I am in Raja Ampat at the moment, love diving and snorkeling in the mangroves here! This is another shot from the other day taken at Gam/Yangeffo mangroves.
Alor is one of the most underrated destinations in Indonesia, in fact, the entire area east of Maumere is home to some incredible geography with plenty of belching volcanoes, healthy reefs, and traditional cultures. Although many divers head to the area to take advantage of the superb macro photo subjects, the wide angle photography opportunities are also very rich. One of the more unique areas is the island of Pura, a large volcano thrusting 1000 metres out of the water in the strait between Pantar and Alor. On the south eastern shore of Pura lies one of the more interesting dives in Alor, basically several kilometres of never ending bubble tipped anemones and their resident clownfish. Although the endless spread of anemones is a cool site to see, it’s the chance to encounter local kids in the water at this site that can often be the highlight of a dive here. Quite often the young boys from the village can be found playing in their small boats or swimming in the water with their hand made spear guns. It’s quite a sight to look up from the reef to see one of these young men peering down at you from the surface while wearing home made goggles. With this particular shot I spotted the guys paddling out toward me in their small outrigger while I was near the surface. Next thing I knew, the two young fellas both popped their faces into the water at the same time! I think they did this not only to check who was down there but also to see if I had a camera, because the next thing you know they both jumped into the water at the same time. Why did they want to see if I had a camera? Why did they jump in the water? They wanted to perform for my camera of course! While one of them kept diving down and posing in a zen like state, the other was swimming along with his spear gun trying to impress me with his fish killing prowess (I ignored him because of that..) I spent 15 or 20 minutes with these kids taking quite a few photos of them but it was the first photo that stands out the most. I was extremely fortunate to capture their happy smiles and the obvious eagerness as they were waiting to “clown” for the camera.
Alor, Eastern Indonesia, Nikon D90 with Aquatica Housing, 10-17mm lens at 10mm, f8, 1/250
Story Behind the Shot – Wayag Panorama
The signature shot of Raja Ampat, Indonesia is usually one featuring the panorama overlooking the incredible lagoon of Wayag, one of the northernmost island groups in Raja. To get this photo involves a short walk/climb to the top of one of the highest peaks in the island group and the hike itself is no easy feat! Taking about 30 minutes from the beach to the top, the hike starts with a fairly easy jungle covered slope that evolves into a steep climb that involves having to pull oneself up a time or two. However, the view from the top of the karst mountain is well worth the effort as it provides a brilliant view in all directions of the beauty of Raja Ampat. With dozens of small rock islands surrounded by incredible blue water, the lagoon is the epitome of what Raja Ampat offers. For photographers, the colours are brought out best in the late afternoon or early morning with the soft available light working wonders. This photo was taken in the late afternoon and looks down to the SE toward the south lagoon mooring and a Super Yacht that is anchored in the area.
In case anyone was wondering why I have been so quiet lately it’s due to the fact I have been out to sea for the past three weeks, once again lucky enough to spend the christmas and new years season of 2014-2015 cruising the beautiful Raja Ampat archipelago in eastern Indonesia. Although I didn’t get to spend a lot of time taking photos (and almost no underwater photos) I was able to take a few shots here and there to illustrate a fantastic three weeks traveling through the area. Here are a handful of photos to have a look at…
This is my second “Story Behind the Shot” that talks about coral reef destruction by illegal fishing methods such as dynamite fishing (my first one is here, an encounter with a bomb that didn’t explode). This photo is of a very large stony coral head that has literally been blow to pieces by a home made bomb thrown by an illegal fishing boat. The practice of “dynamite fishing” is as simple as it sounds; a fisherman creates a “bomb” with the main ingredients of fertilizer and diesel or kerosene and sets it off with some sort of detonater. It may sound like a basic little device but just look at the Oklahoma bombing from a few years ago (that brought down a huge building) using the same method. On this particular shot, we had arrived at our diving spot (an offshore pinnacle) to find a lone local fishing boat anchored to the spot. As the fishermen didn’t look active, and saw us coming, we prepared to jump in on the spot for an early morning dive. Before leaving the main boat I did find something a little strange, several dead fish were floating past the boat on the surface. I pretty much knew that this meant these fishermen had been doing some dynamite fishing but didn’t realize the extent of it before I jumped in. I had a camera with me during the dive set up with a macro lens as the conditions didn’t seem all that great for wide angle and I set about looking for small things along the mini wall. As the dive wore on and I was approaching my shallow safety stop I could see a lot of “white rocks” in the distance that looked a little strange. As I approached these white rocks I started to see a lot of dead fusiliers littering the reef, this gave me a sudden sense of trepidation of what I was looking at in the distance. Sure enough, as I got closer I could see that it was an entire large coral head that had been blown to smithereens by bomb fishing. I was most definitely flabbergasted by the destruction and was lamenting the fact that I had a macro lens on as I wanted to capture images of the immense destruction to show anyone who would pay attention. After taking a few shots of the dead fusiliers I headed to the surface and went back to the main boat to change lenses. Once putting my wide lens on I headed back to the scene of the crime and took a series of shots of the carnage, I believe this photo best captures the widespread damage. However, no one photo could also show the amount of dead fish that were spread all over the bottom, fish that would never be collected by the fishermen as they only scoop up the fish that float to the surface. In other words, I was a witness to a shocking example of what a complete waste of life dynamite fishing is. Not only do the majority of the fish killed by this method go to waste but it completely destroys the environment they live in and creates an area devoid of life. What a waste!
I have written another short article over on the Dive Advisor website called “A Guide to Cleaning Stations” via their Sub2o platform. If you are not following the Sub2o blog then you are missing out on some great articles! My latest article is all about the magic of exploring and experiencing cleaning stations, whether the creatures being cleaned are large or small! Have a look at it at the following link and spend some time on the site while you are there to read other posts by a great set of authors.
Although the ocean is in a constant swirl of prey and predator interactions, it’s difficult for divers to observe natural behaviour, as animals often flee from our large and intruding presence. However, as any seasoned photographer or naturalist knows, there is one place that is always home to a buzz of activity on the reef: the cleaning station! Read More… A Guide to Cleaning Stations Full Article
This shot is from my first ever trip to Raja Ampat and was taken at the iconic site of Citrus Ridge. Although this site would quickly become my favourite site in the northern R4 area after working on liveaboards there for several seasons, my first experience was certainly a memorable one. We jumped into the blue at the mouth of this channel dive and started descending toward the wonderful coral cover when I spotted this large school of batfish in the water column. Being a fan of big schools of fish, I never did actually make it to the reef on this hour plus long dive! With very minimal current, I was able to stay in the same area throughout and spent the full 70 minutes photographing this curious school of batfish as well as the thousands of fusiliers and baitfish that were swarming in the water column. Not to be outdone by the batfish, I was also visited by a large school of horse eye jacks and buzzed by a school of chevron barracuda. This image is my personal favourite of this memorable dive as the single batfish in the foreground seems to be curiously looking straight at me while the rest of the school swims away into the blue.
Nikon D90, Aquatica Housing, 10-17mm lens at 17mm, f10, 1/200 ISO 200
View more Raja Ampat images at my Raja Ampat Gallery
One of my more popular photos, the Pregnant Pygmy Seahorse, was taken in 2010 at Cannibal Rock in Horseshoe Bay, Komodo National Park, Indonesia. After spotting this pygmy seahorse a few days before, I made a mental note to prepare my camera for “super macro” for my next visit to the area. In all honesty, I didn’t expect this particular seahorse to still be so “pregnant” looking when I arrived 5 or 6 days later but I was more than happy to see it was still in this condition when I arrived. When shooting “super macro” I use a Nikon 105mm lens coupled with a Kenko 2X Teleconverter which creates a 210mm lens. However, as I was using a crop sensor camera this setup has macro capability of about 2.5X lifesize (with my basic math). Shooting with a teleconverter (TC) is extremely annoying as the autofocus takes a very long time and will “stutter” at the slightest movement of the button. Therefore, the best way to shoot when using this setup is to preset the lens to manual and “rack it” all the way to minimum focus distance before putting it in the housing. This way the lens is set to its optimum “super macro” setting and will be able to take photos quickly without the issue of the auto focus losing focus. On this photo I waited patiently beside the seafan and rocked gently back and forth with the lens until the pygmy was in focus before taking any photos. A lot of time and patience was spent (I won’t mention my deco obligation) on this set of images while waiting for this notoriously shy subject to turn toward the camera.
Nikon D90, Aquatica housing, 105mm with 2X TC, f 14, 1/250, Sea and Sea YS 120 strobes
I am cheating a bit here and posting two photos, the old one on film and the recreation shot on digital 10 years later.
One of my more iconic images was shot on film back around the year 2000 in Palau and consists of a lone mastigias jellyfish silhouetted in front of a stunning sunburst. This was done simply by aiming my Nikonos V and 15mm lens at the jellyfish and trying a variety of fstops while shooting at 1/500 (I think). I then chose that image as the best from the series. However, I was never 100% happy with the photograph as I felt the sun did “leak” a little too much from the side of the jellyfish simply due to trouble composing an image via parallax. Therefore, when I had the chance to visit the jellyfish lake at Kakaban Island in Kalimantan province, Indonesia it was one of my goals to replicate this shot. The difference this time being I was shooting with a digital SLR that allowed me to frame the jellyfish properly through the lens. Although the Jellyfish Lake at Kakaban is not home to as big of a population as the one in Palau, the jellyfish are plentiful and the lake is highly photogenic. Once again I set the camera at 1/500 and found myself a likely jellyfish model that was near the surface and spent some time shooting it. The process was easy, I simply exhaled to allow myself to sink under the surface and then framed the jellyfish to my satisfaction and then shot it with a selection of different fstops to achieve the result that you see here. I am very happy with the results of this recent shot and I believe it to be superior to the film version.
With the sudden surge in popularity of Black and White images on Facebook and other social media, it’s time to post this article that Mike wrote for Scuba Diver Australasia magazine in 2008 for the “In Focus” column. The format and photos are not necessarily the same as the magazine layout. Enjoy!
If I’m presented with a series of art prints it’s always the classic black and white photo that stands out. Check the Web or flip through some diving magazines and you’ll notice a lack of underwater black and whites though. Why is that?
Several reasons: Cameras are set up to shoot colour images; folks don’t want to spend time converting to black and white in post production; and of course the underwater world is so full of rich colours, it may seem a waste to photograph marine life in monotone. Seeing the underwater world solely in colour, though, is like going to Starbucks and ordering plain black coffee! Which means there’s a treasure of photographic opportunities awaiting the shooter willing to conceptualise outside the box.
While Doug Sloss has already written about converting a colour image into black and white using Photoshop, I want to take a different tack. Let’s look at the “why, when, and where” of thinking in black and white.
Not every subject in the water lends itself to shades of grey. Obviously, a bright red sea fan with numerous colourful crinoids and soft corals attached to it won’t be nicer if you capture it in black and white. Instead, subjects with strong lines, contours, and shapes work well in black and white; examples include wrecks, wharf pillars, whales, and manta rays. But are these types of wide-angle subjects the only suitable subjects? Not by a long shot.
By thinking outside the box, you’ll be surprised how many different subjects look great in black and white. Anemone bulbs, nudibranchs, schooling fish, fish portraits, and even coral reefscapes can be given a whole new look with a simple colour conversion. The key is to look for textures and shapes that are out of the ordinary.
Take the humble anemone for example. Whereas most shooters will concentrate on capturing the antics of a playful anemonefish, look instead at the jewel-like details of the individual polyps. The play of shadows across the bulb tentacles creates a perfect abstract rendition of a relatively common subject.
When composing photos of fine detail to convert to black and white it’s not just the composition that counts. In order for the photo to work it must be illuminated properly. A well thought out image will have a good balance of light and shadows throughout. This is very important as it’s these areas that display the subtle layers of grey and black that will make the image “pop.”
When using strobes to illuminate an underwater subject it’s very important to use them wisely. Using two strobes to evenly light the entire subject doesn’t give the opportunity to create hints and textures. Instead, varying the power of the strobes or using only one will create the dramatic light needed to cast fine shadows across the subject.
Other subjects that lend themselves well to monotone are “charismatic megafauna” like sharks, whales, mola mola, and manta rays. Why would this be, you ask. It’s simple. Since all are pelagic in nature, they need to blend in with their environment in order to hunt or hide from predators, and as such utilise basic skin tones: grey, black, or white. However, their lines and shapes make them instantly recognisable to the average diver. Combining the sleek contours of a shark with the mysterious and subtle tones of a black and white image create a sense of mystery and awe. The same is true of mola molas – their grey skin appears bland against a blue background but contrasts sharply with the subtle grey of the open ocean when converted in Photoshop.
The sheer size of a great whale is impossible to light with strobes and photos of them often tend to “wash out” toward the blue spectrum. A black and white conversion allows the strong aura of the whale to stand out better against a light coloured background. This leads us to the next advantage of colour conversion: the ability to save a slightly over or underexposed photograph or one that tends too much toward blue/green natural light photos.
I have a number of photographs in my collection where I was too far from the action and my strobes weren’t able to illuminate colour properly. Shooting in RAW and using the white balance adjustment can often bring colour back to these photos, but I often try a black and white conversion instead.
One of my favourite images is of a large school of sharks in French Polynesia. The original slide is a washed out blue/green because I was too far from the sharks. The subject itself was very appealing but the overwhelming blueness of the image made it an ordinary shot. By scanning it to digital and converting it to black and white I was able to save a once in a lifetime photo, and it now hangs on my wall.
The Soul of a Wreck
Some of the most dramatic underwater subjects aren’t fish but rather man-made objects. Diving on shipwrecks is a haunting experience for any diver. But capturing the essence of a lost ship lying on the bottom of the sea isn’t an easy task.
Using the subdued hues of grey in a monotone image, the emotion and power of the final resting place ship is undeniably more powerful than the use of a bright blue background. The mood of what are often war graves is captured perfectly in black and white, and the subtle shadows create a deep feeling of mystery and emotion.
Other man-made structures that work well in black and white are docks or piers. Shafts of bright light streaming through the wooden planks of a dock, or bursting from behind a series of pilings is an unforgettable image. Many of these objects are home to large schools of fish seeking shelter. This added element of marine life adds a complementary “near and far” subject to the image. Be careful when shooting this style of photograph: The low light of morning or late afternoon works the best as the sun is low on the horizon, and won’t overexpose the whites in the background.
One of the best rewards of a well-planned and executed black and white photograph is the end result of printing. The classic tones of such photos really stand out. We now have at our disposal a fantastic way to display photographs in a different way: on canvas. Many professional print shops offer digital printing on canvas at very reasonable rates. Taking a black and white photograph and having it displayed and framed on stretched canvas can help make that image into a timeless display of art.
There are also a few exciting tricks that can be done in Photoshop to make your photo one of a kind. Consider leaving a portion of the subject in colour while converting the rest of the image to black and white. A small splash of bright colour against an otherwise grey background makes the composition stand out from the crowd.
Now that you know what subjects to look for, get out there and think in monotone. Flip through some of your old “just missed” photos and you may find a hidden gem amongst the chaff. And don’t be discouraged by the green water at your local wreck dive – thinking in terms of lines and contrast necessary for black and white will allow you to capture that iconic image you’ve been shooting for. sd