Tubeworms are notoriously skittish underwater subjects. Photographer Elaine Whiteford provides some tips on how to capture great images of them
TUBEWORMS ARE BEAUTIFUL CREATURES that are found around the world in both temperate and tropical waters. They come in many colours, shapes and forms that make them alluring to underwater photographers. Getting a good-quality image of a worm, however, is not always easy - for a number of reasons. The slightest movement (even from some distance) or the flash of a torch can be enough to make tubeworms retreat. And they can usually retreat at a speed in excess of that at which you can snatch your photo! If you're lucky, they may not fully withdraw and you will get a nice half-in half-out shot. But more often than not, you will be left with a picture of a tube, with not even a flicker of a feathery tentacle in sight! So what to do? Firstly, you need to cultivate stealth and patience in approaching tubeworms. In UK waters, you will often find aggregations of worms on boulders, wrecks or other structures, and you will see that they seem to disappear consecutively with choreographed precision as you get nearer to each one in turn. Or, and even more irritating, they wait until you're quite close, then withdraw as soon as you point the camera in their direction. You stand a better chance of being able to photograph worms in all their glory if you approach them slowly, smoothly and steadily. So you need good buoyancy and controlled movements. Sudden jerks are a no-no, and you will sometimes find that torches are best switched off, as many worms respond to sudden light by withdrawing. I have noticed that worms in warm water seem less sensitive to light, perhaps because their surroundings tend to be generally brighter, so they don't experience such a contrast when a torch is shone at them. Because worms are so sensitive, your chances of getting close enough to take super-macro shots are slim. This is one occasion under water when a zoom lens can come in very handy. If you get as close as you can and then zoom in, you might be able to get a detailed shot of tentacles or feeding parts. As worms are filter-feeders, they often inhabit areas in which there is a current. Currents can affect a diver's ability to stay in position while taking a photograph, so you need to be extra careful to avoid camera shake.
CURRENTS CAN ALSO AFFECT the movement of your subject, and with worms this can lead to some nice opportunities to capture billowing shapes as their tentacles waft in the current. The most significant challenge introduced by currents, however, is that the particles passing by in the water can cause backscatter in your photographs. If you are using an external flashgun, positioning it well can minimise backscatter by angling the light such that it doesn't reflect directly back into the lens of the camera when you shoot. If you're using the camera's own flash, all you can do is experiment with manual modes to find a setting that limits the background light, so that scatter will be less obvious. This usually means setting quite a high shutter-speed together with a small aperture. Use this approach whenever you want your picture to have a dark or black background, and whether you are using the camera's own flash or an external flashgun. And if all else fails and you still have backscatter, if it is not too dense you might be able to edit some of it away, using photo-editing software. When photographing worms, experiment by shooting them from a range of angles and distances to really show off their beauty and intricacy. It took me a number of attempts to get a decent picture of a worm, especially in UK waters. So the most important piece of advice is to persevere!
Half-in, half-out - a peacock worm in all its glory