Wild Oceans

One of the recent collaboration I have become involved in is creating short 3-5 minute narrated clips for an online media company called Earth Touch News which specializes in wildlife and nature programming. The segments I am contributing go to a series they call “Wild Oceans” which is a collection of shorts which comprise of single dives on a single dive site.  So far I have uploaded videos about Citrus Ridge in Raja Ampat, Manta Alley in Komodo, and most recently Andiamo in Daram, Raja Ampat.  The gist of the video is to have the cameraman narrate what he sees over a dive so that the viewer has an idea of what he/she is seeing throughout the world.  It’s like having a back stage pass to all the world’s premiere dive sites in one handy location!

Here is my latest video on Andiamo

Off to Komodo Tomorrow!

It has been ages since I have been there but finally off to Komodo again tomorrow, can’t wait.  I will be there for 7-10 days and it promises to be a great trip with lots of diving, snorkeling, walks, and of course Dragons!  Hoping to capture some great images as well as video and of course will upload some when I get back.



Photo of the Day – Butterfly Fish

Here is a shot from one of my favourite locations on the planet, Rangiroa in French Polynesia!  This group of Pacific Double Saddled butterfly fish were always present at a dive site inside the lagoon called “Aquarium” and they had no fear of divers whatsoever (obviously due to the fact that snorkelers fed them bread and rice!)  You could always count on a lot of fish when diving at this site, hence the name “Aquarium”!

Schooling Butterflyfish

Floatogear Float

Lanyard from Floatogear

Recently I was sent a Floatogear wrist lanyard to try out with my photo gear to see what my opinion is about this new product.  Thankfully I received the lanyards 2 days before heading out on a big trip to Ambon and Raja Ampat for a couple of Underwater Tribe photo workshops and I thought they would come in quite handy.  The first thing I noticed about these lanyards were that they were quite “thick” and should be able to help keep smaller items afloat. The other thing I noticed was the BRIGHT yellow colouration of the lanyard which of course was designed to stand out underwater or at the surface.  Now I must admit I am not really a big fan of lanyards, I don’t use them to attach my camera to myself, never have.  The reason for this is that with a big bulky DSLR housing I am constantly switching hands with it, holding it in different ways, manipulating the strobe arms etc.  therefore, a lanyard would just get in the way.  However, obviously the Floatogear lanyard was not designed for an SLR housing anyway but rather for smaller cameras and other accessories instead, for this function I felt I did have a few uses for the lanyard.    First stop on the trip was a photo workshop in Ambon at Maluku Divers Resort, on this course I would be always carrying a dive light with me in order to help the students backlight or focus on their subjects, this was the first tool that I decided to try it out on.  I was very happy with the quick release lanyard solution included with the Floatogear lanyard, it allowed a quick loop on to the light without having to make any weird knots or anything.  Once I hit the water the first thing I tried was to see if the “float” would be strong enough to lift the light, although not a large light, the float did not lift it from the bottom.  However, to me this was actually a blessing, as I wouldn’t want something I put on the bottom to float to the surface anyway and that is not what they are meant for anyway!  But the lanyard did fit very snugly on my wrist without having to tighten or loosen it and it did give me a feeling of confidence that the light wouldn’t drop off my wrist.

The next item that I attached the lanyard to was my pokie stick and this proved to be where it stayed for the rest of the week.  Although the lanyard was capable of floating the stick to the surface (I didn’t want that to happen obviously) it was not for that reason that I was using it.  What I was using it for instead ended up being the visuals of it.  When I am muck/critter diving with photography students I can often find a subject that I want my student to shoot but that student is currently busy shooting something else.  When that happens I will often stick my stick into the sand to mark the location and then I swim away to work with the student on something else.  However, sometimes it takes me a few minutes to find that stick once I start looking for it again!  Once I attached the Floatogear lanyard to the stick I didn’t have that issue anymore, the bright yellow material stood out from a mile away and I was always able to find my stick and subject very quickly after that.

Although not really made for a diver with a DSLR,  I think these lanyards are well suited for are folks who are using smaller cameras and accessories in a marine environment such as paddle boarders, kayakers, swimmers, and snorkelers.  These robust lanyards are secure and can “float” compact cameras and GoPros without an issue and give good piece of mind to people using cameras in or near the water.  I am happy with mine and will definitely be using it again in the future, especially when shooting with my GoPro at the surface.

As Floatogear is a new product they are also announcing a 30% discount when purchasing it on Amazon at the following link: Floatogear Amazon page and enter MVeitch1 as the discount code.  If you are someone who uses equipment around water quite often then this is a great deal!

Story Behind the Shot – Conger Eel

Conger Eel and Sponge

One of the cool things about spending a lot of time photographing in a place like Lembeh Strait is the fact you can bump into just about anything at any time. One of the stranger creatures I ran into happened to be when I was actually shooting wide angle and it was the perfect lens for the situation. When I first looked at the animal I thought it was a snake eel (it actually could be!) but after much looking around in fish books I actually think it’s a bigeye conger eel (Ariosoma anagoides) However, it’s not the eel itself that is of interest in this photo but rather the environment that the eel has chosen to live in. As is obvious, the eel is surrounded by dozens of tubular sponges in an otherwise rather barren stretch of sand and it blends in almost perfectly! I was very happy at this point in time to have brought my wide angle lens as only a wide angle photography could truly show the environment that the eel was living in. Now the question that immediately came to my mind when I saw the situation was: “Did the eel know that the sponges were similar in shape to it? Or was it just a fluke of positioning?” And that is the question that I ask the readers of this blog, what do you think? Was it a case of perfect planning by a cunning and intelligent animal or purely coincidence?

Aquatica D90, Sea and Sea Strobes, 10.5mm lens with 2xTC, f13, 1/13

Andiamo Reef Scene – Photo of the Day

As we have recently returned from Raja Ampat on a thoroughly enjoyable liveaboard trip (Trip Report is here) with great friends and superb diving, we are slowly processing our photos and presenting them on our social media channels.  One of the highlights of our Raja trip was the dive site “Andiamo”, in the Daram island group in the SE Misool area, which is absolutely chock a block with bright and beautiful soft corals as well as plenty of fish life.  Andiamo is one of my favourite sites in all of Raja Ampat due to the variety of terrain it offers – a blue water pinnacle, a sandy flat, steep coral covered walls, a current swept ridge, and an amazing “channel” that splits the two islets of the dive site.  I could dive this site (and the neighbouring sites in the Daram group) all day every day and not get bored of the myriad photo opportunities.  One of the biggest challenges I always encounter (anywhere in Raja really) is capturing a decent shot of the brilliant red coral trouts that are common to the area, on this shot I think I actually captured one with a compelling foreground and background subject.  Stay tuned for more Raja, Ambon, and Banda Sea images from our epic series of Underwater Tribe trips over the past 4 weeks in eastern Indonesia.

Soft Corals and Grouper Andiamo

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!

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 – 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 – Shark Parting the Red Sea

Story Behind the Shot – Shark Parting the Red Sea

As Discovery Channel is continuing to run “Shark Week” this week, I will continue my shark theme here as well!

Grey Reef Shark and Bigeyes

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