SOME SPECIES are quite skittish, and will hide away from you on the far side of the anemone, so you have to chase them around their home with little success.
With these species a macro lens is less useful, and it might be best to shoot them with a wider lens and capture the anemone in full, showing this mutualistic relationship in its totality.
In this scenario, the clownfish/anemone symbiosis becomes a single photographic subject, and you can exploit the ability of wide-angle lenses to focus very close to a subject.
The slightly awkwardly named close-focus wide-angle technique could have been invented for anemones and clowns.
There are a few things you need to consider with such shots. Firstly, you’ll get close to your subject and it’s easy to damage coral and other creatures on the reef, so you need to take care.
A wide shot to show a Red Sea pair in context, using the Rule of Thirds to place the fish in the frame while leaving enough “blue” to contrast with the fishes’ colour.
In any case, you don’t want to kick up sand and sediment that will degrade your image and leave you with an awful lot of work in Photoshop, removing backscatter with the spot-healing tool.
The other technique (tempered by the caveats above and not always possible) is to try to get below, or at least on a level, with the subject. I regularly see divers photographing subjects as they fin along the reef, shooting downwards to produce images that are uninspiring at best.
Getting low and shooting upwards including some of the blue reinforces the impression of sunlit tropical waters.
A sunburst can often be included, though you might need to select a narrow aperture to ensure that the “blue” isn’t washed out – f11-16 is ideal.
Such subjects rely on careful use of strobes to add artificial light to bring out the “real” colours of the anemone and fish.
While most anemones are fairly dull, some are spectacularly coloured, with red bubbletip anemones superb subjects.
There are no hard and fast rules to how to set up your strobes, but you are likely to have to “dial down” the output from one or the other to stop one part of the subject being over-exposed.
You’ll probably need to rearrange your strobes on their arms as well, to limit shadows and ensure even illumination.
I would suggest, as a starting point, setting the strobes with their heads to the rear of the end of your dome-port and angled slightly apart. You might need to rotate either one, and reduce the output from the strobe closest to the subject.
I referred earlier to Disney’s adventurous wee fish, and nowadays dive-guides across the Indo-Pacific refer to clowns as Nemos in their briefings. This always helps to flush out the pedants who can’t help observing that “Nemo’s dad would turn into a female”, and “How come Nemo ended up in that same anemone, as they disperse in the plankton…?” Such characters are either fascinating or deeply boring, depending on your viewpoint, but they do have a point.
Clownfish do hatch from eggs to drift
as larvae in the plankton, and as the fish develop they settle and find anemones.
This process is not entirely understood, though research has shown that they can use the noise of a healthy reef (reefs are surprisingly loud places) and chemicals given off by anemones to find their way. This means that clowns found in any one anemone are unlikely to be related.
Looking at anemones in the wild will usually reveal a dominant pair of fish, but also many juveniles, which are particularly attractive and often show different colouration to the adults.