One of my favourite underwater photo subjects are turtles, it doesn’t matter if it’s a “relatively” common hawksbill turtle or green turtle or any of the other more endangered turtles, I am always happy to encounter any turtle when diving. On this particular encounter on the island of Layang Layang in Sabah, Malaysia, I ran into this friendly hawksbill turtle who was happily munching away on sponge embedded in the hard coral. As with any turtle encounter, I stopped and watched it for a few moments to see if it would be spooked by my presence or if it would allow me to get closer. After watching it for a while I decided that it wasn’t bothered by my presence and so I slowly moved closer in order to take a few photos. After snapping a couple of shots from the side I then decided to see if the turtle would allow me to approach from the front, as this photo can attest, it sure did! As I moved from the side toward the front I realized that the turtle was allowing me to get quite close, but as I started to maneuver my strobes closer to the port the young hawksbill turtle decided that it was a lot more interested in my dome port than the sponges! Abandoning the idea of moving my strobes, instead I started backpedaling away from the hungry hawksbill while snapping off a few photos and trying to avoid “turtle bites” on my port! My guess is he/she reacted to the reflection of another turtle in the port and the attempted biting was in order to scare off a potential competitor. After I backed off again the happy hawksbill went right back to munching on sponge and ignoring my ungainly presence. Although I didn’t necessarily get the lighting correct on this shot, it is a photo that stands out as it was really a funny situation with a personable turtle who was intent on showing me who’s the boss!
Layang Layang, Sabah, Malaysia – Nikon D90, Aquatica Housing, 10-17mm lens, f10, 1/100, Sea and Sea Strobes
The view from the peak of Wayag, Raja Ampat, Indonesia
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.
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
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.
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!
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.