Tips to Capture Vibrant Manta Ray Photos

Craig Dietrich
Underwater Photo Techniques for Giant Pacific Manta Rays

 

Tips to Capture Vibrant Manta Ray Photos


Underwater Photo Techniques for Giant Pacific Manta Rays

Text and Photos By Craig Dietrich

 

 

 
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I’ve taken two trips to Socorro, Mexico in the last two years, where I was fortunate enough to have some awe-inspiring encounters with manta rays. Manta rays are in the eagle ray family, and the rays I encountered had an average wingspan of between 18 and 23 feet across. Regardless of manta ray size, there are basic fundamentals that can help you capture great manta ray shots.

 

Here are some tips to help improve your images:

 

Use a Smart Approach

The approach should really be more of a non-approach. Sheer photographer instinct and adrenalin will make you want to swim toward the mantas, but here’s where I say “Stop.” Let the manta approach you… for a couple of reasons.

First, it allows them to set the tone for your encounter and allow them to establish their comfort level with you as a diver. Second, it allows you time to position yourself in relation to the sunlight so you don’t lose a great shot because you were too busy swimming toward the mantas, forgetting about the sun’s positioning. I would expand this positioning tip to say, “When possible, separate yourself as much -- and as safely -- as you can from other divers” to help avoid bubbles, a random leg or equipment from other divers ending up in your otherwise perfect shot.

 

 

 

Lighting

In my opinion, the sun is the most important lighting tool when photographing manta rays. The sun serves as a great backlight and can add drama and mystique to any photo. Due to the size of the mantas I swam with, a two-strobe setup is a must, as one strobe can’t handle the job of lighting such a big subject. The strobes will even out the lighting and fill in the shadows, creating a properly lit image.  

 

 

Lens Choice

This is simple: go as wide as you can (for example: SLR: Tokina 10-17; Compact: any wide-angle wet lens). The wide-angle field of view allows the photographer to fit the scene into the frame and to get as close as possible to the manta. It also helps provide good clarity and allows the strobes to light the subject properly.

 

 

Conclusion

Swimming with manta rays is an amazing experience in itself. It’s important to remember that not every image will be perfect every time. I encourage my students to plan, to think and to take a chance in setting up for the right shot.  And sometimes, that shot winds up being the perfect shot.

 

About the Author

Craig Dietrich is a former Naval and family/children’s photographer.  An avid scuba diver, his two loves of diving and photography came together and now Craig is based out of Pompano Beach, Florida.  View more of Craig’s work at www.dietrichunderwater.com.

 

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Nudibranch Self Defense in Action

Cesare Naldi
Incredible Behavior Sequence of Fringehead Stung by Nudibranch Cerata

 

Nudibranch Self Defense in Action

Incredible Behavior Sequence of Fringehead Stung by Nudibranch

Text and Photos By Cesare Naldi

 

 

 
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Several years ago I made a series of dive trips to the Channel Islands as part of the undersea photography class at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. The goal was to apply our classroom knowledge underwater.

During one of these trips we dove the beautiful and cold waters of Santa Cruz Island. For most of the dives I decided to shoot macro since visibility was not at its best and the water is always very rich in amazing benthic life. At the end of each dive I always make sure to spend as much time as I can at 15-20 feet, trying to make the most of these last photo opportunities, and on this day the time turned out to be very well spent. In fact I was able to capture this interesting behavior just before surfacing.

 

Setting up the Shot

I spotted the Fringehead after a long dive, and since I hadn’t seen one recently I decided to take a snap shot just to keep a memory of the encounter. The fish was positioned on a flat rock and there was no possibility of finding a nicer composition or any interesting lighting effect. But as I got ready for the shot I noticed that there were many nudibranchs, including a Hermissenda crassicornis very close to the Fringehead. Naturally, the thought of making a more interesting photograph with the nudibranch and the fish in the same frame came to my mind.

 

The hermissenda enters the frame and moves closer to the attentive Fringehead.

 

The Unexpected Result

I had to wait several minutes before the nudibranch passed in front of the Fringehead, and when the position was right I started shooting, hoping for the nudibranch to get closer and closer. And at the end, it got so close that it stopped and stood up right in front of the jaws of the Fringehead. It stayed like this for ten long seconds until the fish decided to get a little taste of this boldfaced sea slug.

The Fringehead kept the nudibranch in its mouth for less than a second and then abruptly spit it out. The action unfolded quickly, and when I checked the images on the LCD screen I was very happy that I was able to freeze the action at the right instant. But I was also excited to have witnessed one of the most amazing defense mechanisms employed by nudibranchs.

 

Self Defense, Nudibranch Style

These tiny, colorful creatures do not use a shell to protect themselves from predators. Instead, they have developed the ability to eat poisonous prey and store that prey’s stinging cells on their dorsal cerata without being affected by the poison. They basically just use the self-defense cells from their food source as their own protection.

The result is that nudibranchs are not a very desirable meal, and this bold Hermissenda crassicornis was no exception!

 

Getting closer...

 

and closer...

 

A bold stare-down

 

The fringehead makes a move

 

The moment the fringehead gets stung by cells in the hermissenda's cerata

 

The fringehead cringes post-stings

 

The hermissenda moves along casually

 

Capturing the Shot

Patience and luck were the key elements to capturing this behavior sequence, but having the camera settings ready was also essential to avoid missing the action.

For this reason, whenever I shoot macro with a 105mm lens, I always set the camera on manual mode, usually at ISO 200 and 1/250s @ f/16. The two strobes are also set on manual mode and placed on the sides right next to the lens port. Considering the minimal distance between the camera and the subject their power is very low.

Focus is also set to manual and at the closest focal distance (thanks to the zoom gear), so that if I spot something interesting I only have to aim at the subject and get closer and closer until it is in sharp focus. With just one or two clicks I will have a sharp image.

Afterwards, depending on the subject and if conditions are good, I will begin to work on a more sophisticated and intriguing framing and/or lighting. 

These photographs were taken with a Nikon D300 with the Nikon 105mm lens in a Sea&Sea Housing with two YS110 Strobes. Exposure at ISO 200 and 1/200sec @ f/16.

 

About the Author

Cesare Naldi is an Italian professional photographer and cinematographer. He acquired his lighting and photographic skills at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. He is fascinated by the underwater world, and he has traveled throughout America, Europe, Asia and Africa. His photographs and short films have been part of numerous exhibitions in California and Italy. His reportage of Rajan, the swimming elephant of the Andaman Islands, has been published on several newspapers, magazines and books, including the National Geographic Magazine and Taschen Books.

 

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A Nudibranch Safari in Norway

Christian Skauge
Skinny Dipping with Nudi Beauties in Gulen - Photos, Camera Settings & more

A Nudibranch Safari in Norway


Skinny Dipping with Nudi Beauties in Gulen

Text and Photos By Christian Skauge

 

Flabellina nobilis is one of the most common nudibranchs on the Norwegian west coast.

 

 
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The universe of nudibranchs is a strange microcosmos – and if you get hooked, you’ll soon find yourself addicted to looking for new and ever stranger species. For most people it takes several years of scuba diving before they see their first nudibranch, but as soon as you discover these delicate little creatures you’ll start seeing them on almost every dive.

The colors and shapes give them an alluring power much greater than their size. Even big, burly fellows with twin-tanks and tough-guy attitude might come back on shore with a soft look on their face, saying ”man, did you see that beeeautiful slug?”

 

The Eubranchus species are describes as having «balloon-like fringes» - clearly seen in this colorful specimen.

 

Cadlina laevis is relatively seldom seen. It lives deeper than most other nudibranchs, feeding on sponges. It produces acid in the yellow glands along the edge to defend itself from predators.

 

Naked gills

Nudibranchs come in two categories – those that are hard to find, and those which are impossible to overlook, at least seen from a divers point of view. They are described scientifically as the nudibranchia, literally meaning ”naked gill”. As the name implies, they don’t have a house on their backs. Nudibranchs are generally divided into four main groups.

The west coast of Norway is an exceptionally good place to go looking for nudibranchs. The main hotspot is the house reef of Gulen Dive Resort just north of Bergen, where 63 of Norway’s around 90 species have been found in recent years. The resort hosts an annual Nudibranch Safari at the end of March, which is high season for nudibranchs in Norway.

Diving the house reef only, divers with a keen eye can easily spot over 20 different species on a single dive. Sometimes the bottom is almost completely covered with colorful slugs, and visitors from all over Europe are impressed both by the great variety of species and the sheer number of nudibranchs that can be seen.

On the Nudibranch Safari described below, experts are on hand to teach the participants more about nudibranch biology, behavior, feeding habits and identification. In March 2014 Gulen Dive Resort offers four consecutive events: Two regular Nudibranch Safaris hosted by Dr. Alex Mustard/Bernard Picton and Bernard Picton/Jussi Evertsen, a Nudibranch Symposium targeting scientists and nudibranch experts, and a special Russian Nudibranch Safari hosted by the Dr. Alexander Martynov and Dr. Tatiana Korshunov.

 

Flabellina pedata is very easy to identify - it is the only purple nudibranch found in Norway.

 

The beautiful Favorinus blianus hides a sinister secret: It feeds on the eggs of other nudibranchs!

 

Kinky mating and reproduction

The nudibranchs have rather special preferences when it comes to reproduction since they are hemaphrodites. This means they have both male and female reproductory organs.

The upside to this ingenious reproduction scheme is the possibility for all mature individuals to reproduce, and they can do so with any other nudibranch of the same species which they encounter. If you spot two nudibranchs laying side-by-side in a cheeky 69-position, they are most certainly mating, as their reproductive organs are positioned on their right side.

Many of the nudibranch species have their own, distinctive way of arranging their eggs. Some string them out in beautiful, parallel lines or elaborate spirals, while others prefer to lay them out in a flower-like arrangement or a ribboned cluster.

Quite often it is possible to tell which species the eggs belong to just by looking at the pattern in which the are laid. The eggs are also often laid directly on the main food source, which also gives an indication to what species it is.

When the eggs hatch small pelagic larvae are released, which settle on the bottom after a few days. During this stage several species actually have a minute, snail-like house on their back - but this soon disappears.

Thanks to currents in the water the nudibranchs are able to spread their offspring over vast distances. The larvae will only settle if the right kind of food is present, enabling them to grow to adulthood and reproduce over again.

Nudibranchs that feed on animals available year-round (for instance, dead men’s fingers coral or anemones) often live for over one year. They can be spotted almost anytime, while other nudibranchs that rely on more seasonal food can only be seen during short periods of time.

 

Polycera quadrilineata is very common, and mostly found on the kelp fronds where it feeds on tiny bryozoans.

 

Hero formosa is considered to be very rare in Norway, and is only known from relatively few locations. On the house reef of Gulen Dive Resort it usually turns up in good numbers at the Nudibranch Safari.

 

A Taste for hot, spicy food

Nudibranchs are carnivores and feed on almost all kinds of other animals. If you want to find a particular species, it helps to know what it feeds on. Many prefer hydroids, while others feed on bryozoans, dead men’s fingers soft coral, sponges, anemones, barnacles and even eggs from other nudibranchs.

If you find an area with hard bottom, it will be a good place to start looking, although one might also find nudibranchs on sand or soft substrate. The two white-and-yellow species found in Norwegian waters, Limacia clavigera and Polycera quadrilineata, along with several other species prefer staying on kelp, where they graze on bryozoans.

It is no coincidence that many nudibranchs prefer a diet consisting of cnidarians like hydroids and anemones. The fringed nudibranchs, the so-called aeolids, have the ability to channel the stinging cells of their prey into special chambers in their fringes (called cerata) on their backs - not only eating the hydroid but also stealing their protective sting.

If a predator tries to eat the nudibranch, it will burn itself in the mouth and will spit the nudibranch right back out again. The color of the cerata or fringes is actually made up of the content of the intestines of the nudibranch as they branch out into the fringes.

The typical red color seen on many nudibranchs comes from eating hydroids, which in their turn have been eating little crustaceans, absorbing the red color from their shells. Other nudibranchs which are feeding on sponges, are able to use toxic or bad-tasting compounds from their food for their own defense.

 

Hydroids are the main food of most aeolid nudibranchs, for instance the Flabellina, Facelina and Eubranchus species - but the Doto also favour this food.

 

Very small and extremely beautiful. The Diaphorodoris luteocincta cannot be mistaken for any other nudibranch species in Norway.

 

Join the Nudibranch Safari!

There are a lot of books and online resources available if you want to learn more about nudibranchs. But the best (and most fun) way is to join the Nudibranch Safari. Gulen Dive Resort in Norway has been running these events for five years, and the end of March is the best time of the year to see lots of nudibranchs.

More info on the Nudibranch Safari: www.scubapixel.com/nudisafari

 

Norwegian nudibranch experts Jussi Evertsen and Torkild Bakken working on the collected material, trying to sort out the different species.

 

About the Author

Christian Skauge is a former Nordic Champion of underwater photography and has won several international photo contests. He writes articles about diving and underwater photography and is published regularly in magazines around the world. He also runs underwater photo and marine biology workshops. Check out his website for more info: www.scubapixel.com

 

Further Reading

 


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Inside Look: Training Sharks to Eat Lionfish

Antonio Busiello
Controlling Invasive Lionfish in the Caribbean - A New Meal for Sharks?

Inside Look: Training Sharks to Eat Lionfish


Controlling Invasive Lionfish in the Caribbean - A New Meal for Sharks?

Text and Photos By Antonio Busiello

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

 
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Lionfish have the potential to become the most disastrous marine invasion in history. 

Lionfish are native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. With no natural predators in the Atlantic, lionfish populations have exploded throughout the waters of the Caribbean and U.S. in recent years. Biologists and scientists all around the Caribbean are working with the local Marine Parks trying to find a solution for stopping this impending epidemic. On the Island of Roatan in Honduras, local divemasters are even trying to train sharks to include lionfish in their diet. Although endangered themselves, sharks in the Caribbean may help keep the population of lionfish under control, providing yet another reason to protect the beautiful predators.

I have been working with park officials and local divers in documenting the attempt to teach sharks how to eat lion fish, and eventually to include them in their diet. They think that If these predators start to see lionfish as prey, eventually the lionfish may be kept under control as a part of the ecosystem. 

 

About Lionfish

Lionfish can take over seafloor and reef habitat and establish densities of more than 200 adults per acre. A mature female lionfish produces some two million eggs every year, and those eggs and larvae are carried far and wide by currents—fuelling an ongoing invasion.

George Burgess, director of shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, calls them the "Norwegian rats of the sea."

 

Lionfish Caribbean

 

Lionfish Caribbean

 

Eating & Hunting Lionfish

Roatan Marine Park has also made efforts to put lionfish on the menu and make people aware that they can cook and eat them, another idea for keeping the population in check. The fish are said to be tasty once their venomous spines are removed.

Harpoons and spears are illegal under Honduran fishing laws, hovewer the park has acquired an exception to arm trained and licensed divers with fishing spears called Hawaiian Slings. Their sole aim is spearing the invasive lionfish, and local humans are doing as much lionfish hunting as we hope the sharks will. During a competition organized by the park, more than 1,700 lionfish were killed and cooked in a single day. One diver with a rubber band spear gun was able to kill 60 by himself. They really are everywhere.

The spearfishers began feeding the lionfish to sharks, and after a while we saw a shark actually hunting a lionfish and eating it! This spawned the idea and shows the exact hunting behavior that those involved with the Roatan project hope will catch on. Ian Drysdale of Healthy Reefs hopes that sharks are getting a taste for lionfish and will take to hunting them on their own without any human intervention.

 

Lionfish Caribbean

 

Shark Caribbean

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shooting the Photos

It was very hard for me to get these images. I shoot with a 10.5 fisheye and had to work very close to the action. Sharks get very aggressive during feeding frenzies and I found myself in thrilling situations a couple of times.

I hope this project will catch on and that the lionfish will be kept under control by local predators, just like in Pacific and Indian Oceans.

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

Shark eating Lionfish

 

 

About the Author

Antonio Busiello is an award-winning documentary and fine art photographer. A native of Italy, he studied anthropology at the University of Naples and then started traveling the world to focus on photography. Now with home bases in London and Florence he continues his storytelling through photography.  www.antoniobusiello.com

 

Further Reading

 


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The Craziest Critters in Lembeh

Mike Bartick
Amazing Behavior Photos you Need to See

The Craziest Critters in Lembeh


Amazing Behavior Photos you Need to See

Text and Photos by Mike Bartick

 

 

 
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There is no doubt that Lembeh Straits is a prime destination for small marine animal life. The area and resorts have been a leader in destination dive travel for many years and offer up a slice of the exotic wrapped in a patina of comfortable ambiance.

For me, a Bona-Fide critterhead, Lembeh was instrumental in spring boarding my obsession for critters to the point of moving to the Indo-Pacific. Justified by the fact that I needed to be closer to the action, right in the epicenter of biodiversity known as the coral triangle. This geographic area covers much of Indonesia and a slice of the Philippines, and has been a never-ending adventure for myself and many others engaged on the same underwater photography path. One thing I have discovered along the way is that it the path has actually narrowed, honing my curiosity for specific things that normally interest no one but myself and (obviously) other critterheads.

As always I encourage everyone to use the best critter guide his/her travel budget can afford, create a critter list prior to a trip and check The Underwater Photography Guide for additional insight and photo shooting tips. It’s important to use these resources as much as possible!

 

Pharoe Cuttlefish Egg

Pharaoh cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis) lay their large eggs in the coral heads for extra protection. This massive egg is nearly the size of a golfball and the cuttlefish inside of it is ready to vacate to begin his life. Nikon 105 and +5 subsee diopter

 

pennate batfish

Juvenile Pennate Spadefish (Platax pinnatus), often called juvenile batfish, are really amazing and fun to photograph. It is speculated that the bright orange band mimics the colors of a poisonous flatworm, giving the little spadefish a bit of protection against predators. Nikkor 60mm

 

pennate batfish

Pennate Spadefish (Platax pinnatus) in a head-on stand-off. Patience prevailed as I was able to capture this difficult fluttering spadefish the instant it looked at me. Shooting behavior requires total attention for that split-second opportunity. Nikkor 60mm

 

mandarin fish mating

Mating Mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus). Each evening at sunset these amazing dragonettes pair up and mate. The larger female will scoot around the coral head with one or more males in tow and when the time is right they begin to rise above the coral head together in an affectionate manner, eventually broadcast spawning and darting back to the coral head below. The female will repeat this act over and over with several different males.

 

mandarin fish spawning

The mating mandarin cast spawn and dart away, returning to the reef below. I shot this at 3 frames per second with a high ISO and low power on the strobes in order to capture the action and I still missed the photo I had in mind.

 

Lembeh Pipedragon

Lembeh Pipedragon (Kyonemichthys rumenangi) - Part pipehorse and part fable. This really cool and very small creature has been on my list since it was described just a few years ago. My guide Nunsix flagged me over to a wall where this little guy was living amongst a small bit of algae. I decided to take a deep breath and position myself under the pipedragon to get the shot I wanted. Again, it briefly glanced into my lens allowing me to get a clear photo with both eyes. I have only seen profile pics (which I also shot) but I wanted to see its face. Nikkor 105 and + 5 diopter. Cropped 20%

 

Seahorse

These amazing Pygmy Seahorses (Hippocampus severensi) make their home, living amongst the hydroids and bryozoans on the reefs and under coral heads. This pygmy seahorse and the one at the top of the page were very challenging to photograph as they love surgey areas. In addition, their dark coloration and compressed bodys make them very cryptic and tough to find. Nikon D300s 105 and +5 diopter

 

Butterflyfish Lembeh

Butterflyfish appeared out of nowhere while shooting wide-angle at Angels Window. Although Lembeh isn’t a true wide-angle destination, it does offer some very unique opportunities to utilize your wide lenses. Nikon D300s, Tokina 10-17

 

Hairy Frogfish Yawn

Hairy frogfish (A.striatus) are always on my hitlist. This small and very active little guy had quite the attitude and yawned at me several times. Hairy frogfish are a bit more sophisticated than their anglerfish brethren. The striatus have a large and unique lure that they use to excite their prey, coaxing them closer for the kill. Nikon D300s, Nikkor 60mm

 

Special thanks to Kasawari Lembeh Resort and guides Nunsix and Ali. The service is impeccable, guides are fantastic and the resort is stunning. You made our stay very special to say the least. Stay tuned for details for detsils on Lembeh, Macro Madness June 2014

 

About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also one of the UWPG trip leaders. See more of his work at www.saltwaterphoto.com.

 

 

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Ultimate Guide to Sea Turtle Photography

Jeff Milisen
A Hawaii-Centric Guide to Sea Turtles, Where to Find Them, Photo Tips & Behaviors

Ultimate Guide to Sea Turtle Photography


A Hawaii-Centric Guide to Sea Turtles, Where to Find Them, Photo Tips & Behaviors

Text & Photos by Jeff Milisen

 

sea turtle

 

 
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More than six hundred thousand tourists flocked to Hawaii in April this year. While a few flew in for work, most of the guests were here on vacation. Their motives were mostly similar: lie on a beach, soak up some sun, and go for a swim. At some point hunger drove them away from the beach toward a buffet of tropical edibles. And between the gluttonous cramming and food-induced beach comas, they will sometimes even procreate. Of course, these activities aren’t solely for people seeking a tan. One of Hawaii’s most symbolic and photogenic creatures has made a lifestyle out of similar passions.

 

Sea Turtles in Hawaii

Sea turtles have had a roller coaster relationship with Hawaii. Early explorers described seeing so many turtles that they were navigation hazards. As happens all too frequently, the human population in Hawaii exploded to the detriment of the local wildlife. Turtles were hunted to near extirpation until the state and federal governments put a stop to collecting and even harassment of such animals in 1978. Over the next few years, they multiplied. A lot. Today it is imperative to keep a lookout at the bow of a small boat moving through Kaneohe Bay lest a turtle pop up for a breath. They have become a staple of Hawaiian tourism and a symbol of the successes of proper management. There is currently a movement to take green sea turtles off the threatened list. Thus, now seems like an appropriate time to appreciate these gentle, floating mega fauna.

 

sea turtle

A honu proudly shows off a healed war wound at Portlock, Oahu. This animal was likely the victim of a tiger shark, one of the only animals equipped to consume full-grown sea turtles. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/9, iso 200.

 

Hawaii’s strict anti-harassment laws have brought the species back from the brink, but they still face many anthropogenic hazards. Boat strikes, poachers, and marine debris all claim an untold number of turtles every year. I’ve witnessed numerous examples of these hazards, but by far the most memorable was a turtle I came across under the ledge of a popular fishing spot. Its front flipper was connected to its head by numerous hooks and lines, pinning both extremities to its side. Reflecting on the same anti-harassment laws that saved Hawaii’s turtles, I nervously reached out and removed one hook from its head hoping that would resolve the situation and be on my way. The turtle swam around and approached me again, creating an extenuating circumstance by turning me into a cleaning station. As I was running low on air and the lines and hooks were mostly gone, I swam off with the turtle trailing behind as the most unique dive buddy I’ve ever had.

This article is taking a Hawaii-centric approach to the topic of sea turtles, which means we are mostly dealing with the abundant green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). Greens, or honu as they are locally known, are the largest of the hard-shelled turtles reaching a maximum size of somewhere around 1 meter in length. They can be distinguished from their other shelled relatives by having a blunt head and a beak without a hook. In discord with their namesake, green sea turtles are not especially green but are instead named for the green colored fat under their shells. Unlike other sea turtles, honu eat mostly macro algae and seagrass. 

 

sea turtle

This turtle became so infatuated with its own reflection that I found myself having to swim away at times to keep from scratching my dome port. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/8, iso 100.

 

Where to Find Them

Green sea turtles are found circumtropically and are one of the most frequently encountered species in many parts of their range. The turtles in the Atlantic and the Pacific represent their own subpopulations. Major nesting sites exist on Ascension Island, Costa Rica, Hutchinson Island in Florida, the Pacific Coast of Mexico and throughout the Indo Pacific. Look for greens in shallow coastal waters foraging on seagrass beds where available.

In Hawaii, green sea turtles are pretty ubiquitous. The key to any good photo is a compelling and willing subject, and the places that maintain a friendlier turtle population tend to be where they have had the most exposure to people. For example, the sites best known for harboring lots of relatively tame turtles on Oahu include Makaha, Hanauma Bay, much of the North Shore, and the boat accessible Turtle Canyon. Likewise on the Big Island, places like Honaunau, Puako and Turtles Reef are hot spots for cuddling up next to a honu and popular places to go for a snorkel. While these are recommended honu hideouts, nearly every dive site has a few resident turtles. 

 

sea turtles

A pair of Hawaiian green sea turtles resting in the coral gardens outside Sea Cave off the southeast side of Oahu. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/100, f/8, iso 400.

 

 

Photo Tips

As with most animal photography, turtles need to be romanced into behaving for the camera. Take some time to get to know your subject before diving in for the winning shot. Underwater photography isn’t just about getting the exposure and composition right; the unique experiences are what drive the resulting imagery. Most of these rules can be applied to any underwater subject that comes into focus. 

 

Don’t Chase

The best way to get a shot of a turtle’s tail is to swim after it. Head-on shots are better achieved through patience and playing to the animal’s inherent sense of curiosity. Approach slowly or better yet, let the animal come to you. As long as they aren’t spooked, they can often be entranced by their own reflection in the dome port. When this happens, set the shutter speed to fast and just hold down the shutter.

 

Wait for your Shot

Turtles can be deceptively difficult to shoot well. Anybody can point and click, but it takes real patience to put everything in the right place. Even if the subject is facing the camera and at the right angle (which it won't often do naturally), the front flippers can awkwardly block the head. When the turtle is being sociable, keep an eye in the viewfinder and a finger on the trigger. Remember, while faster dslr’s may take photos at a rate of ten pics per second, strobes take a few seconds to recycle. Use the artificial light wisely and hold off until the shot comes into view.

 

Create the Shot

It always helps to have a plan. Visualize the shot before entering the water thinking about the elements of composition, lighting, and exposure. Where do you want the subject? Are there other divers in the image? What are they doing? The more detail that goes into the plan, the better the final image will be.

 

sea turtle

When shooting most nektonic animals, it is a good idea to shoot at an upward angle to separate the subject from the substrate. In this case, a snorkeler hovers excitedly over her first Hawaiian green sea turtle encounter at Kahe Point, Oahu. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/125, f/9, iso 100.

 

Be Adaptable

Often, the situation won’t unfold the way it was originally imagined, so instead of wasting the experience, use the added elements to create something exceptional. Did the plan call for a reflection at the surface but the seas are too choppy? Use the stormy water to create a dramatic image instead. Are there more people crowding the animal than expected? Document that. These unexpected elements are what help tell the story of your shot. 

 

Respect Local Guidelines

Hawaii offers turtles protection from harassment. Harassment is defined as any action that alters the natural behavior of the animal, which means absolutely no touching or riding the animals. The wording on the laws is intentionally vague, so it is in the best interest of the photographer to be conservative in how they act around protected animals.

 

In General

Unless you are looking for a portrait/head shot, go wide or go home. But if the equipment in question isn’t any fancier than a point and shoot, don’t worry as turtles are fairly forgiving subjects.

 

sea turtle

This image is the result of an hour spent gaining an animal’s trust. It took many minutes, but eventually, the turtle decided I was not a threat and swam with me for the remainder of the dive, affording me many opportunities to wait for the sun to be shining bright enough for the sunbeams in the background. Taken at Honaunau, Big Island. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/8, iso 100.

 

sea turtle split shot

Split shots of static subjects are tough enough. Taking over unders of moving subjects requires lots of planning, even more patience, and a healthy dose of good luck. Puako, Big Island. Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/8, iso 400.

 

hawaii sea turtle

A young green sea turtle pokes its head through the wreckage of a Navy LCU off the west shore of Oahu.  Canon 500D, Tokina 10-17mm, 1/160, f/9, iso 200.

 

 

Behaviors

Even if the plan changes, the preparation process is key to making your pics pop. Part of the visualization process should include a behavior that the turtle is exhibiting. Below is a short list of the most common behavioral opportunities pertaining to turtles and how to up the chance for success. 

 

Resting

Anywhere turtles are seen frequently provides an opportunity to observe them lying about. However the award for the laziest turtles might have to go to a pair that hangs out on the stern of the wreck of the YO-257 on Oahu. It seems that if they aren’t on the deck itself, they are usually lying out in a hold somewhere or heading to the surface for a breath. If the latter is the case, just sit tight - they’ll be back shortly.

 

Basking

Hawaii is one of the only places (in addition to the Galapagos and Australia) where green sea turtles are known to bask on shore. People frequently mistake these beached animals as injured or laying eggs. More than likely, the turtles are thermoregulating or even just taking a break. They make for engaging and unique over/under subjects when entering or leaving the water or even to set off a pretty sunset. When preparing the shot, keep in mind that laws prohibiting harassment of sea turtles extend beyond the water’s edge. Favorite basking beaches can be found at Puako, Honaunau and at various beaches on the north shore of Oahu. 

 

Feeding

When they aren’t resting or lying around on a beach, turtles are generally stuffing themselves with marine salad. Often, they can be found feeding in shallow water where the rocks meet the ocean. The good news for shutterbugs is that the turtles are often so engrossed in their food that they forget their surroundings. Therefore, macro shots of turtles munching on rock fuzz are an easy way to snag a last-minute shot at the end of a dive. 

 

Breathing

As much as they would rather remain motionless on the bottom or gorge themselves on seaslime, turtles have to go to the surface to breathe every so often. When this happens, they take one or two breaths and disappear beneath the surface. The two ways to get this shot are while wading in a shallow, protected embayment or spotting one from a boat. The turtle should be positioned such that it is facing toward or lateral to the lens. Be ready with a long lens focused on the spot they are likely to come up because the breath will last only a quick second. 

 

Cleaning

Much like neighbors who refuse to mow or rake their lawns, turtles don’t clean themselves. Instead, the other reef inhabitants take the task on themselves. Most congregations of turtles have a resident cleaning station nearby. Because yellow hues show up brightly underwater, it is visually optimal to target cleaning stations with a lot of yellow fish. In Hawaii this means yellow tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens) that are most abundant on the Kona coast. Be wary that the tangs will scatter quickly, so act fast with the wide-angle lens.

 

Breeding

Get lucky. Breeding occurs in the springtime. That’s about all the help anyone can give.

 

sea turtles mating in hawaii

This pair of sea turtles were found mating offshore from Kihei, Maui. Note the male’s front flipper claws gripping the carapace of the female. The coupling lasted only for a few minutes before they parted ways.  Canon A650is, 1/250, f/4, ISO 160.

 

Nesting

The vast majority of nestings in Hawaii occur at French Frigate Shoals, an atoll that sits in a protected section of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. That means that the same turtles that are visiting tourists at Waikiki Beach swim 500 miles to this remote location every year to lay eggs before swimming all the way back to Oahu. Recently, and for the first time in decades, turtles have been observed nesting on the islets surrounding Oahu in June and July. Many of these small islands are off limits to the public, so these episodes are best witnessed from nearby shorelines and small boats.

 

 

Other Sea Turtles

While green sea turtles are common in Hawaii, there are several other species that prove just as interesting. All of the species mentioned below have been found in Hawaii, but are much more rare than their “green” cousin.

 

Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Hawksbills are extremely rare in Hawaii and considered critically endangered throughout the rest of their range. They can be distinguished from greens by having a curved beak, flatter shells, and overlapping scutes where the carapace (dorsal shell) and plastron (ventral shell) meet. They are endangered because they historically supplied much of the world’s need for tortoiseshell and have yet to recover. Their strange diet is comprised mostly of sponges. The Caribbean and western Indian Ocean (and Red Sea) remains some of the more common places to encounter hawksbill sea turtles.

 

hawksbill sea turtle

Hawksbill sea turtles are rarely seen in Hawaii. This older specimen was observed just inside of the boat channel at Honokohau Harbor, Big Island. Canon G12, 1/80, f/8, iso 125.

 

Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtles are no strangers to life in the open ocean but can also be found in shallow coastal environments. They come ashore only to lay eggs. Loggerheads are notable for having blunt snouts and small plastrons (ventral shells). Food items include most animals they can catch. Frequently this means sessile, shelled organisms like gastropods and crustaceans. Females will often battle it out over territory in a ritual that escalates into biting at each other. The best place to visit loggerheads is off the coast of the southeastern United States and along the Gulf of Mexico. 

 

Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)

This is the largest sea turtle with an average size over 6 feet long and the largest on record being almost 10! Leatherbacks are very rare, and encounters with divers do not happen often. They have a skin covering on their massive carapace and an overall black appearance. The leatherback’s mouth is full of sharp protrusions that point backward helping to guide jellyfish - its spicy food of choice - down its throat. They are one of the world’s few living giant reptiles and as such they are not likely to be confused with other sea turtles. 

 

 

In Conclusion

Underwater Photography Guide readers would do well to follow another practice set by sea turtles. They may devote a few hours here and there catching sunrays on the beach, but the vast majority of their time is spent living life under the waves. Chances are good that your vacation would be better occupied off the beach than on it, dragging a camera in tow and working to capture a mind-blowing image of one of the ocean’s most charismatic reptiles. Aloha.

 

sea turtles in hawaii

A pair of sea turtles cruise over a sandy area outside the warm water discharge site at Kahe Point, Oahu. Canon A650is, 1/40, f/8, iso 80.

 

About the Author

From cone snails to sharks and many things in between, Jeff Milisen has interests firmly rooted in anything related to marine biology. Such a varied career has led him to spend considerable time in remote habitats. When not plying the open ocean or poking around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, he visits the multitude of dive sites around his home in Kona. Wherever his exploits go, he is sure to have his dive gear and camera packed and at the ready. Visit milisenphotography.yolasite.com for more of Jeff’s imagery.

 

Further Reading

 


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10 Underwater Creature Facts You Don't Know

Jonathan Lavan
Fish that Farm, Sharks with Teeth on their Skin and more Amazing Facts!

10 Underwater Creature Facts We Bet You Don't Know


Fish that Farm, Sharks with Teeth on their Skin and more Amazing Facts!

Text & Photos by Jonathan Lavan

 

Frogfish

 

 
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The underwater world amazes us as photographers. Part of being a good underwater photographer is being able to identify the fish and other creatures you're looking at. Knowing where to likely find their habitat, how creatures interact with each other and whether their behavior is unusual or not could be the difference between a good shot and a great shot. Sea creatures have some amazing adaptions for survival. Here are 10 Underwater Creatures Facts We Bet You Didn't Know...

 

1.  Many bony fish have more than just one set of nostrils. The nostrils of fish also do not open into the back of the mouth like those of mammals, and are not, therefore, for breathing. They lead into organs of smell, which are very sensitive in order for fish to detect the presence of food in the water at considerable distances. More nostrils = more smelling!

 

2.  Not all Hermit Crabs use discarded seashells as their portable shelters. In the Sea of Cortez some hermit crabs use living, growing Hydrocoral and others, in the Indo-Pacific region, live in the fixed wormholes left by marine worms.

 

3.  Sharks are covered with tiny little teeth called dermal denticles. That’s why their skin feels like sandpaper.

 

4.  Damselfish are farmers growing little algae gardens. The next time they attack you’ll just know that they are saying: “Stay off my land, yah hear!”

 

5.  Moray Eels open and close their mouths, not as an aggressive behavior but as part of their respiration process. They’re just breathing!

 

6.  At night Parrotfish enclose themselves in a bubble of their own mucus to avoid being smelled by predators.

 

7.  Nudibranchs can absorb nematocysts (stinging cells) from the prey they eat and later use them as part of their defensive system.

 

8.  Boxfish do not have a conventional bony skeleton like most vertebrate. They literally have a bone box that only the eyes, mouth and fins stick out of.

 

9.  Many species of fish are hermaphrodites. They will start their lives as females and then if a male is needed the lead female will become a male.

 

10.  Barnacles are actually crustaceans related to crabs and lobsters. Since they are fixed to the substrate the male barnacle must use a very long reproductive part to be able to reach his mate!

 

 

About the Author

Jonathan Lavan is the owner/operator of Underpressure Diving and Photography and an online fish ID instructor for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (reef.org). He shoots with a Nikon D300 with a 60mm or 105mm lens in a Subal housing, a ReefNet 10+ magnifying diopter, Ikelite 125’s or 160’s for strobe and a Light & Motion SOLA/PHOTO 800 focus light. His work can be seen at www.underpressure-spurdog.blogspot.com.

 

Further Reading

 


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Fascinating Creatures of the Pacific Northwest

Patricia Gunderson
Thriving Life, Surprising Behavior and Cold Water Creatures

Fascinating Creatures of the Pacific Northwest


Thriving Life, Surprising Behavior and Cold Water Creatures

By Patricia Gunderson

 

King Crab

 

 
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I live in the Pacific Northwest and most of my diving has been in the waters of Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the inland waters of British Columbia. When I have had the opportunity to dive in places with warmer water most folks ask how I can stand the cold water. My answer is simple: the abundance of life in cold water is endless, and the creatures I see while diving often deliver surprises.

 

Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO)

One of the most well known animals in our local waters is the Giant Pacific Octopus, (Enteroctopus dofleini). This cephalopod is very intelligent and inquisitive. They can frequently be found in a den during the day and outside hunting at night. Each GPO also seems to remodel its den just to its liking. On one dive I was swimming along when I saw a huge cloud of sand erupt from a den, followed by the octopus throwing shells and rocks out. You could actually see the arms pushing out the debris that was not wanted in the den. GPOs, especially large specimens, are really majestic animals when seen outside of their dens.

Although GPOs are usually inquisitive and not aggressive, it is important to understand that a larger octopus could do a lot of damage quickly. They have even been known to steal divers' cameras, rip off masks or descend with arms all over a diver. And while it’s exhilarating to watch a GPO exhibit warning behavior (appearing larger by extending legs and billowing out the membranes between legs), we need to remember to respect their space.

 

Giant Pacific Octopus

This is a large specimen that came out to investigate and let me take a series of photos before it slithered back into a crevice in the rocks.

 

Giant Pacific Octopus

This is a small GPO peeking out of the concrete pipe it inhabits.

 

Decorated Warbonnet

During the spring months in the Pacific Northwest there are many creatures breeding and laying eggs. This year I was lucky enough to photograph one of my favorite fish guarding eggs, the Decorated Warbonnet (Chirolophis decoratus). They have an elongated body and can grow to more than a foot long. Decorated Warbonnets tend to hide in crevices, inside logs or sponges, and seem to be quite territorial. Friends in British Columbia have told me they can be quite nasty - even swimming out to bite fingers - although I have never had this happen to me.

 

Decorated Warbonnet

Decorated Warbonnet keeping a close eye on me.

 

Decorated Warbonnet

Decorated Warbonnet guarding eggs.

 

Mosshead Warbonnet

Another favorite fish I find in the spring is the juvenile Mosshead Warbonnet, (Chirolophis nugatory). They are much smaller than the Decorated Warbonnet, growing to about six inches when mature. Like the Decorated Warbonnet, they are long eel-like fish. One of their favorite spots to hide is in an empty barnacle shell, and their tiny faces and punk rock-like haircuts make them a great photography subject! At one of my favorite dive sites, the Keystone Jetty, you can find them poking their heads out of barnacles or swimming about among the tiny orange social tunicates and hydroids. You just have to move carefully and watch for the motion of a tiny fish camouflaged within the profusion of life inhabiting the rocks there.

 

Mosshead Warbonnet

Mosshead Warbonnets are often tought to spot.

 

Mosshead Warbonnet

A wider perspective of a Mosshead Warbonnet.

 

Scalyhead Sculpin

Many fish are territorial and it is fascinating to observe their behavior. The hunt for new fish behavior is one of the things that gets me in the water time after time. I was lucky enough to find this male Scalyhead Sculpin (Artedius harringtoni) warning off another little sculpin. He lunged out of the barnacle quickly towards the other fish while opening his mouth and exposing his yellow gill coverings. After putting on a good show he retreated deeper into the barnacle shell.

 

Scalyhead Sculpin

A Scalyhead Sculpin puffs out his gills and opens his mouth to warn another sculpin to stay away.

 

Lingcod

The Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus), a large fish common in the Pacific Northwest, exhibits territorial behavior similar to the scalyhead sculpin. The males of both fish guard their eggs, and it is common to see Lingcod torn up during the winter months from fighting. I recently witnessed a large Lingcod swimming up to another to bite its tail - certainly appearing to be a territorial dispute. Lingcod are voracious feeders with a great liking for octopus, and I have seen them swimming around with tentacles trailing out of their mouths. The wreck of the Columbia in British Columbia north of Campbell River used to be a good place to find the Giant Pacific Octopus, but the big Lingcod living on the wreck seemed to have devoured all of them when I last visited. I didn’t see a single GPO. I have also seen Lingcod eating all kinds of fish and was lucky enough to see a large Lingcod, probably about 5 feet long, with a spiny dogfish (a small shark) sideways in it's mouth. Unfortunately, the moment was gone before I could capture a photo.

 

Lingcod

Here is a photo of a Lingcod with a flatfish in it's mouth, quite a mouthful.

 

Puget Sound King Crab

Puget Sound King Crabs are large with extremely colorful shells. The juveniles are brilliant orange, and as they get older they begin to show the purple markings of adults. The colors of mature individuals can be muted by growth on their shells, and until they molt they can be very drab. After molting, the reds oranges and purples are again brilliant!

 

King Crab

Crabzilla!

 

These are only a few of the interesting creatures to be found in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest. I consider the opportunities for photography here endless and know that there will always be something new to witness. I find cold water diving every bit as exciting as the warm water diving and recommend you try for yourself.

 

About the Author

I have always loved the water and been fascinated with what lives in it. I've been diving since 1995 and began shooting photos shortly afterwards, but it was not until the world went digital and I bought a D70 and Subal housing that any of my photos were worth anything (aside from a sad memory of my diving). I thank the digital era for giving me a passion for underwater photography and underwater creatures of all kinds. www.sea-visions.net

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Once in a Lifetime Humpback Whale Experience

Bruce Shafer
A Mother Whale Teaches her Newborn the Basics of Being a Whale

Once in a Lifetime Humpback Whale Experience in Socorro


A Mother Whale Teaches her Newborn the Basics of Being a Whale

By Bruce Shafer

 

humpback whale socorro

 

 
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Dolphins were riding our bow wake and humpback whales were breaching in the distance as we approached Socorro. Some of us began to envision hearing haunting whale songs pierce the silence of our upcoming dives. We couldn’t begin to fathom the rare treat that awaited us.

Set a course 250 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and in 23 hours you will arrive in the Revillagidedo Islands, commonly referred to as “Socorro.” At Roca Partida, a single rock pinnacle 70 miles from the nearest island, several adult humpback whales were surfacing so near that we felt the boat rock - the sound of their gasps resonated in our ears. Upon spotting a mother humpback with her calf we scrambled into the pangas with fins and snorkels in an attempt to catch a quick underwater glimpse of the pair. Strangely, this mother humpback wasn’t threatened, alarmed, or annoyed by our presence. This unique situation provided ample opportunity over the next two days to be entertained and delighted by this mother teaching her newborn the “Basics of Being a Whale.”

 

humpback whale socorro

 

Learning to Dive

Whales are mammals, like humans. And like humans, whales breathe air. The obvious difference is that whales live in the ocean and need to learn how to breathe efficiently. Like free-divers, young whales need to train to hold their breath for extended periods of time.

Young humpbacks are less than 20 feet in length, and this neophyte whale would effortlessly rise to the surface for each breath. Lots of splashing ensued and appeared to be playfulness but was most likely a bit of clumsiness. Since its young, one-ton body was mostly baby-fat, the calf was simply too buoyant. And much like an under-weighted diver, the calf would need to raise its tail and kick down to its mother waiting 60 feet below.

 

humpback whale socorro

 

The calf would then gently slide underneath its mother and wedge itself under her chin. The mother cradled the baby between her two long, wing-like flippers.  Her weight prevented them from ascending to the surface while the calf practiced holding its breath for as long as it could. Both mammals would remain motionless, conserving energy for several minutes. At times it was funny viewing the duo from the surface because it appeared that the calf was resting in the mother’s mouth.

 

humpback whale socorro

 

The calf would come to the surface three or four times before the mother needed another breath, and many times the playful calf would check out the enamored snorkelers waiting there during their surface intervals. During this time the youngster would come very close to us, making it possible to see the curiosity in its eye.

 

humpback whale socorro

 

humpback whale socorro

Evident on the calf's back were many scratches caused from rubbing against the barnacles on its mother's underside.

 

Whenever the mother needed a breath, the duo would gently swim off to another location near the pinnacle. And using smooth, powerful strokes, mother and child would leave the awestruck snorkelers far behind.

 

humpback whale socorro

 

At other times it seemed like a "navigation certification" was being earned as the mother would take the calf several thousand yards away from Roca Partida in many different directions only to have the calf navigate the couple back to the pinnacle. During those occasions, some fortunate divers were able to see the couple swim by in the deep water.

 

humpback whale socorro

 

The calf seemed to be a quick learner. I am not sure what other standards still needed to be met, but I feel confident that in the 8 to 11 months it is being weaned, this beginner will earn a “full whale certification.”

 

humpback whale socorro

 

When you do a lot of diving, it is very easy to slip into a “Been-There, Done-That” frame of mind. Interacting with these magnificent and majestic creatures would rejuvenate and humble even the most veteran diver. We all felt very fortunate to be able to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.

 

humpback whale socorro

 

About the Author

I consider myself more of a "Diver with a Camera" than an "Underwater Photographer." That said, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to capture some fairly unique images during my travels around the world. See more of Bruce’s photos at: www.scubashafer.com/

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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5 Critters You Must See in the Indo-Pacific

Mike Bartick
The Most Exciting Subjects for Underwater Photographers in the Indo-Pacific

5 Critters You Must See in the Indo-Pacific


The Most Exciting Subjects for Underwater Photographers in the Indo-Pacific

By Mike Bartick

 

ornate ghost pipefish

A diver takes a close look at an Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)

 
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The Indo-Pacific region is famous among divers for its diversity of marine life.  There are countless photo subjects, but 5 critters stand out from the rest and are frequently referred to as the Holy Grail.  They are often as difficult to photograph as they are to find.  Inconsistent sightings, conditions and even the ornate nature or size of the creatures can test your dive skills, photography technique and patience.

 

#5 Bobbit Worms (Uenice aphroditois)

The carnivorous polychaete of the sand flats is a somewhat clumsy yet wicked subject.  A nocturnal feeder, the bobbit worm is most active after sunset.  A calcified set of jawbones at the top of the worm’s head is your first clue that this guy means business.  Chemical receptors and tentacles also come into play when the bobbit worm hunts.  An ambush predator, the bobbit worm conceals itself at sand level and snatches unsuspecting fish from the water column as they pass by.  This is a real science fiction critter that can't be missed when visiting the Indo-Pacific. Read more about the bobbit worm.

 

Photo technique

A red filtered modeling light seems to work best as the bobbit is very light sensitive.  Try to catch a series of photos showing the behavior or better yet, switch it over to video.

 

bobbit worm

A bobbit worm (Uenice aphroditois) is a true critter of science fiction.

 

#4 Hairy Frogfish (Antennarius striatus)

The hairy frogfish is actually one of my personal favorites because it tends to be a bit more sophisticated at its craft than most.  But don’t let its cute appearance fool you; the hairy frogfish is a voracious predator and a rapacious foe that uses pheromones, a lure and its legendary gape strike to hunt and feed.  The A. striatus uses a 3-phase technique to excite and antagonize their prey, while conserving their own engery.

Phase 1:  The hairy frogfish releases pheromones in a chum slick, which drifts with the current to excite nearby fish who think a meal is nearby.  The curious fish, unaware of the danger that awaits, follows the pheromone slick upstream.

Phase 2:  As the unsuspecting fish comes closer, the hairy frogfish switches to more visual stimulation technique by deploying its oversized wormlike lure, creating an irresistible temptation for fish, shrimp and squid of all sizes.

Phase 3:  The strike zone is someplace you wouldn’t want to be if you’re in frogfish territory.  Once the victim is within range the frogfish unleashes its lightning-fast gape strike.  It’s so fast the victim has no chance to react, and unlike the bite strike technique of pelagic feeders, the frogfish drops its lower jawbone with such force that it actually pulls its prey right into its mouth.  The intestinal sphincter muscle extends forward, crushing its victim before the digestion process begins.  On occasion the froggy will spit its victim out and attempt to re-align it for easier entry into their digestive gullet.  They are often seen feeding on prey larger than themselves.

 

Photo technique

I like using a shallow depth of field to produce a composition different from many traditional images (around f/5.6) and to fill the frame with the subject.  The hairy appendages melt away nicely into the background with the ambient light.  Hairy frogfish aren’t going to swim away, so be patient and wait for the right shot. They are light sensitive so minimizing strobe flashes will yield more authentic behavior.

 

hairy frogfish

Shooting hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus) with a shallow depth of field creates a nice effect as the hairy appendages melt away into the background.

Read more about types of frogfish, or the hunt for the rare pink frogfish.

 

#3 Cephalopods

Blue-Ringed Octopus, Mimic Octopus, Wunderpuss and Flamboyant Cuttlefish are often the most fun to engage, as they are also the most intelligent of marine creatures.  The Wunderpus and Mimic both enjoy feeding on and playing with mantis shrimp, and as a result they tend to share the same habitat.  Hunting on open sand flats, they will move from hole to hole in search of their next meal.  Both are fast moving, animated creatures that are quick to morph colors and shapes.

The blue-ringed octopus can appear out of nowhere at a dive site, sending photographers into a frenzy.  On wall dives, in coral, rocks, the shallows or deep water, the BRO tends to be more nomadic than its cousins. And although all octopuses contain various types of venom for hunting, the blue-rings contain TTX, a potent venom created in its stomach and delivered via saliva into its victims.  The venom is powerful enough to kill multiple fully grown men with just one bite. Read more about the blue-ring octopus and the wunderpus octopus.

Flamboyant cuttlefish can be seen walking about on the substrate using two forward arms, and rarely swim unless threatened.  The colors are generally muted until the cuttlefish is excited, when it flashes its flamboyant colors to ward off predators or to communicate.  The skin tissue is also reported to contain TTX, so contact with a flamboyant cuttlefish is highly discouraged.  Cephalopods are the most intelligent invertebrates on earth, however they have a physical limitation that requires them to rest often.  Their hemoglobin wont carry much oxygen as other critters, and most have two hearts to help pump the blood through their body.  This is a big advantage for underwater photographers.

 

Photo technique

Take advantage your subject’s playful and dramatic nature by filling the frame for expressive photos and turn the camera to shoot portraits.

 

mimic octopus

A mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) traps a mantis shrimp in its web.

mimic octopus

This mimic octopus portrait fills the frame.

 

wunderpuss octopuswunderpus octopus

Photo Left:  A photographer waits with camera at the ready while a wunderpus octo (Wunderpus photogenicus) huntsPhoto Right:  Wunderpus octopus.

 

flamboyant cuttlefish

A flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) patrols the substrate using two forward arms.

 

 

#2 Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)

Ornate Ghost Pipefish hold a top position in this short list and for good reason; they are both unique and beautiful.  The Syngathidae family (which includes seahorses, leafy sea dragons and pipefish) shares a fused jaw feature that places them into a single category with over 200 species.  Ghost pipefish are quite different from these brethren and only recognize 6 species in their family.

The most obvious difference is body shape.  Common pipefish resemble pencils while ornate ghost pipefish have a downward facing head, allowing them to assume strategic hunting posture with a view from above. The common pipefish spends its lifecycle on the substrate and is only occasionally seen free swimming. In contrast, the OGP rarely uses the substrate and instead hunts from above, often mimicking its surroundings, which include sea grass, algae, halameda or soft coral.  It’s believed that the ornate ghost pipefish kicked off the recent “critter craze” and I believe it.

All ornate ghost pipefish begin their lives as males, but some change into females as they grow from juvenile into the sex phase.  The males tend to stay smaller whereas the female grows in size to accommodate and care for her eggs, which will develop in a pouch between her lower caudle fins.  Eggs are often present with the female as she carries her them in hopes of mating once the right male has been found.  The planktonic juveniles will begin their life as pelagic drifters before settling just above the substrate to grow into adults.

 

Photo Technique

The ornate ghost pipefish lends itself to portrait photo composition.  Proper side lighting will pull the color through the photo and help to isolate your subject from the background.  Adding the human element with a model is also nice.

 

ornate ghost pipefish

Several Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) hover near a gorgonian.

 

velvet ghost pipefish

The rare Velvet Ghost Pipefish.

 

 

#1 Rhinopias (Rhinopias/Scorpaenidae)

Rhinopia images are much coveted and top the list of many serious photographers when traveling to the Indo-Pacific.  The Rhinopia easily holds its golden heavyweight belt in the top 5 critter list for several reasons.

The first is that they often appear as a drab dull brown or greenish color before exploding with vibrant color the millisecond any light touches their patterned skin tissue.  Their bold colors and body textures become immediately obvious when photographed with strobes, adding to the intrigue of these amazing creatures.  But even with this unique appearance it’s the odd behaviors that give them so much personality.  Swimming forward with their face dragging on the bottom they appear to be injured or helpless fish, enticing their prey to investigate.  Once the curious victim is close enough, the Rhinopia consumes its prey with its massive bucket mouth gape strike.  Masters of deceit.  Despite the Rhinopia colorations, textures and popularity they remain extremely elusive.  This is evident when one is found, because the news sends shockwaves through the local underwater photo community.

Read more about the Rhinopia.

Photo Technique

Rhinopias are a mid sized critter and images need strong depth of field.  Lens selection is primary for me.  I like the Tokina 10-17 fisheye on a small port, Sigma 28-80 zoom behind my macro port or my 40mm Nikon lens (Canon 35mm) to include the entire animal.  Pay close attention the eyes and compressed facial features, this is a very unique critter.

 

Rhinopia eshmeyeri

Rhinopia eshmeyeri.  Rhinopias are at the top of many serious photographers' critter lists.

 

rhinopia frondosa

Rhinopia frondosa.  At the top of our Top 5 critter list for the Indo-Pacific.

 

Publisher's note - where to find these critters

Check out our list of muck-diving sites to find out great areas to see these critters. Anilao is one of our favorites, but Lembeh, Milne Bay PNG and Ambon are other great choices - but not the only ones.

 

Conclusion

The top 5 critters picks is just the tip of the iceberg in what can be found when diving the Indo-Pacific.  The region is both bio-diverse and dense with these critters year round and makes for a fantastic photo safari for both macro and wide-angle.  Now go out and have an adventure!

 

 

About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also one of the UWPG trip leaders.  See more of his work at www.saltwaterphoto.com.

 

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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