Story Behind the Shot – Dynamite Fishing Devastation

Dynamite Fishing

Dynamite Fishing Destruction

 

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!

The Cleaning Station – A Sub2o Blog Post

Manta Ray and Cleaning StationI 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.

 

Excerpt:

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

Story Behind the Shot – The Batfish

Schooling batfish in Raja Ampat

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

Story Behind the Shot – The Pregnant Pygmy Seahorse

Story Behind the Shot Pygmy Seahorse

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

Story Behind the Shot – The Jellyfish

I am cheating a bit here and posting two photos, the old one on film and the recreation shot on digital 10 years later.

Jellyfish and Sunbeams

This is the newer digital version Aquatica Housing, Nikon D90, 1/500 at f11

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.

Film version, Nikonos V with 15mm, settings not recorded

Film version, Nikonos V with 15mm, settings not recorded

 

 

Black and White – Touch of Grey

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!

Manta Ray silhouetteIf 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.

Charismatic Megafauna

SharksNot 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.

Diver on Sand in Black and WhiteWhen 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.

Diver and Schooling Horse Eye JacksThe 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

USS Liberty WreckSome 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.

Pink AnemonefishThere 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

Story Behind the Shot – 70 Islands Palau

70 Islands in Palau Micronesia

I lived in Palau from 1999-2002 but never took advantage of heading up on the local plane in order to see it from the air while I lived there. It was not until I visited again as a tourist in early 2005 when I decided to take advantage of this incredible flight opportunity on my birthday! My friend Matt was the pilot (and he is still working there as a heli pilot doing charter flights if anyone is interested) of a small plane that I chartered for a one hour flight around the islands. As there were only 2 of us on the plane (plus Matt) we were able to take the door off the plane and shoot directly out into the air. For those who have never seen photos of Palau, it’s an incredibly beautiful country with hundreds of small karst islands surrounded by bright white sand. Perhaps the most picturesque area is the protected “70 Islands” preserve which is off limits to any and all visitors other than rangers and conservation teams due to the presence of nesting turtles. On this shot I simply had to lean out the window and snap away and allow nature to take care of the rest. I will let you decide if there are 70 islands or not…

 

Nikon D70, 12-24mm lens at 24mm, f10, 1/400

Story Behind the Shot – Yap Caverns

Story Behind the Shot - Yap Caverns

One of my all time favourite dive sites in the world is “Yap Caverns” in Yap, Micronesia. This site is located on the far southern tip of the main islands of Yap and is a series of ravines and gullies cut into the reef structure with many open caverns creating a maze like dive. The best way to dive this site is to jump in the shallows and follow the twisting caverns before emerging onto a steep wall with crystal blue water. The caverns themselves are in constant flux as they undergo a series of changes over a 3 to 4 year cycle with periods of bare rock showing at the bottom interchanged with periods of bright white sand filling the channels. Photographically, the periods of bright white sand is superior to the rocky periods for obvious reasons. I took this photo during a period of time when the bright white sand had settled back in to the caverns after several years of nothing but rocky bottom. To create this photo the conditions had to be perfect with the sun shining brightly overhead but still early enough in the morning that it was not overpowering. The key was to position myself so that the rock wall blocked the main portion of the sun in order to allow the sharp sunrays to filter through the water column. The other key ingredient to make this photo stand out was the fact that a bit of swell was running which stirred up the sand and created a “sand filter” that allowed the sunrays to shine through.

Yap Caverns, Yap, Micronesia, Aquatica housing and Nikon D70 with 12-24mm lens at 12mm, f8m, 1/500 (no strobes) ISO 200

Story Behind the Shot – The Peeking Orangutan

 

Orangutan Peeking

This was taken at an Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok in Sabah Province, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. The Centre has a “feeding platform” where recently released orangutans often come to get a free meal in the morning, as they may not yet be fully adapted to life in the wild. This particular orangutan was a very shy individual and allowed the other primates to have first crack at the bananas that the handlers were handing out. However, she did keep a keen eye from afar on the goings on at the platform; I believe this photo really captures her look of curiosity and patience while awaiting her mid morning snack.

Nikon D70s, 400mm lens, f5.6, 1/80

Story Behind the Shot – The Coral Reef

Story Behind the Shot – Cabbage Corals

Parigi Moutong Hard Corals

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.