I STARED at the winning images from 2017’s Underwater Photographer of the Year contest, and Luc Rooman’s Clownfish in a Swirl held my attention the longest.
The subject, a false anemone clownfish opening wide to display a tongue-eating parasite, was interesting, but what really fascinated me was the creamy orange swirl in which it was portrayed. How on Earth was this beautiful photo captured without some Photoshop wizardry?
These days, part of the beauty and the frustration of underwater photography is that it is easier and more accessible than ever. There are more and more good underwater images out there, and finding a way to make yours stand out, particularly if you’re into competitions, is a tough challenge. I was fascinated by the potential of this mystifying technique, and began a quest to incorporate it into my own portfolio.
My friend and esteemed Californian shooter Brook Peterson had started using the technique, and was kind enough to share her findings.
First off, she presented me with a name for it: ringflection.
Cinnamon anemonefish in a swirl of its own colours.
To achieve ringflection, the basic principle is to shoot through a metallic tube. The colours from your subject will then be reflected in the tube and appear as a surrounding swirl. This is just the beginning, however, because different lenses combined with different lengths and diameters of tubes will give you totally different effects.
Brook then put me in touch with Alex Tyrrell, a renowned photographer based in Thailand, and once again I was both surprised and touched by the willingness within our community to share results and ideas.
Brook and Alex both used specially adapted household piping of around 2.5cm diameter as a ringflector. The length of the piping varied from 10-20cm, with a shorter pipe producing a narrower swirl than a longer one.
I enlisted my father-in-law’s help, as he is one of those people who can pretty much build anything, and we headed to the nearest hardware store. We soon gathered a crowd of curious staff-members, as we debated the merits of various pipes in the bathroom section!
Back home we created the first prototype, a narrow tube about 15cm long, held in place on the outside of the camera-lens port using a combination of a diopter flip-holder and lots of duct tape.
The test shots of flowers at home were tremendously promising, displaying a narrow ring of swirl around the subject and then black all around, similar to a circular fish-eye effect.
There was huge excitement in feeling as if we were inventors of some kind, tapping into new territory.
One of the best things about ringflection is that the RAW images, straight out of the camera, look really special. In photography competitions, RAW files are often requested when reaching the final rounds of judging, and I believed that the impressive RAW file was another feather in the cap for this technique.