Dendronotus sp.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth Kopp
Catalina Island
Mar., 2008

Light Table Nudi's

This technique was born out of looking for a way to distinguish my shots - mostly among themselves. I've shot tens-of-thousands of local nudibranch shots. And because I often dive the same waters week after week (its rare for me to travel and dive) I was amassing a huge library of shots of the same 20 or 30 Nudi's.

I know how Nudi's handle light after all these shots - I know how to bounce, how to reflect, how to show their internal organs and how to make them sort of glow. But all of that is from lighting them from the outside - I wanted to light one from the inside. THAT would be cool.

I'm not a photoshop guy - I know some of the basics, but I really do very little to my shots. So to make something really different its going to have to be in the set up of the shot - on the artistic side, and not on the technical side. Its all really done with lighting, exposure a little luck.

One day we found a Hermissenda on a kelp leaf. The surge wasn't too crazy so I had my dive buddy and Professional Nudi Spotter, Claudette come over and light the guy from underneath the kelp leaf with her 21 watt HID (a very powerful underwater dive light.)

The kelp leaf provided an illuminated background for the animal, and I figured some of that light would shine through the critter - I mean they're just mucus in a bag, right?

I turned the strobes on the camera down as low as they could go, so I would only fill flash - just a little pop on the top to give the frame some definition with the majority of the light coming from underneath the Nudi. After a few tries we nailed it.

There are some 'branch's that are better for Light Tabling than others. The translucent ones are the best - like Dendronotus. Hermi is good - one of my favs. The blue Nudis (Fed Ex, Mexichromis, McFarlands, etc.) not so much. The smoother the skin, the more dramatic the effect (Dendy yes, RTD or Red-Tipped Dorid, not so much...)

The very best thing that can happen is you find your subject on a leaf with a hole in it - and he moves over to the hole. One of the Hermi shots is shot like that. The kelp being lit from below nearly always makes as interesting a subject as the Nudi its self in most of these shots.

Claudette makes this fun, as she's always looking for nudi's on kelp. We've shot probably 8 or 9 species - here are some of the better ones:

Dendronotus sp.

Here is a Dendronotus (a mystery one shot off of Catalina) that we lit up from the bottom of the Kelp leaf

Flabellina iodinea

Not a great subject for this, but by lighting up the kelp he looks like he's floating above it. Its the lighting it from below as well as lighting it from above that makes it look like the Nudi is hovering over the kelp. Kind of a neat effect. Very thick kelp, and you can see the corona of Claudette's light clearly in this shot.

Acanthodoris rhodoceras (RTD)

This is a Acanthodoris rhodoceras, motoring across some really groaty kelp. Hey - if you don't try you won't know. Who knew we'd get the tiger stripes out of the kelp on this shot??!!?!!

Cuthoa divae

My current fav Nudi. We found this little guy on Anacapa Island and gave it a shot. I like this one a lot. He wasn't on a kelp leaf but on one of those round bubble kelp ball things (yeah, I'm a scientist...) So the kelp didn't light up much, but the Cuthona sure did!

Janolus barbarensis

This Nudi will be an excellent candidate for Light Tabling if we fine one of the big ones. This guy was kinda small, and he was at the bottom of a really thick kelp leaf - so the effect isn't as dramatic as it will be when we find the right guy. Jannys are nearly transparent - they will be great when lit from below.

Hermissenda crassicornis

So far, my fav light table shots are of the Hermissendas. They're not what I would consider prime candidates for the photo effect due to their body type, but I think because of their color and the color of the light that shines through the kelp - the effect is just dramatic. I love it. If you look at the edge of the holes in the kelp on the bottom two shots you'll get an idea of how intense the light is below the kelp. You gotta really put your light right on the leaf. Of the three shots below, shot #1 is Light Table Nudi 001 - the hermi I described at the opening that kinda started the whole Light Table thing for me.
Hermissenda crassicornis

Shot #2 below is the same little guy on the same kelp leaf as #3 - just a little later (lots of surge down there.)

Hermissenda crassicornis

Shot #3 is my favorite Light Table shot - the Nudi kinda moved over a pin hole in the kelp and just lit himself up. The flame in the upper left of the frame is the rest of the kelp leaf, lit with bounce off the main leaf from the small pop of my strobes. We've learned to create texture and light and dark effects by bending and folding the leaves, and that's whats happening here. Claudette is bending the leaf around her light head on the right side of the frame, and the the left side of the frame remains in the dark.

Ken Kopp
Westchester, Calif
Dec. 2008

WEBMASTER'S NOTES: I don't know about you Folks but if a picture is worth a thousand words then the image that follows tells a story of total determination to capture photographically qualities of our little slug friends that as a norm generally aren't seen! Ken and Claudette are certainly raising the bar in nudibranch photograpy! Stay tuned for more to come from this dynamic nudi duo!

Kenneth Kopp

Diving since 1999. Currently doing about 260 local dives a year. Favorite Nudibranch dive is Marine Land, Palos Verdes, CA. We routinely see 12 - 14 species on a single dive there.

Got my first camera in 1974. Been shooting digital exclusively since 1998. Been shooting underwater about 3 years (mostly P&S Olympus and Sony.) Moved to the current DSLR (Nikon D200 / Ikelite rig) about 9 months ago.

Writer and Marketing executive by profession. When I'm dry, I'm usually fly fishing or pounding and shaking things as a working drummer & percussionist.

Married, no kids. We have three house Rabbits. Yeah - its weird for me, too.

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