I admit it, I have a bit of a weak spot for shallow hard coral gardens. I know most people think they are simply a nice bit of reef to look at, but don’t find them overly photogenic and give them a quick “once over” before looking for critters or heading down the wall. However, I could take photos of hard corals for hours on end. If an area has a healthy hard coral reef, then it’s usually a strong indicator of the overall health of the marine environment in that region. As hard corals are very fragile, they are often the first life forms to be destroyed when a major catastrophe happens such as a large storm or “El Nino” style event. Unfortunately, I have seen all too often the devastating effects of El Nino, typhoons, crown of thorn starfish outbreaks, and dynamite fishing; all of which can completely destroy a beautiful coral garden within a very short time. Therefore, when I find healthy and extensive hard coral gardens I just can’t help taking photos from every angle.
I visited a new location last week called Parigi Moutong, which is located in the SW corner of Tomini Bay in central Sulawesi, and I had the opportunity to get in the water for three dives. One of the first things that I noticed while surveying the area was the health of the hard corals as well as bright blue water. I have to say that the corals in Parigi Moutong were surprisingly healthy and abundant along the reef drop-offs and I spent most of my dives in the shallows documenting the beautiful forms of these reefs.
This photo is of the hard coral garden on the dive site “Rose”, was taken with a Nikon D7000 and Aquatica housing with a 10.5mm lens and Magic Filter at f8, 1/40. I simply made sure my strobes were turned off, had the sun at my back, aimed slightly down and fired away.
We are very happy to announce that we have now created a website specifically for our Bali School of Underwater Photography at uwphotobali.com! Of course it’s still operated through the Underwater Tribe and we operate under the same top notch customer service that is a hallmark of the Underwater Tribe, but we wanted to create a web portal specifically aimed toward eager underwater photographers who want to learn about photography or join us on a photographic journey of Bali. On the Bali School of Underwater Photography website we will also be posting short educational tips and longer articles for everyone to enjoy. So please have a look at the new website and tell us what you think or join us in Bali soon and improve your underwater photography with the Bali School of Underwater Photography and the Underwater Tribe!
I am a big fan of octopus, I would willingly spend an hour with a curious octopus watching it go about its daily life, combing its environment looking for food and avoiding predators. The species of octopus doesn’t matter; they all seem to have an innate curiosity of their surroundings and will often interact with a diver who moves slowly and carefully.
One of my favourite octopus encounters was with this coconut octopus during a dive at Puri Jati (PJs) in north Bali, Indonesia. Coconut or veined octopuses, Amphioctopus marginatus, have recently been designated as the first invertebrate able to use tools, elevating their status as an intelligent animal. On this dive, I encountered this guy in less than 5 metres of water and was able to spend a long time watching and photographing his/her daily life. The first thing that stands out in the photograph is that the octopus is obviously using the coconut shell as a home (hence the name) but that the “roof” of the house is a bright pink plastic cap! This photograph pretty much sums up the intelligence of these animals and lends credence to the idea that they can use tools. Not finding a suitable shell to use a “roof” to close up the shell when threatened, this octopus was able to substitute the next best thing it could find. Thinking I would help out this little guy and find it a clam shell to use instead of a piece of bright pink plastic, I found a big clam shell and brought it over, but when I set it beside the octopus it showed no interest whatsoever! He/she was more than happy with its bright pink roof and just picked up its shell and trundled away!
As Discovery Channel is continuing to run “Shark Week” this week, I will continue my shark theme here as well!
Most photos that you see of sharks don’t hold a lot of colour but instead feature a greyish/blue shark against an otherwise empty blue or green water background. Not that there is anything wrong with that, in shark photography less is often more and it’s the shark itself that truly captures the eye when looking at a shark photo. However, for myself I always took it as a challenge to capture a photo of a shark that was a little bit different. This photo is one of my personal favourite shark images, as the bright red school of “bigeyes” really makes the image pop, its not just another photo of a grey reef shark. This shot was taken in the Tuamotu Island chain of French Polynesia on a spectacular “pass dive” on the island of Toau. On this site, the dive plan was to jump in the water in the open blue and then drift toward the mouth of the pass until reaching the reef, where an incredibly diverse population of sharks rides the incoming current. The list of sharks that I have encountered in this area reads like a divers top ten list, including silver tips, grey reefs, black tips, white tips, nurse, lemon, and the occasional silky or hammerhead. After watching the sharks at the mouth of the pass, we would then drift with the current down the channel until coming upon a large cut running perpendicular to the pass, lovingly called the “Wrasse Hole”. A resident school of big eyes was always present in this cut as they were able to shelter away from the strong current. Displaying the brains of the smart predators that they are, a second set of resident sharks also lived in and around this cut, patrolling the area ready to pounce upon any sick or injured fish. On this particular photo, I was able to duck down into the school of fish and “hide” myself from the skittish sharks by breathing slowly and staying still. After patiently waiting for a shark to come toward me, I then “popped” out of the schooling fish and captured this shot, “Parting the Red Sea”
Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia, 2003, Nikonos V, 15mm lens, 2 x Sea and Sea YS 120 strobes, Fuji Provia 100 film
As part of a continuing series of posts, the “Story Behind the Shot” are short discussions about photographs from my library highlighting interesting photos or events from 15 years working full time in the diving industry.
Story Behind the Shot – The Grey Reef Shark
Now this shot might not look like the most dramatic photo of all time, and I am not posting it here as an example of such, but rather I am posting it as an example of the changing times in underwater photography. This was taken at either Blue Corner or New Drop Off in Palau circa 2000-2002 and was shot with a Nikonos V and 20mm lens. Those two dive sites were incredible places to dive when I worked in Palau from 99-2002 and from all accounts that I hear these days, still are great sites with loads of fish action. There really is no feeling to compare to hovering over the edge of the drop off with 15 or 20 sharks parading past you while huge schools of fish fight for position in the current.
Looking over some older photos in the last few weeks has opened my eyes to what I shot then compared to what I can shoot now. This was most likely shot with Fuji Provia 100 film, but I am not sure as I don’t have the slides with me, and I couldn’t say what the settings were, maybe f5.6 and 1/90? Tough to tell when there is no metadata attached! For digital photographers out there, could you imagine not being able to change the ISO during a photo shoot? When loading a roll of 36 into the camera in the morning, I was stuck with that ISO film until I finished the roll, so, if all of a sudden I was down deep and the conditions changed to green and overcast, I was still stuck with that roll of film; nowadays, if the conditions get too dark I can just change my ISO on the fly, simple. Also, although many images looked great on film, scanning them into digital never worked smoothly and took a LOT of extra time to get rid of any dust or scratches. I don’t miss that at all! Another thing I don’t miss? Going down with a roll of film that had only 10 or 12 shots left on it and having an epic dive and running out of film in the first 15 minutes, that doesn’t happen in digital.
What I want now is the chance to spend another 5 years in Palau and French Polynesia reshooting everything I shot back then but with digital!
My latest article with Dive Advisor on their Sub2o blog is now out! In the article I discuss how jetties and piers are very under rated for both divers and underwater photographers.
Here is an excerpt: Piers and jetties often get a bad rap when it comes to divers, since many don’t show much interest in exploring docks at all. The most common excuses tend to be entanglement hazards from fishing lines, the potential for trash in the water, or the dreadful feeling of claustrophobia from being underneath a large object.
Follow the link to read the full article and photos
Due to its popularity on social media the last few days, I have decided to tell the story behind the “Manta Train” photo. This photo was taken in Yap, Micronesia on a dive site called “Valley of the Rays”, in Goofnuw Channel, a passage that connects the lagoon to the open ocean on the North East side of the island group. From the months of May/June through to Oct/Nov, mantas are often found in this channel hovering above one of several cleaning stations while being swept clean of parasites by a variety of wrasse and butterfly fish. During certain times of the month, around full and new moon, there can be a lot of plankton in the water (possibly fish eggs from a mass mating event or coral spawning) and large groups of mantas congregate in the channel in order to scoop up this food source.
On this particular occasion, I had arrived on a boat with Yap Divers (Manta Ray Bay Hotel), early in the morning and the conditions were perfect; sun, flat calm sea, and the beginning of the rising tide. We jumped in the water at the edge of the pass and began to slowly drift into the channel with a mild current. Not long after, we began to encounter small groups of mantas swimming back and forth along the water column, their mouths agape, scooping up nutrients from the water. As we drifted further into the channel, the groups of mantas became ever more numerous and the encounters continued non-stop; both near the surface as well as up to 10-15 metres deep. An interesting behaviour of feeding mantas is that they often “draft” one another in long lines with the one behind slightly higher in the water column than the one in front, similar to how a cyclist stays close to the rider in front to improve aerodynamics. This behaviour allows the manta situated behind to scoop up plankton that has been pushed over the top of the manta in front, allowing for a more efficient feeding action. For this photo, I was hovering not too far from the surface when a large group of mantas in feeding formation turned and came racing toward me with mouths wide open. As I saw them turn I immediately swam downward and was able to situate myself just above the “Manta Train” and fire off a series of shots. This shot is my favourite and I believe it’s the one that captures the mantas behaviour best; a close inspection reveals 8 mantas in this photo.
Nikon D70, Aquatica Housing, Nikkor 12-24mm lens at 12mm, f8, 1/100, ISO 200, no strobes
This was one of my favourite recent photo shoots, shot on 31 Dec 2013 in the Misool area of Raja Ampat. I was lucky enough to accompany a large private yacht on two expeditions in Indonesia this past year through Komodo and Raja Ampat. One of the best things about this particular vessel, other than the 7 storeys of incredible luxury and a fantastic crew of 40, was the fact it has a helicopter on board! Not only did the boat have a helicopter but, the owner is an extremely down to earth and friendly person who was always asking different members of the crew if anyone wanted to accompany him and the pilot on one of their flights. On the last day of our time in the Misool area, he asked me if I would like to accompany and take some photos as well, I certainly didn’t hesitate to say yes! This photo was one of the ones that I was able to take during a moment when we “stopped” the heli and I could open the door to take some shots. All in all, an absolutely incredible hour was spent flying along the archipelago of islands that juts out from Misool near the Tomolol cave system and continues to the Daram island group.
This is one of the harder photos I have ever taken! Back in 2012 we (the Dive Damai) were exploring the Indonesian island chain of Halmahera, an area that is not well known to divers as it’s off the beaten path, lying between Raja Ampat and North Sulawesi. We were transiting between Raja and Halmahera and stopped at the small island group popularly known as “Pulau Pisang” or “Banana Island” to dive on the pretty reefs that are located in the area. I had already visited this area several times over the previous few years and looked forward to diving on a site that boasted a large population of fusiliers, surgeonfish, and red tooth triggers that would school in the currents just off the reef. On this particular trip, we dropped onto the site and enjoyed the schooling fish and bright soft corals that populate the current side of a pair of small islets. However, as we followed the reef around to the lee side we came upon the site of some freshly destroyed coral heads that could only be the work of illegal dynamite fishermen. Obviously this upset me quite a bit, so I went about the process of taking photos of the destroyed coral heads while swearing profusely into my regulator. While I was doing this, one of my fellow divers called me over and pointed out an object that immediately had me exclaiming even louder, an unexploded fish bomb lying on the bottom! I immediately started to tell the group to surface, as I had no idea if this explosive could still be set off. Of course I wanted to take photos of this “bomb” but I admit to feeling a rather deep sense of foreboding in doing it and had trouble convincing myself to get close. I ended up turning off my strobes (didn’t want the electrical circuit to set anything off) and zoomed as far as I could before snapping off a couple of quick shots all the while anticipating the bomb going off with each camera click!
Although the shot is certainly nothing spectacular, it does show how simple these home made “reef bombs” are: a couple of bottles filled with fertilizer and diesel or kerosene plus a wick. What is scary is that these items are made from pretty easy to get ingredients but pose a huge threat to reefs.
I am happy to announce a new series of blog posts that I call “Behind the Shot”, basically one photo (or a series of photos) where I will explain what particular technique or idea that I used to get the photo. Some of the posts will be technical but most will just discuss an interesting photo and what my thoughts were when I was trying to capture it. These photos will consist of both underwater and land based photographs and will encompass images from my library dating back to the 90s. Hopefully I will post one or two of these a week and I will also cross post them on the Underwater Tribe Blog as well.
This image is one of my favourites from my time working in French Polynesia back in the early 2000s (I am dying to head back there!) The lagoon entrance channel where this photo was taken is the epitome of “Pass Flying” dive sites, a narrow channel with a very strong tidal flow that enters the lagoon on a rising tide. About 3/4s of the way through this channel a large school of grey reefs were resident at around 70ft of depth and would lazily circle the bottom of the channel while us divers “clung” to the sides mesmerized by the constant stream of sharks parading past. To get this shot I waited until I was low on air and then shot out into the middle of the pass and allowed the current to push me toward the wary pack of sharks while taking a steady stream of photos. Although many folks falsely believe sharks to be confident and predatory at all times, sharks are actually quite shy and don’t typically allow divers to get too close (unless there is feeding occurring). Therefore, getting close to this school of sharks was no easy task! As this shot was taken in the late afternoon, I needed to use a very slow shutter speed in order to separate the sharks from the background which ended up giving a “blurred” sense of motion to the image that I think works quite well in Black and White
Photo taken with Nikonos V and 15mm lens, Provia 100 ISO film, 1/30, f 5.6 depth of around 60ft (18 Metres), French Polynesia circa 2003