Eric Cheng: “Underwater Photography” | Talks at Google

>>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. [applause]>>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 of me actually shooting this rig. You can see how the working distance is really
close. Thatís a frogfish, that orange blob. This is a flamboyant cuttlefish.
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. >>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 exposures.>>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 cheaper.>>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] of me swimming
around. [jaunty video music 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 encounter.>>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. [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. [tapping and clicking sounds] This
is natural light. Theyíre really too big to light up with strobes. All these sounds are from the whales, and that tapping, that pattern, that pattern
is the pattern that this group uses. >>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 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] Questions?>>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 photograph?>>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.


  1. Richard Terrell October 2, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    30:59 "eye of the tiger…. shark" lol. I should say that this video is beyond inspirational to me on so many levels. Photography and Environmental/Wildlife Conservation and more. Thanks to all who deserve it.

  2. Eric Cheng November 23, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Thank you, Richard!

  3. Ellen Hui January 3, 2013 at 5:02 am

    inspiring talk and pictures, best of all i've got some good learning and tips out of it, thank you!

  4. Eric Cheng October 23, 2013 at 6:44 am

    Thank you, Richard!

  5. Bengalboycom February 1, 2016 at 4:11 am

    Great Video!  Very informative and inspiring.  Researching my trip to Komodo, I especially enjoyed the part of the lecture on macro photography.

  6. Dillon de Voor August 9, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    How do you go from being a developer to being an u/w photographer? Where did you learn all that from? Did you take any classes or courses or anything? I'm interested to know because I'm a web developer but also very interested in reefs, scuba diving and u/w photography. I just don't know if it's realistic to think I can ever make a full career switch (or even want to), but something close to semi-pro would definitely work for me.

  7. Donald Rogers January 13, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Great job Eric. Your work is awesome!!

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