Pygmy Seahorse Photo Tips

Pygmy seahorses are a very popular subject with underwater macro photographers. Pygmy seahorses can be shy and difficult to photograph. Avoid stressing the pygmy seahorse and make sure you do not damage the seahorse’s home when taking a photograph.

Pygmy seahorses are a relatively new discovery and little is known about their behaviour. There are at least 9 known species of pygmy seahorses. The most well known pygmy seahorses are Bargibanti’s seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti), which are approximately 2cm in size and live on gorgonian coral fans. Bargibanti’s seahorses are extremely well camouflaged and appear to have two colour variations: white-grey with red bumps and yellow with orange bumps. Denise’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise) are coloured orange and are even smaller than Bargibanti’s seahorse (1.5cm at most).

To take a macro photograph of a pygmy seahorse, you will need proper equipment. The following are from UMP members suggestions and may vary depending on whether you use a compact or (D)SLR camera. You will need a macro lens (50 or 60mm and 100 or 105mm lenses are popular choices). A close-up dioptre (a screw on lens, which may be dry (inside the housing) or wet (outside and easy to remove during the dive)) can provide more magnification. Note that dioptres can be stacked (one on top of another, although focusing will be more difficult). An extension tube sits between the camera and lens, which also allows more magnification. A focus light with a red beam may be useful to aid focus – a lot of sea creatures can’t see the colour red and will ignore the red light. A compact camera may have an advantage over a large DSLR/housing because of its small size, allowing the photographer to get closer without damaging the seahorse or sea fan. You will also need a lot of patience!

So you have the right equipment – now what? A single focus point if you have that option, this will make it easier to autofocus (I try to put this point over the eye). A high shutter speed (e.g. 1/200 seconds) will help to freeze movement. A large aperture (f18 or more) will ensure you have the entire animal sharp. You might try close-up portrait shots or move further back to show the seahorse in its environment (see photo below). Whatever you do, it is critical to make sure the eye (or eyes) is in focus.

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