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Tide Pool Photography

by John S. Butterworth

H ave you ever attempted to take photographs of tide pool or

pond life and been disappointed with the results? Despite
using a polarizer to minimize surface reflections, the typical
above-water shot is low on definition and colour saturation and
has an overall milky-bluish cast due to a residual reflection of
the sky.
Where practical, a better alternative to polarizer use is to have
an assistant hold a black umbrella to block sky reflections. How-
ever, a number of problems remain. For one, even a slight wind
will cause surface ripples which will spoil your image. Sec-
ondly, refraction at the water/air interface is dispersive, that is to
say that the angle of refraction varies depending on the wave-
length of light, causing what we photographers call chromatic
aberration. This dispersion is the same effect that causes rain-
bows. The only way to avoid it is to look straight down into the
water (“normal incidence”)
or to use a device which
enables us to achieve the Giant Green Anemones in a Botanical Beach tide pool
same effect.
You can obtain photo- My Waterscope (for want of a better name) was made of Coro-
graphs of superb definition plast, a 4 mm thick plastic extrusion which resembles corrugated
and colour by using a glass cardboard in its construction. It’s available from office supply
Illustration of dispersive refraction at or Plexiglass-bottomed box stores as “House for Sale” signs, etc.
glass/air interfaces in front of your camera,
I constructed the box as an 8.5” high truncated pyramid of rec-
like a king-sized lens
tangular cross-section. It tapers from 10” x 7” at the window end
shade. In use, the window in the box bottom is immersed in the
to 5.5” x 5.5” at the camera end. The edges were sealed together
water to take pictures, enabling you to achieve results such as
with black silicone sealer.
the one of giant green anemones shown here.
I cut a round hole in a piece of 5.25” x 5.25” Coroplast and
glued this into the camera end of the box. I then attached a han-
dle to the side of the box. After painting the inside of the box
matte black, I glued a 9.5” x 6.5” Plexiglass window into the
large end with silicone sealer. Glass could also be used, but is
more likely to fog up under some climate conditions.
In use, the camera lens is inserted into the hole in the box-top
and then the box window is lowered into the water.

Everything in position and ready to shoot

To check for leaks, I gave my waterscope an immersion test in

the laundry tub before taking it to the beach. You will note from
the photos that I chose to use a clip-on flash to illuminate some
of my shots. Flash enables the use of a smaller aperture to get
better depth of field and also
provides more even illumina-
tion and colour saturation.
If you decide to try this, take
steps to make your shooting
position comfortable, so that
you do not drop your camera
The Waterscope being lowered into a tide pool. Note the use of a
clip-on flash unit into the salt water. Fatal!