male #8: Why not acrylic?
>>Cheng: Why not acrylic? I just havenít had as much luck with acrylic. I feel like
it doesnít sheet as well for some reason. Iím not sure why. Maybe a brand new acrylic
port thatís super smooth could do it. You can get them with both. The best way is just
to keep it dry. Keep the top half dry if you can. If itís totally smooth water, you can
dry it off and then be very careful about your shot. But very often, weíre floating,
and just come up from a dive, and youíre shooting a split. So you have to work with
what you have. [pause] [man coughs] This is another whale shark, another split
of a whale shark shot. This is a whale shark feeding. Itís in Isla Mujeres in the Gulf
of Mexico, just off the Yucat·n. This is happening right now. In fact, Wetpixel has
a trip running right now. Yesterday, they reported between three and four hundred whale
sharks on the surface. Whatís happening hereóAnd this town, by the way, is fantastic. If you
hate Cancun, you will love Isla Mujeres. [laughter]
>>Male #1: What is it called again?
>>Cheng: Isla Mujeres. This is a place. Itís a little island off of Cancun that feels still
very local. This is the touristy strip, so itís not that bad, and even in the tourist
strip. But if you go a couple blocks of, it still feels very local. Everybody drives golf
carts around. There are a lot of tourists on the island, but itís a nice feel.
But whatís great is itís very close to this whale shark aggregation every summer. On permit,
these boats go out and look for these whale sharks that are feeding out there. This is
a shot. Each one of those fins is a whale shark.
The average length of a whale shark here, according to some of the scientists there,
is about 7 meters. So 24 feet, something like that. There are, of course, some that are
much larger, and a few that are much smaller. But this is the largest known concentration
of the largest fish on the planet. [pause] Itís really an incredible place. This were
taken from the tuna tower of the boat. If you get lower, you can shoot multiple shark
fins in one shot. But really, itís great for underwater photography. Of course, you
have unlimited opportunity to take pictures of whale sharks here. Every minute or two,
a whale shark will just swim by you. If youíre not paying attention, it might even hit you.
Itís pretty incredible. And these sorts of silhouette shots are done
by free diving down and then swimming so the shark is between you and the sun. Thereís
the added bonus that this oneís pooping [laughter] which always makes for a better shot.
>>Male #9: So you said Wetpixel runs this trip every year?
>>Cheng: We run this tripóWetpixel runs this trip every year. There are some other organizations
that do as well. If youíre more casual about how you want to approach it, you can just
go to Isla Mujeres and get on a tourist boat, which would give you half an hour on the water,
or so. Yeah. Itís not as good for photography, but itís a great experience and itís much
>>Male #1: Why did you say ìfree divingî?
>>Cheng: Free diving. Youíre not allowed to scuba dive here, so it isóAnd really,
if youíre diving, you canít swim. If you have all that gear on, itís very hard to
swim. So itís a much better experience by snorkel and free dive.
These are shots of whale sharks feeding. These were taken of sharks when theyóTheyíre called
ìbotellasî, like a bottle. They float like this: vertical with their mouths open on the
top, and just gulp in all the plankton they can. They just spin slowly. If youíre very
careful, you can get close and shoot right down their mouths here. [pause]
This is what theyíre after. These are tiny eggs, or little bonito-like tuna. These guys
are spawning there at every full moon. So the sharks are in the area waiting, and when
it happens, they aggregate in groups of hundreds. And hundreds are what you count on the surface,
so it may be that there are many more. [pause] Yeah, itís great. You haveóWe have six hours
a day to take pictures of these sharks. You can get pretty creative. [pause]
There is a random picture in here. Oh, it went away. Okay. Here, this is a video of
[pause] [video starts playing] of me swimming around. [jaunty video music playing] [video
stops playing] So that gives you an idea of how many there are. This was shot in one take.
Eleven whale sharks went by. [pause] Okay. This is another shot. I call this one
ìinterspecies encounter.î This is actually in the talk that Ricardo embedded on the Google
Events. So if you want more information about this shot and this area, you can go check
that out. But this was taken off of Dominica in the Caribbean. Itís a place known for
its sperm whale population. There are a couple pods of sperm whales off the coast here, which
are all very well studied by scientists. They know each of the whales individually. Photographers
can get permits, as well, to get in the water with them there. Marine mammals are pretty
well protected, so if you want to get in the water with a whale, you have to be on permit.
We use hydrophones to find these whales. Sperm whales make a lot of noise. They click. They
have, in fact, a coda for just certain populations, so you can tell which population of whales
from by the pattern that they use to greet each other. They use very loud noises at depth,
1000 meters down when they feed. They have specific feeding noises, and so you can track
them as they move around on their dives, which are typically 45-50 minutes long. Then when
they come up, hopefully youíre in the right place.
We got really lucky there. There were a lot of sperm whales socializing. These sperm whales
were rubbing up against each other. Theyíre rubbing dead skin off of each other. It was
really spectacular to be able to get up so close to them.
I think theyíre the largest carnivore on the planet? In theory, the males can get up
to around 60 feet long. They have teeth. These are mostly juvenile males and females of all
ages. Again, because they were soóThey just basically ignored us here. You could take
some more interesting shots instead of just going for whatever shot you can get. So I
shot splits, these vertical splits, and then I dove down to their heads to try to get shots
of them hanging in the water upside down. This is also on snorkel, on free dive. [pause]
More shots here. The one on the left is-- That little piece there, of red, is actually
part of a squid arm, which is what they feed on. This one in the middle is a juvenile about
to do a tail slap on the surface. Youíve seenóIf you go whale watching, youíll see
tails come out of the water and slap. Thatís what it looks like underwater.
And then this one on the right may be nursing, although thatís unconfirmed. And I donít
think anyone knows how sperm whales nurse. It could be like this. Who knows? [sighs]
If only marine mammals researchers worked with photographers.
Now, this whale is named Scar. He wasóthis is maybe three years ago-- at the time around
ten years old, and was the friendliest of the bunch. Heís been interacting with humans
for his entire life. This whale would literally just come in and get right in front of you.
In fact, you could swim inóYou had to swim away from this whale to get a picture of it.
[light laughter] This is the guide who knows Scar the best.
I would never advocate swimming up to a whale and touching it, but this whale, Scar, actually
closed his eyes. You can see his eyes there that are closed. And then all of us went in
and just rubbed him down. It wasóWe couldnít resist, really. [pause] Pretty incredible
>>Male #1: One of your G+ posts said that he disappeared last year.
>>Cheng: The question is about whether heís still there or not. I have not seen any recent
pictures of Scar. They do leaveóMales leave the area where they grew up when they get
to a certain age, and they go to the polar regions to then hunt and eat until theyíre
much larger and they come back to breed, to mate. Iím not sure whether heís still there.
People are still going there, because itís still a really great place to getóa lot of
film crews are there to get footage of sperm whales. But Iím not sure if heís still there.
[pause] I like this shot because it just shows that
moment of connection between whale and human. I have a little bit of video of the sperm
whales, as well. This was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II. [video starts playing] [water
sounds] One of the great things about the cameras now is that you can instantly start
shooting video if you see something that is better captured that way. [video continues
playing] [tapping and clicking sounds] This is natural light. Theyíre really too big
to light up with strobes. [video continues playing] All these sounds are from the whales,
and that tapping, that pattern, that pattern is the pattern that this group uses. [video
continues playing]
>>Male #10: How easy is it to control the camera?
>>Cheng: Itís really easy to turn it on. Itís hard to ensure that youíre in focus.
We pretty much prefocus these. Theyíre shot so wide, Iíll focus on my fin [video stops
playing] and just stop down. But theyíre also hard to hold steady. Dedicated video
cameras are designed to be held steady, and the housings have a lot of mass, so itís
hard to shake them. But an SLR housing has two handles on the side, so if you just move
a little bit, it shakes. It takes a lot of practice to shoot smoothly. I think itís
impossible to have a shot that looks like it was completely smooth with an SLR.
I think thatís all the pictures I have to show today. I do have-- This portfolio link
goes to my Google+ page where there are 300 pictures uploaded. And, of course, Wetpixel
is a site for those of you who are interested in underwater photography. I think we have
time for some questions. Do we? Yeah.
>>Male #11: Do you do any diving in Monterey?
>>Cheng: Do I do any diving in Monterey? I do some diving in Monterey, but not as much
as Iíd like to. Iíve actually done more diving in Alaska than I have in Monterey.
But itís right here, and itís incredible. Itís some of the best cold water diving in
the world. In fact, this weekend, thereís a big shootout in Monterey, where people go
and compete in a photo contest. There is a film festival where Iíll be speaking as well.
Yeah. Other questions?
>>Male #12: I want to know about the radio triggers for the flash.
>>Cheng: Radio triggers for the flash? We donít use radio triggers. We use either electrical
sync cords or optical sync. You have to trigger the camera somehow. For a while, when digital
cameras came out, underwater photographers lost the ability to use TTL, because everyóThat
went D-TTL and i-TTL, and Canon went E-TTL. And none of the underwater strobe manufacturers
could catch up. So we shotóAnd thatís when I started shooting. So we pretty much shot
manual. Everything was manual. But I find, in general, all you need is a
signal to fire the strobe, because if you rely on TTL, especially for macro, and you
have more than one strobe, the pictures end up looking really flat. The idea is to think
about shadows. Shadows are the most important thing for underwater macrophotography. You
always want to think about where that shadowís going to be cast. Since so many animals underwater
are totally camouflaged, the best way to cut them out of the environment is to make them
cast a shadow on their host.
>>Male #13: So youíreó
>>Cheng: Oh, go ahead.
>>Male #13: What do you think is your most dangerous encounter ever? Anything youíve
ever been close to?
>>Cheng: [laughs] My most dangerous encounter ever? I donít think my most dangerous encounters
have been wildlife related. [laughter] Itís mostly been in a situation where youíre in
a very high current environment and youíve pushed yourself somehow. Iím too deep, Iím
in deco, I donít have much air left, and all I can see are my bubbles streaming off
into the blue when Iím ready to let go to go do a safety stop where you drift for three
to five minutes, plus deco time. So there have been some moments like that that are
very visceral memories where Iímómy back is to the current, and Iím just staring at
my bubbles going down, and thinking, ìOkay, this is going to beóI hope the boat follows
me.î So there were some moments like that. Luckily,
Iíve never had anything truly life-threatening. I think most of my friends who have been doing
this for a long time have been bent or have had some kind of serious malfunction. Their
first stage blows off their tank or something really disastrous. The only realóThe only
lethal incidents, at least, amongst my friends, have involved rebreathers. They have a rebreather
accident and they die. Or the occasional surf photographer can get smashed in the coral.
So there are just a fewóSometimes, there are really unfortunate events, especially
rebreather stuff. Even really experienced rebreather divers can have accidents like
that. Itís less forgiving than open circuit. [pause]
Other questions?
>>Male #1: So have you done much rebreather diving at all?
>>Cheng: Iíve done some rebreather diving. I donít own one, but I typically will dive
it in Papua New Guinea where thereís a boat that I go on that has them.
>>Male #1: Why is that? Why only there?
>>Cheng: Itís mostly that I just donít own one. I havenít invested in one.
>>Male #1: And you think theyíre dangerous.
>>Cheng: Well, I think if you donít use them a lot, if youíre not very comfortable with
them, they can be dangerous. I love them. I mean, rebreathers, for those of you who
donít know, are fully closed circuits, so they scrub the CO2 out of what you exhale,
and inject a very small amount of oxygen into the system. Itís bubble-free. Almost everything
underwater is afraid of bubbles. If you ever go underwater and hold your breath or are
on a rebreather, divers make a ton of noise. You can hear divers long before you can see
them, in the water. It affects the wildlife. You can immediately see the fish start hiding.
With every exhalation, if you have someone on scuba whoís taking video, you can watch
the fish pulse in and out as they breathe. With a rebreather, you just donít see that.
And the other benefit of using a rebreather for photography and videography is that as
you breathe, your buoyancy does not change, because thereís a counterlung. You exhale
into the counterlung, so the amount of air stays constant. With open circuit, every time
you inhale, you start to float, and every time you exhale, you start to sink. That makes
it really hard to hold a camera steady. So rebreathersóMost serious videographers will
shoot on a rebreather. [pause]
>>Female #2: You talked a little bit about sharks. I was wondering if youíre doing anything
in terms of awareness to the concentration of those sharks?
>>Cheng: The questionís about awareness and conservation around sharks. I work really
closely with an organization called Shark Savers, which is a conservation organization
dedicated to policy and awareness around shark finning and how unsustainable it is. Most
of the direct action happens in the Chinese-speaking world, so mostly Hong Kong, China, Taiwan.
But a lot of the fundraising happens here. So yeah, I think most people are afraid of
sharks. Thereís that fallout from Jaws, and a lot of the media we see. Shark Week is coming
up. Shark Week is usually 90 or 95% sensationalist stuff about sharks. ìTop 10 Most Dangerous
Sharksî, that kind of thing. Weíre working directly with them to try to influence programming
as well, and to see how much we can get them to publish real facts around sharks. I mean,
thereís an average of five people killed a year by sharks, but you hear about every
one of those, maybe more than once. It feels like people are being killed by sharks all
the time, but in fact, youíre probably more likely to die from just about anything else.
>>Female #2: Are you making any {inaudible} policy?
>>Cheng: Iím not directly involved in a lot of theóin the policy stuff, but what we noticed
in the last few years is that a lot of countries and states are now banning shark fins. California
banned shark fin. This is the last year. You canít buy it anymore if you own a restaurant,
but you can still serve it this year. Weíre finding a lot of legislation, now, to ban
shark fins. But mostly, it has to happen in Asian, high-density Asian areas, so mostly
in Asia. And itís already starting. The Chinese government
said they wonít serve it anymore at official government events. A lot of celebrities in
Hong Kong, Taiwan, China are now speaking out against it. Itís really an education
thing. When most people learn about whatís involved in making a bowl of shark fin, which
is basically finning a shark and throwing away the body and keeping the fin, because
itís so much more valuable, theyóespecially the younger generationóis very much against
it. So hopefully, people will have their minds changed before sharks are gone. [pause]
>>Male #14: Are animals sensitive to light?
>>Cheng: Are animals sensitive to light?
>>Male #14: Yeah, are they scared by light?
>>Cheng: Yeah. Most animals are affected by light in some way. This is all, again, highly
controversial as well, because, I mean, if you image a giant strobe flashing in your
face if youíre a pygmy seahorse, it could be very distracting. [laughs] But having said
that, Iíve seen pygmy seahorses feeding while theyíre being photographed, so sometimes
theyíre not affected. I think theyíreómost things will just run from things that are
notóthat are scary. Theyíll typically try to get away from you, just as a diver, regardless
of your lights. But sometimes, you get one shot, and that first strobe flash will make
the animal run. We do use red lights a lot at night. We find
that many animals are less sensitive to red light, presumably because thereís no red
light down there. So any animal thatís red is probably trying to hide, because thereís
no red light. [pause] Questions?
>>Female #3: Do you shoot more landscapes, like not animals stuff?
>>Cheng: Do I shoot landscapes underwater, oró
>>Female #3: Yes, or {inaudible}?
>>Cheng: Oh, okay. Yeah, I shoot a lot of reefscapes, reef scenes that are colorful
and show that thereís a lot of life in the water. And the occasional interesting topography,
like crevices and a little bit of cave stuff. Wrecks are really artificial reefs these days.
If you sink a ship and leave it for any amount of time, it will collect a huge amount of
wildlife around it. Some people are interested in the wrecks for historical context, and
they want to go find the bell or swim through the grand ballroom, but I really like wrecks
because they collect a lot of wildlife. In some wrecks, in fact, you canít see the wreck.
It is completely covered in coral and fish.
>>Female #3: Do you have to be super far away?
>>Cheng: You have to be super far away to photograph and entire wreck, yes, typically.
And there are some photographers who specialize in that. Theyíll go down 300 feet with a
heavy tripod and plant themselves in front of a giant wreck, taking long exposure stuff
in the dim light. And then theyíll decompress over hours going back to the surface.
>>Male #15: Have there been any species that have been particularly elusive for you to
>>Cheng: Species that have been elusive? Yeah, certainly. We went looking for sperm whales
in Japan, and we hadóOne of my friends and I were the first to photograph sperm whales
eating giant squid. But the giant squid is the classic elusive animal that no oneís
really photographed. Thereís a little bit of video on the surface of one alive, and
thatís it. I would say that as a scuba diver, itís not realistic to think that I would
ever see a giant squid alive, because they live at 1000 meters. Yeah.
But there are a lot of animals Iíd like to see. Iíd love to do a Humboldt squid. Theyíre
a five to seven foot squid on the California coast near Mexico into Baja California. And
thereíre just schools of squid that can beóthat flash, and theyíre really cool.
Are we done?
>>Presenter: Weíre done. Weíre out of time.
>>Cheng: [laughs] All right. Okay, thanks.
>>Presenter: Thanks, Eric, for coming to Google. [applause]