Mating Blue-Ringed Octopus: Story Behind the Shot

Brent Durand
Capturing a Fleeting Cephalopod Encounter

 

Mating Blue-Ringed Octopus

- Story Behind the Shot -


Capturing a Fleeting Cephalopod Encounter

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

Mating Blue-Ringed Octopus

 

 
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My eyes followed the dive guide’s gaze towards the white sand between two rocks. I knew I was looking for a blue-ringed octopus but didn’t see anything and inched a bit closer.

Until this point, I had been further down the reef, calmly waiting for a tiny nudibranch to shift position among some hydroids when I felt a firm tap on my shoulder. I looked up to see our dive guide frantically beckoning me to follow him. Intent on capturing the image I had set up, I made the sign for nudibranch and pointed at that spot. He then blew out a big stream of bubbles and pecked one arm with his other hand – the unmistakable sign for blue-ringed octopus – and kicked full speed across the reef with me in hot pursuit.

As my mask got closer to the sand, I saw the iridescent blue rings and recognized the octopus in front of me as the cephalopod launched itself across the ground. Excited to see my first blue-ring of the trip (Bluewater Photo’s Anilao workshops), I begun a lighting-fast reconfiguration of my camera gear from super macro to “octopus position,” knowing this was a fleeting moment. The excitement intensified as the octo lifted off the sand slightly and I saw a male octopus clinging to the female in mating position. Incredible! I’m sure I breathed out some excited words as I finished changing camera settings and took a first shot. The octos were moving quickly across the reef and I fired a shot each time I had a satisfactory composition through my 100mm macro lens. In a matter of seconds, both octopuses disappeared safely into a small hole.

 

Mating Blue-Ringed Octopus

 

About the Blue-Ringed Octopus

The blue-ringed octopus (hapalochlaena lunulata) is sought-after by underwater photographers across the Indo-Pacific. They generally inhabit shallow waters around rubble, rocks and muck sand areas, spending their time hunting small crustaceans.

Blue-ringed octopuses are infamous among divers for their extremely toxic venom (TTX), which is powerful enough to kill humans.

Learn more about the blue-ringed octopus in our comprehensive marine life feature.

 

Mating Blue-Ringed Octopus

 

Gear and Camera Settings

I captured these photos with a Canon 5D Mark III in an Aquatica housing using the Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro lens. Light came from two Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes on the end of Ultralight arms & clamps with Stix Floats.

Settings:  ISO 200, 1/160s at f/16

 

Mating Blue-Ringed Octopus

 

 

Tips for Capturing Behavior

 

Practice

When action is unfolding quickly it must be second nature to change camera settings and strobe positioning. Experienced photographers will be able to set up a shot before even actuating the shutter, leaving only small tweaks necessary to capture the image in mind.

 

Study the marine life in an area before the trip

You’ll learn a lot and it will form a good base for learning more during the trip, especially if it is an underwater photo workshop. Not only will you recognize what is going on around you, but you’ll have more fun talking about your dives with fellow divers.

 

Become friends with your dive guides

We’re all divers and share some amazing experiences underwater. If your guide knows how much you appreciate their experience and hard work, they will be more inclined to show you their favorite critters.

 

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.

 

 

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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Bryde's Whale: Story Behind the Shot

Francis Perez
Incredible Photo Series of Bryde's Whale Engulfing a Bait Ball

 

Bryde's Whale: Story Behind the Shot


Incredible Photo Series of a Bryde's Whale Engulfing a Bait Ball

Text and Photos By Francis Pérez

 

 

 
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The Canary Islands are one of the best places in the world for viewing marine mammals. On Tenerife’s south coast there is a permanent population of Pilot Whales and Dolphins, and every year gigantic whales, especially Bryde’s Whales, are seen passing along the coast.

Last year (2013) was a very special year with abundant sea life. From January to May, the ocean was filled with food for these immense animals, including large schools of Mackerel.

 

The Idea:

I already had some interesting whale photos taken underwater from the summer of 2012. My objective for 2013 was to photograph the whales while they were feeding. I knew that it would be a very difficult task, having to be in the perfect position at the precise moment.

 

The Shot:

On a miserable, cloudy, windswept day (and what seemed to be the trend of the past few weeks) we were about to turn towards shore when in the distance I spotted a skirmish formed by shearwaters and seagulls battling on the water’s surface, marking the spot where a great feast was taking place.

Under the surface, many Spotted Dolphins swimming with Yellowfin & Albacore Tuna, followed by three colossal Bryde’s Whales, were all preparing to attack the immense ball of shimmering silver and blue striped Mackerel.

 

 

My aim was to photograph one of these giant whales assailing the immense sphere. After several failed attempts to capture the perfect shot, I waited patiently with my camera prepared until my friend at the helm maneuvered the boat to the ideal spot. He placed the boat south of the conflict just as the giant whale made a run for the rotating ball of mackerel. At the precise moment, placed just behind the pending feast, I shot in burst mode to capture as many images as possible of the attacking whale. It was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever experienced at sea.

This type of photography is difficult because you only have a few seconds to capture the perfect moment. Camera settings must be adjusted previously so that you’re ready for the shot.

The Bryde's whale surfaces rapidly, so high velocity settings must be used (i.e. fast shutter speed). The very cloudy conditions that day added another challenge, as I had to compensate for the high shutter speed with a high ISO. But for this image sequence luck was on my side, as the whale’s throat is very white, and the photo would likely have been overexposed hadn’t it been for the overcast conditions.

A strobe isn’t advisable to use as it is bulky and impairs streamlined movement in the water. Using no flash also helps avoid irritating the animal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOW !!

 

Gear & Settings:

Camera:  Seacam Housing for Canon 5D, Canon 15mm f/ 2.8 fisheye lens

Settings:  f/8, 1/160, ISO 400

 

 

About the Author

Francis Pérez is an underwater photographer, economist specializing in development economics and lover of marine biology.

View more of Francis' photography at www.uwatercolors.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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Experimenting with Color Strobe Gels

Brent Durand
New Technique: Create Vibrant Color with Strobe Gels

 

Experimenting with Colored Strobe Gels


New Technique: Create Vibrant Color with Strobe Gels

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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Meet the Disco Squid. They get funky when the sun sets, breaking out into moves and grooves illuminated by synchronized color strobe flashes. Diving in the midst of a large market squid run is an incredible experience - something worth seeking out. Thousands of these small squid swarm the shallows in a mating frenzy, leaving undulating blankets of egg baskets on the sand bottom. The excitement of diving a squid run is enhanced at night when walls of squid jockey to be close to dive lights while predators lurk in the shadows feasting on eggs. Make sure to check out photos from the most recent squid run at Vet's Park in Redondo Beach.

 

Planning the Colored Gel Shoot

I dived several times a week until late at night during the squid run last summer, presenting an opportunity to start experimenting with creative photo ideas. I was using both strobes and video lights for maximum creative flexibility and to attract as many squid as possible. 'Should I try zoom shots… no, not good with so many squid. Spin shots… no, not exciting with white squid. What about adding color to the living white canvas in front of me?  Yes !!'

The next day I borrowed a 3rd strobe from Bluewater Photo and taped a purple, orange and green strobe gel to each. I used medical tape to keep the gels secure on top of the diffusers through the surf entry and exit. The third strobe arm clamped directly to the ball mount on top of my Aquatica 5D MkIII housing, which allowed all three strobes to be spaced evenly. Ultralight triple clamps at the end of the main strobe arms allowed attachment of two I-Torch video lights.

While the extra lights and strobe were easy to manage in the water, it made the rig heavy on land. The sandy beach entries required some concentration, especially with drysuit, weight and steel 120 tank!

Check out the gear photo below:

 

Three strobes with colored gels and two video lights create the ultimate squid rig.

 

Up All Night with the Disco Squid

I made sure to balance the light from all three strobes while trying to avoid backscatter in the sandy water. One of my dive buddies (Kelli from Bluewater Photo) said the strobe flashes looked like… you guessed it – a disco party.

The biggest challenge in shooting a wall of squid is composition. Sure, you can just point and shoot at the wall of squid, but where is your focal point? A wall of squid is interesting because of the large number of creatures in front of you, but the story of a squid run is told through movement and energy. This led me to constantly seek compositions and patterns in the walls of squid, eventually incorporating slow shutter speeds, zooming and other creative techniques to the colored light produced by the strobe gels. All of the photos below came from a single dive.

 

Squid move in every direction lit by the colored strobe gels. ISO 100, f/14, 1/200.

 

A wall of squid propells away, leaving white traces of their path. ISO 100, f/14, 1.0s.

 

 

Shooting Tips

  1. Use a small dome. I was using a 9" dome at the time, but now that I have a 4” dome would opt for that instead. Why? It’s easier to light the center of the frame in the unforgiving sandy water.
  1. Stop down to increase depth of field. This will keep more of the scene in focus.
  1. Use a fast shutter speed for the blackest background possible. This will also minimize backscatter, which is very apparent in the next photo. This is, of course, unless you're intentionally dragging the shutter (see photo above).

 

Squid stacked in layers of color above an egg basket. ISO 100, f/14, 0.6s.

 

Several mating squid swim by in a densely packed group. ISO 100, f/14, 1/200.

 

At the end of the dive, several brave squid swim ahead up the steep slope to the beach. ISO 100, f/18, 0.5s.

 

Thoughts and Conclusion

The walls of squid were the perfect subject for testing colored strobe gels underwater. I'm generally a fan of portraying marine life naturally, however new techniques, technology and styles of photography are always interesting. Look at how quickly Fluoro photography is catching on, with talented photographers like Mike Bartick leading the charge.

Sometimes it's hard to commit to experimenting, spending valuable underwater photo time shooting photos that may not be any good, but if you don't experiment you'll never find something unique.

So what experiment is next? I've got an idea - we'll see if it works!

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.

 

 

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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The Squid Eye: Story Behind the Shot

Els Van Den Borre
It takes more than luck to shoot macro detail on a large subject

The Squid Eye: Story Behind the Shot


It takes more than luck to shoot macro detail on a large subject

Text and Photos By Els Van Den Borre

 

 

 
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Halfway through our night dive in Bali, my eyes suddenly notice the waving light of a dive torch. My husband and loyal buddy Bruno Van Saen draws my attention and then makes me the ‘quiet, quiet' gesture. Bruno quickly turns off his dive light and switches to just the small pilot light on one of his strobes. And then I see it! He had found a squid that was not afraid of us and who even became attracted to the small beam of light.

Just a few hours before, I was able to convince a good girlfriend to lend me her 105mm macro lens for the very first time. So with this 105mm lens and the squid as a photo subject, I had little choice but to follow one of our golden rules in underwater photography: either go for a photo in extreme close-up or you back off and fill the frame with the subject. I soon noticed that each time Bruno took a photo, the squid jumped backwards a little bit as the strobes fired. After watching several shots I was prepared and knew what to expect!

 

Capturing the Shot

Squid are easily overexposed. I wanted a close-up shot of the eye and knew I had to keep the power of the strobes pretty minimal. I also decided to start with an aperture set to f14 combined with a shutter speed of 1/250s. And then it was my turn to shoot. The squid kept posing into the pilot light of Bruno's strobe, and I hoped this moment would last a little bit longer. Slowly I moved closer and let the squid get used to my presence. Another of our golden tips in underwater photography is to find an animal that is curious and doesn’t mind being photographed. This squid in Bali was that animal.

Little by little I approached my subject to try to capture the shot, until hovering face to face with the squid. I slowly moved forward until I saw a clean diagonal composition, and… click.

I carefully pulled back to check the picture on my camera display. A quick adjustment and 3 photos later I captured the image I had in mind. Yes, you read that correctly: the eye of the squid photo is one of only 4 shots. Both Bruno and I do not take hundreds of pictures of a subject. Our mantra is to spend a little more time and work to prepare for the shot. Of course, we do occasionally miss a shot while pre-setting the camera for the image in mind.

 

My Camera Gear

The image from the eye of the squid was taken using a Nikon D90, iso 100, F/32, 1/250sec. My two Inon Z-240 strobes were directly mounted on the arms of our hugyfot housing. The strobes itself are put under a 45 degree angle as well as downwards as sidewards.

And … one last thing, once back in Belgium we made sure to buy the Nikkor 105mm for ourselves!

 

 

 

Three of my golden tips for successful underwater photography:

  1. Find a model. Some animals love to be photographed. Do not spend your time on animals that are always hiding. Find a curious animal for your photo shoot!
     
  2. Approach slowly and observe. Before making the shot, give the animal time to get used to your presence. Use those moments to choose the right settings on your camera and strobes.
     
  3. Shoot an extreme close-up or fill the frame when using a macro lens with a larger subject. Use your chosen lens optimally and try to achieve the picture you envision. Also, don’t just stop at a close-up photo, try for an extreme close-up (without touching your subject)!

 

 

About the Author

Els Van Den Borre was born in 1975 in Belgium, Ninove.  She finally made an introductory dive in the open sea at the age of 29, and was shooting photos underwater less than a year later. Since then, Els has won multiple gold medals at several international underwater photo competitions.

Together with her husband and loyal buddy Bruno Van Saen, she received the 'palme d'or' in the 2012 World Festival of Underwater images in Marseille. Most recently, Els was the grand prize winner of the Scuba Diving Magazine photo contest 2013.  www.elsevandenborre.be

 

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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Story Behind the Shot: Cave Reflection

Jannik Pedersen
Combining Cenote photography, a dive model & reflection into a winning image

Story Behind the Shot: Cave Reflection


Combining Cenote Photography, a Dive Model & Relection into a Winning Image

By Jannik Pedersen

 

 

 
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My winning photo in the ‘Compact wide-angle’ category of the 2011 Ocean Art competition was shot in cenote ‘Dos Ojos’ in Mexico.

During a holiday in Mexico I based myself in the coastal town Tulum, which is a good gateway to explore the cenotes.  Prior to my holiday I had almost one thousand dives logged from years of ocean diving, but I had no experience in cenote or cave diving and only little idea of what awaited me in the underworld of the cenotes.

 

The cenotes of Mexico

Mexico offers some fascinating ‘Cenote Diving’ in the underground river system of the Yucatán Peninsula.  A cenote is a sinkhole, formed by the collapse of the roof structure of an underground river system. The cenote makes an entrance into cathedral-like caverns and a vast network of caves.

Cenote ‘Dos Ojos’ is one of the largest and most famous cenotes because of its easy accessibility and fascinating rock formations. It is a fresh water system with water so clear that it seems like air. The diving in Dos Ojos is done in shallow water no deeper than 10m with a water temperature around 24ᵒC, giving you plenty of bottom time to enjoy the beautiful cave system.

 

My camera system

I have always shot with compact cameras underwater as the price and weight of a DSLR-system still is set-back for me. Some months before I went to Mexico I invested in a Canon PowerShot S95 camera, Canon’s own housing, INON wide-angle lens and dual INON D2000 strobes (read about the newer S110 camera). This set-up allowed me to shoot in manual mode, which opened up lots of opportunities (and challenges) in capturing a better photo.

 

The Shot

I was fortunate to have a private dive-guide, which gave me the freedom to capture some beautiful photos of the cenote.  I informed my guide that I was planning to use him as an underwater model.  I have always enjoyed taking photos with a diver in the shot as it often creates a unique mood.

A bit into the dive I saw a reflection appearing in the roof of the cave system.  A large air pocket had formed making magical mirror-like scenery.  I quickly visualized the opportunity for a special photo and swam to a spot where I was able to capture the scenery with a reflection of my dive guide.  I did a few shots as my dive-guide slowly swam under the air-pocket. I ended up lowering the shutter-speed and increasing the flash output. Final settings were:

Camera: ISO 100, 1/8 sec. at F2.0 - Strobes: in Manual mode, full output

 

Diving in the cenotes turned out to be a perfect playground for an underwater photographer. There is a great variety of different cenotes, each with its unique and mysterious scenery.  It gave me lots of opportunities to play around with different exposure and strobe settings and the dual strobe system was very useful, since a strong and wide flash was needed to light up the cave sceneries.

 

About the Author

Jannik Pedersen is from Denmark and started diving in 2000. Since his first dive he has been fascinated by scuba diving and the ocean.  Between 2006 and 2011 he worked as a divemaster on liveaboard boats in Thailand and Burma, where he developed a strong passion for underwater photography.  You can find more of Jannik Pedersen’s underwater photography on his website: www.jannikpedersen.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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Story Behind the Shot: Lion-mane Nudibranch

Brent Durand
An Inside Look at Shooting a Unique Melibe Nudibranch Congregation

Story Behind the Shot: Melibe Leonina Nudibranchs


An Inside Look at Shooting a Unique Nudibranch Congregation

Story and Photography by Brent Durand

 

Melibe Nudibranch

 

 
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Melibe leonina are fascinating nudibranchs and sought-after by many underwater photographers.  Often called “lion’s mane” or “hooded” nudibranchs, they’re frequently spotted in large congregations called bouquets.

Melibes feed by opening their massive tentacle-lined oral hoods in order to capture small prey drifting through the water.  I’ve noticed that many of them feed in rhythm with kelp blades swaying in the surge, creating a beautiful display as hundreds of hoods open and close with the rhythm of the sea.

 

Melibe Nudibranch Congregation

My dive buddy and I recently found hundreds of Melibe leonina nudibranchs covering several large kelp fronds.

 

Locating the Melibes

All credit in locating our “stash” of Melibes goes to my dive buddy, who spotted them at the very end of long beach dive in Malibu.  Hundreds of the nudibranchs covered several kelp fronds up and down the water column.  We both descended to shoot but with nearly empty tanks we made a vow to come back asap.  With a 45-minute kick to the reef and 53 degree water it’s a dive(s) that take some planning and a lot of time to execute.  Before leaving, we made sure to carefully remember where this particular kelp was located.

 

Melibe Nudibranch

A Melibe leonina sits with oral hood closed, muching on its last bite.

 

Photo Shoot 1:  Wide-Angle

I shoot with a Canon 5D mk3 in an Ikelite housing and opted to use the Tokina 10-17 wide angle lens for the first Melibe photo shoot, two days after our discovery.  My target images were a wide shot of several nudibranchs on a kelp blade with ambient water color as well as a diver looking at the Melibes (we had two more dive buddies join for this dive).  Visibility was about 5-10 feet in this area and the sky was hidden by a milky marine layer.  The swaying kelp, moving Melibes and their flaring oral hoods created a dynamic scene, but made it very difficult to compose a photo.  Every time I found a great composition and brough my eye to the viewfinder the scene would shift slightly.  Luckily, I was able to capture the below image and a few others on our 90-minute dive.

 

Diver & Melibe Nudibranch

When your subject is as interesting as a Melibe leonina it's easy to find dive models.

 

Photo Shoot 2:  Macro

My next window to dive came three days later, and I decided to bring my Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens with a goal to capture detailed Melibe portraits against black water (minimal ambient light).

New Challenges

Several new challenges presented themselves while shooting the Melibes with a macro lens.  First, the visibility had deteriorated to a soupy 4-5 feet.  Second, the kelp blades were still swaying and the Melibes were still moving, making focusing with a macro lens tough.  On top of that, Melibes are transparent, meaning that they blend into the background with little contrast.  My 5Dmk3 focuses by detecting contrast and even with a focus light I found the need to focus at a point with high contrast (ie nudi against a kelp blade background instead of the nudi against a water background).  The last major challenge was not only finding a Melibe in a nice position, but to find one the right size. The poor vis created the need to be as close as my lens would focus (.03m), and in order to fill the frame the Melibe couldn’t be too large or too small.  Oh yea... and you have to anticipate the enormous oral hoods opening and closing.  For strobe positioning, I found good results by using one strobe over the subject as a key light with a second strobe as fill light from the side.

Overcoming these challenges, patience and making two dedicated photo dives resulted in the images you see in this article.

 

Melibe Nudibranch Feeding

A melibe leonina feeds in typical fashion - oral hood and tentacles facing downward to scoop up small life in the water.

 

Conclusion and Shooting Tips

A Melibe leonina nudibranch congregation is somewhat rare to see, and underwater photographers should jump on the chance to shoot them when the opportunity arises.  Wide-angle shooting makes for beautiful images, but should be attempted only when the water color and visibility are ideal.  Macro shooting is much more challenging but is worth the effort when you can spend the time to find the right composition with the right camera settings.

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, underwater photographer and editor with the Underwater Photography Guide. You can follow UWPG on Facebook, and also read Brent's article on Top 10 tips for fun beach diving.

 

 

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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Story Behind The Shot: Hatching Octopus

Todd Winner
The story behind an image of hatching octopus, taken with a Canon 5D Mark III

Story Behind The Shot: Hatching Octopus

Story and Photography by Todd Winner

Just Hatched

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens, ISO 160, f/11, 1/200th, 2 Ikelite substrobe, 160s medium power, Subsee +5 diopter

 
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Baby Octopus, Just Hatched

This past weekend I was privileged to witness a seldom seen and spectacular event underwater.  The emerging of dozens of tiny octopi from their egg casings.  Not only did I get to witness it firsthand, but I was able to photograph the event and come away with some truly unique images.  Photographing behavior is one of the hardest type of shots to plan for.  Often it's just a matter of being at the right place at the right time, but there are usually some simple preplanning that you can take to increase your chances.

Canon 5D Mark III Setup:

First, I wouldn't have been able to make this shot if it wasn't for the helpful knowledge from Margaret Webb and Jim Lyle.  They had taken me out diving around Palos Verdes that day and after an uneventful first dive, Jim suggested we go to a dive site that they had recently found some octopus eggs. I have shot octopi eggs in the past but they have always been undeveloped and I was looking forward to getting some with eyes. 

Octopus Eggs

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens, ISO 160, f/11, 1/200th, 2 Ikelite substrobe, 160s medium power, Subsee +5 diopter

Choosing the lens

I was shooting with a Canon 5D MK III in a Nauticam housing, and since octo eggs are very small I chose a 100mm f/2.8L macro lens.  The L series 100mm  focuses incredibly fast and is tack sharp. I've heard that this lens is faster than the non-L series 100mm.  The 100mm also has a minimum working distance of about 1 foot so I thought this would be the best lens in case the eggs were tucked back in a rock.  I also brought along a +5 SubSee diopter for more magnification if I could get close enough and a Sola photo 800 to aid in focusing.  With the dive site in about 85' of water, I wasn't going to have a lot of time to spend with them on air.  Nitrox would have been great to have, but I only had air with me.

Underwater photography settings

I preset my manual settings to ISO 160, shutter at 1/200th f stop to f/16 and strobes to medium power.  This was going to give me a good starting point to make minor adjustments.  The last thing you want to do is waste time when you could be shooting.  

With my camera ready to go, we headed down and after a few minutes of searching, Jim found the eggs for me.  I took a number of shots and the eyes were very developed.  I was able to get close enough to take advantage of the Subsee +5 diopter, and I had time to play with some different lighting, for example moving my strobes to the sides for side-lighting to make the eggs pop out more.

With only a couple of minutes left of no decompression time, I was ready to get a bit shallower and that is when I noticed the first baby octopus emerging from its egg casing! Within a minute, dozens of octopi were hatching!

Focusing properly

I was able to keep focus with a combination of pre-focusing (using back-button focus) and using continuous focus. The Canon 7D and the 5D Mark III come with the back-focus button enabled, but to use it properly I recommend disabling the focus from the shutter release. I'll be doing an article on this technique soon. My Sola 800 was on white mode, and I'm sure it helped with the focusing speed.

Octopus Eggs

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens, ISO 160, f/11, 1/200th, 2 Ikelite substrobe, 160s medium power, Subsee +5 diopter

Depth of field

 I knew I wanted to separate one of the babies from the background so it wouldn't blend in with the egg casings, and I feel I achieved this with the shallow depth of field I got from using an aperture of F11.  I shot as long as I could and after accumulating a fair amount of decompression time, I made my way to the surface. 

Conclusion and top tips for great behavior shots:

#1 Never underestimate the useful information you can gain by someone familiar with a dive site or subject.  This could be a dive guide, boat captan or maybe just a dive buddy familiar with an area. 

#2 Choose the best equipment you have for the shot and make sure your camera is ready to go when you hit the water.  Don't forget safety just to get an image. Even though I allowed myself to go into deco, I have lots of experience and had plenty of air.  Educate yourself on photography so you can think quickly when opportunity arises and take the time to enjoy the experience.

#3 Know the settings and controls on your camera really well so you can put it into action when baby octopus start to swim by you.

 

About the Author

Todd Winner is the technique editor for Underwater Photography Guide and an instructor and trip leader for Bluewater Photo Store in Santa Monica, CA. You can see more of his work at www.toddwinner.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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Story Behind the Shot: Super Macro in Puget Sound

Patricia Gunderson
Patricia Gunderson describes how she shot the super small critter that won her 1st Place "Super Macro" in our 2011 Ocean Art Contest.

Story Behind the Shot: Super Macro in Puget Sound

Patricia Gunderson describes how she shot the super small critter that won her 1st Place "Super Macro" in our 2011 Ocean Art Contest

by Patricia Gunderson

 

 
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Patricia Gunderson's 1st Place "Super Macro" photo from the 2011 Ocean Art Contest, photo of a juvenile Spiny Lumpsucker taken near Seattle, Washington

 

I have always had a fascination with the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, ever since I worked on a NOAA fisheries research vessel (the Miller Freeman) and we used to bring them up in the trawl net during fish surveys. On one such trip the scientists set up a small aquarium where we actually kept a few. Those little fish would face each other off and stubbornly protect their respective corners of the aquarium. I spent many fascinated hours observing them, but had yet to see them in their natural habitat underwater. Last summer I was offered the opportunity to do so while diving at the Keystone Jetty on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, where I heard tales of small juveniles dwelling on certain kelp plants on the jetty. It was with great excitement that I found these tiny fish, clinging to the kelp fronds and hovering close. 

There were not many of them, and they were difficult to focus on and photograph. Shooting a subject that is less than a quarter inch big and in a spot that almost always has kelp moving in the current makes framing and focusing difficult. I first saw the lumpsuckers in July, and every time I would dive the Keystone Jetty I would attempt to photograph them but was never satisfied with my shots. It was in August that I was diving the jetty and experienced some better luck. Using my Micro Nikkor 105 with a 1.4x Tamron teleconverter I was able to capture a photo of this little fish that went on to win first place "Super Macro" in the Ocean Art Contest! I used a Nikon D70, which I shoot mostly in manual focus with my 105 lens, so I am lucky if I get shots in focus. In my experience I have found that the key for these small subjects is to take a lot of shots until you finally get one that works. I think my photo uniquely captured the character of the little fish and its funny shape as it clung to a piece of kelp. It was shot in manual with one YS 250 strobe and one YS 120 strobe. F20, 1/40 s, 200 ISO.

 

Shots From Puget Sound

Of my shots that Summer, one of my personal favorites is not technically a very good photo because of the crop, but it demonstrates the scale of the lumpsucker.

 

This photo was taken 2 weeks before and I believe it is the same fish, and the small amphipod (sea flea) shows the scale of the lumpsucker.

 

Lumpsuckers are very territorial and they stayed in the same area on the same kelp for about four months at the jetty. I continued to photograph them every time I had a chance.

Other photos taken the same day include this photo of a of a very large Decorated Warbonnet hanging out in a crevice. No multiplier was used on the 105 for this photo:

 

 

I spent some time watching a Penpoint Gunnel dart out of the algae to feed and captured the fish in this comical pose with its mouth open:

 

 

And this Mosshead Warbonnet posed for me for a short time at the end of the jetty:

 

 

I love diving in cold water and observing its fascinating ecosystem. Diving locally at Puget Sound gives me frequent opportunities to refine my skills as an underwater photographer, and living next to some of the world's best diving makes me feel unbelievably privaleged. Each time I dive I learn a little more about the marine environment and it never ceases to remind me why it needs to be cherished and protected. 

 

Further Reading:

 

 


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Story Behind the Shot: Frozen Fjord

Lill Haugen
Lill Haugen, winner in the "Coldwater" category of our 2011 Ocean Art Contest, shares how she got her shot in the frozen waters of Norway.

Story Behind the Shot: Shooting in the Frozen Fjord

Lill Haugen, 1st place winner in the "Coldwater" category of our 2011 Ocean Art Contest, explains how she got her shot in the icy cold waters of Norway

By Lill Haugen

 

 
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My winning "Coldwater" shot, "Frozen Fjord," was taken under the ice in the frozen Oslo fjord, near the capital of Norway, in -2 ºC (28.4 ºF) water.

 

"Frozen Fjord," Lill Haugen's winning "Coldwater" shot from our 2011 Ocean Art Contest

 

The Oslo Fjord

The Oslo fjord is known for diving that is, well, less than perfect, or "inconsistent" at best. With its notorious brown/green water and low visibility, diving here can be an unimpressive and muddy experience, especially compared to the western and northern parts of Norway with their lush kelp forests, rich fish life, and clear blue Atlantic water.

Nevertheless, with well over a million people living nearby, the Oslo fjord is by far Norway's most explored fjord. Ship traffic, boaters, anglers, cabin cruisers, and naturally divers frequent it because of its easy access only a short distance from the city core.

The visibility varies from day to day throughout the year, influenced by currents, algae, wind, and precipitation. The water in the Oslo fjord comes primarily from the Skagerrak, which receives water flow from the Atlantic Ocean via the North Sea, but also from the Baltic Sea.

 

The Oslo Fjord, Norway, taken that day.

 

 

Winter Season

With the cold winter season comes better visibility, when the water reaches extremely low temperatures and high salinity. This is when divers in Oslo are tempted out of their warm homes to dive in clear blue water, which, unfortunately, often gets so cold that it freezes, despite being full of salt, and divers must contend with the ice. 

My photograph was shot on a freezing cold day in January 2011. This dive site was one of the few where the ice had cracked, just enough to allow divers to access to the water from shore. The air temperature was -15 ºC (5 ºF), which made us frozen stiff before we even got into the water.

My primary goal was to do a short macro dive to photograph sea angels in the shallows, the beautiful coldwater-loving plankton (Clione limacine). Diving in such low temperature waters is painful, let me tell you. Despite wearing heavy duty dry suits and multiple layers of warm clothes, even dry gloves, we got very cold, very quickly, which made it hard to move and even harder to operate the camera with half-frozen fingers.

 

Photographing sea angels in the shallows.

 

Even so, the good visibility lured me back into the water for a second dive, this time to shoot wide-angle with a 10-17 mm Tokina fisheye lens. I wanted to capture the beautiful shallow reef covered by plumose anemones (Metridium senile). Since the sea appeared clear and calm, I also wanted to capture the blue water with the floating ice flakes bobbing at the surface, the blue sky, and a building in the distance (which is actually a marine biology research station of the University of Oslo). 

I found the perfect spot where all of this could be combined in one image. Keeping the low winter sun behind me, I instructed my model to swim into the image above me. Holding my breath for a few seconds to keep the surface smooth and to avoid the “drizzle” of the bubbles hitting the ice, I gently lit the foreground with two strobes set in manual and my perfect shot was captured.

My image was shot with ISO 400, shutter 1/100 and F9, using a Nikon D300 camera in Nexus aluminum housing with a Bare mini dome port designed Barry Guimbellot and two Inon z-240 strobes.

 

About The Author

You can find out more about Lill Haugen and her photography on her website, www.lillhaugen.com.

 

Read More About Coldwater Diving:

 


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Story Behind the Shot: The Hunting Leopard Seal

Natalia Chervyakova
Natalia Chervyakova visits the Antarctic Peninsula to photograph the deadly leopard seal.

Story Behind the Shot: The Hunting Leopard Seal

Natalia Chervyakova, first place "Behavior" winner in our Ocean Art Contest, visits the Antarctic Peninsula to photograph the deadly leopard seal

By Natalia Chervyakova

 

 
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Natalia's shot, "Hunting Leopard Seal," won first place in the "Marine Life Behavior" category of our 2011 Ocean Art Contest.

 

Location

My shot was taken in Antarctica, in one bay of the Antarctic Peninsula, during a dive expedition with Waterproof Expeditions on the Professor Molchanov liveaboard. We were there during the high-south autumn, in the beginning of March, which is the best time for diving the Antarctic. 

 

Our expedition in the Antarctic Peninsula

 

Water temperature was around -1ºC (30.2 ºF) and visibility was far from perfect due to windy and stormy weather. Sometimes visibility in shallow water and on the surface was so bad that I couldn’t see anything beyond a few metres. For someone hoping to get a photo session with a leopard seal, these were not the best conditions at all!

 

The Subject

My winning photo shows the leopard seal with a gentoo penguin caught in its grips.

The leopard seal is the largest shallow diving krill-eater. Although he is famous for being a predator of larger animals and has been known to hunt penguins, fur seals and even adult female elephant seals, these are seasonal and only occasional additions to the leopard seal's diet, which includes variety of fish and squid but is dominated by krill.

 

The magnificent hunting leopard seal.

 

Leopard seals are among the largest seals on earth. While very few leopard seals have actually been measured, there have been reported lengths of around 3.8 metres from nose to tail. However, most leopard seals seen in the Antarctic Peninsula are much smaller, between 2.5 and 3 metres in length.

The leopard seal is a smart and artful hunter, but an adult penguin is not easy prey for him. Adults are fast swimmers. The best is to catch the penguin’s chick, with their fat bodies and limited diving skills.

 

Penguin chicks.

 

A successful hunter usually plays with his victim like a cat plays with a mouse. He removes the penguin's skin and eats the fat only. Fat is the most important and valuable thing in icy cold water. The rest, meat and bones, fall down to the bottom of the sea and become a meal for starfish and amphipodes. We witnessed the leopard seal catch and eat four penguines in a matter of half an hour.

 

Leopard seal on the hunt.

 

Sometimes the hunting leopard seal likes to demonstrate his power by playing with the penguin in front of the camera. It’s a terrible and strangely attractive scene, but you should always keep in mind that there is huge predator nearby and nobody knows what he might do next.

 

The Shot

Bad visibility and cloudy weather would not stop my ‘model’ from posing for the camera. The female leopard seal was in preoccupied with her penguin and let me stay very close. Just when waves pushed me so close that my camera’s lens almost touched the victim, the leopard seal reminded me who is who in these waters. Our photo session took about ten minutes, but it didn't feel longer than a few seconds. 

I would like to thank our dive guide, Jonas Sundquist, who gave me the amazing opportunity to take underwater shots of the hunting leopard seal and to feel so close to wild nature.

 

My Set-Up

My winning photograph was taken using a Nikon D80 in a Nexus housing and Tokina 10-17 mm fish-eye lens. For lighting I used two Inon Z-240 strobes.

Settings were F/4,5, 1/60 sec, ISO 250.

 

 

Paul Nicklen's Leopard Shark Encounter

See Paul Nicklen's famous, incredible video of an up-close encounter with a leopard shark in the Antarctic. 

 

About the Author

Natalia Chervyakova is the first place winner in the "Marine Life Behavior" category of our 2011 Ocean Art Contest. 

 

Further Reading

 


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