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How to Photograph Bioluminescent bay

      The bio-bay in Vieques can be photographed easily if you have a digital camera that is very light sensitive or, a very sensitive film (3200 or faster) and a fast lens - the faster the better. I was actually shocked at how simple it really was. You need to do sixteen second or longer exposures with the aperture wide open (that's the lowest possible number),) on a tripod,  with a half power fill flash hyper directed at the subject sometime during the exposure. Extra long exposures yield a brighter glow, but the subject tends to be obscured in the glow,  the glow looks nothing like the real thing, and the photos tend to look contrived. Full power flash can give good results also but you run the risk of washing out the glow or creating reflections in the ripples in the water (which are distracting.)  If you use a brighter flash make sure your angle to the water isn't too straight down or your shot will be ruined.The photo above required some retouching to get out the reflected light from the flash and to put hair back on my model (Betsy) - her black hair didn't reflect any light.  I made her look  bald and I was sure she would kill me the next time she saw me.
      Be careful to keep your subject in the exact same spot during the exposure. The longer the exposure the brighter the glow, but to get the glow to look similar to the real thing don't over expose.  You need to stabilize your model so he/she doesn't move - prop them up from beneath, hold their feet, have them close to shore standing or sitting on the bottom...

      Fully automatic cameras will not work, but those of you who are real photography bugs will have a great time.  It's not all that difficult to figure out; we only rented the boat and skipper for an hour and a half.  If possible, choose a night with no moon.  Some were done when the moon went behind a cloud for a few minutes - the rest were taken on a successive trip.  Double exposures also work well.  You can take a flash photo first and then take a no-flash time exposure without moving your tripod - put them together and you have a nice shot.
     I suggest using a good digital camera, because you can see immediately if you have the shot and it's easy to punch up the image on the computer.  You can enhance the glow without over exposing the rest of the photo by lightening only the area of the glow - the color will tend to alter however.   Above are two photos:  the one on the left is very close to what you will actually see at the bay, the glow on  the right one has been punched up (it was a fairly short exposure, about 16 seconds with a digital camera) - the color tends to deepen and digitize but it can be corrected if you want to spend the time. I have noticed that the shorter the exposure, the deeper the blue of the glow - the true color of the glow is a light blue-green.

     You can enhance the color of the glow even more by adjusting the "color saturation" after you download the photos (if you have a program that will do it).  It does tend to make the subject more red and the glow a deeper blue than in reality though, so be careful not to do too much adjusting.  I've enhanced the skin tone on the photo above separately to get it back closer to normal  - those of you who have a good photo enhancing program can do the same thing.


Be careful not to over expose or this is all you can expect, the subject is obscured -
it can be filled with flash at low levels, but the subject tends to remain dim and morbid.

       I haven't been able to  find a camera fast enough to capture the incredible fluidity of the glow as it looks in any given instant.  Certain things are easy to achieve  - long exposures are only a matter of leaving the shutter open. Some interesting effects, but they are nothing like the experience of the bay - merely people flapping their arms and legs, creating a glow on film that looks nothing like the real glow of the bay.  The true experienceof the bio-bay is much more subtle, ethereal, and infinitely more beautiful. Someday, with digital imaging becoming more sensitive, someone will be able to get a stop action still photograph that really captures the magic of this place. Like the Aurora Borealis before high speed film;  the emotional presence, the true color, and the true feel of the bioluminescent bay is still better represented by the artist, than the photographer.


 
 

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