Story Behind the Shot

Stories behind the shot, including viral underwater photos and videos, impressive contest winners and more.
Conservation Photographer, Duncan Murrell, tells the story behind a photo seen around the world....
By Duncan Murrell

A Memorable Courting Ray Ballet

Duncan Murrell
Conservation Photographer, Duncan Murrell, tells the story behind a photo seen around the world....

A Note From the Editor: Duncan Murrell has wowed the world with his photography for decades. Most recently his graceful photo of three giant devil rays performing a ballet was the Best in Show in the prestigious Ocean Art 2018 Underwater Photography Competition. This image was featured around the world including in the Washington Post, CNET, The Atlantic, South China Morning Post, Gizmodo, Yahoo, Lonely Planet, Sport Diver, Dive Magazine, Smithsonian, and many, many more! Duncan has been kind enough to share the extraodinary circumstances behind this extraodinary shot....

 

A Search for an Adventure 

There was the usual sense of eager anticipation among the guests as the banca boat motored out to Honda Bay in Palawan, Philippines for another whale shark trip. I’d been going on these trips for ten years but my excitement was undiminished because of my love of whale sharks, the visual feast they can provide for a photographer, and that every trip was different. I was very familiar with the prospect of unexpected encounters and surprises: the icing on the cake was spinner dolphins riding the bow or a manta ray announcing its presence on the surface. Although it usually takes an hour or more to get to the main feeding locations of the whale sharks in Honda Bay from Puerto Princesa, I knew from experience to be ready for action just in case something popped up along the way. But it’s a very early start and snoozing was always welcome. Suddenly I snapped out of my snooze because the boat’s guide had spotted some commotion in the water ahead: there were several fins slicing across the surface……. devil rays!!!…. get your fins on! I had good reason to be so excited from previous encounters with these mercurial flapping fish. I have seen spinetail devil rays quite a few times in Honda Bay, often in the vicinity of the whale sharks, but I only managed to get close to them on one occasion when there was a large school of them feeding on a massive bloom of krill; I was mesmerized as they emerged from the murky darkness below and surrounded me like a squadron of fighter aircraft, and then ascended into the dazzling light above like a flock of angels before ploughing through the krill on the surface. 

A Rare Event

On this occasion there was no apparent feeding behaviour as five of them swirled around us. They seemed to be completely oblivious to us in what looked like an underwater game of tag. The guests couldn’t have had any idea how unusual this kind of behaviour was and how exceptionally lucky they were to witness it; I had waited nearly ten years to have another encounter like this!

It wasn’t until a few weeks later when my photos were noticed on Instagram by the director of the Manta Trust that it was confirmed that what we witnessed was rarely seen or photographed courtship behaviour. On closer examination of my series of photos, one female was identified as being the object of desire of four males by the bite marks inflicted beneath her pectoral fin. It was very evident that they lose any caution when they are engaged in courtship behaviour and intoxicated by their reproductive desire. The guests may not have appreciated the rarity of this event, but I certainly did even if I wasn’t aware at the time exactly what the behaviour was. I had to quickly get into top gear to keep up with this hypnotic underwater dance performance and avoid the ubiquitous selfie sticks to capture some unique photos. I was quickly reminded why I had fallen in love with these beautiful mobulas during that rare feeding event nearly ten years ago when there were also whale sharks, oceanic manta rays, and dolphins feasting on the krill. It was these devil rays with their graceful flight and luminous white cephalic fins, which gave them the title of devil rays, that stole the show for me. 

A Choreographed Game of Tag

I quickly slipped into the high adrenaline zone and joined this electrifying game of tag. The sea conditions and underwater visibility were good, and there was sufficient light to complement the graceful mercurial curves of these submarine bats. It was fortunate that I was just snorkeling because I could never have kept up with the action if I was wearing cumbersome scuba gear. As they effortlessly swirled and swooped up to the surface I just couldn’t get over how oblivious they were to my presence. That unprecedented sensation climaxed when three of them converged just a few metres in front of me and in a split second created a perfectly choreographed yin-yang formation. And if I wasn’t already gobsmacked enough by what I was witnessing at such impossibly close quarters one of the males suddenly flew right at my head and swept downwards while brushing up against my body! I was absolutely stunned by this intimate encounter; such bravado by a normally shy creature that could have stemmed from aggression, curiosity or just sexual arousal. It was as if I was suddenly included in the courtship and caressed by its sexual abandon. It was undoubtedly one of the most arousing close wildlife encounters of my life! I also wondered if it might have been attracted by the reflection in the glass dome port of my housing because it swam right at my face. 

The entire encounter with those courting devil rays lasted more than half an hour and left me with an intoxicating sense of incredulity; WOW! Did that really just happen? When we were all back on the boat I was quick to tell the guests how incredibly lucky they were to witness that. I always told the guests on the whale shark trips that there were occasional bonuses like spinner dolphins, turtles, manta rays and devil rays, but on this occasion they had undoubtedly won the lottery! 

A Future in Doubt

I knew that I had a unique set of photos even if I wasn’t sure of exactly what the behaviour was. I’m first and foremost a conservation photographer going back decades when my photos of humpback whales were used by all of the major conservation organisations for their Save the Whale campaigns. I was infatuated with humpback whales for many years, and the mobulids, including manta rays and devil rays (mobulas), are my new love….. and despair, just as it was when whales were still being slaughtered on an industrial scale. 

I had already seen the corpses of mobulids in Baja, Mexico and Sri Lanka many years ago when it was probably just for human consumption. Now like so many threatened species, especially the likes of rhinos, tigers and pangolins, mobulids have become the target for massive profiteering in the traditional Chinese medicine market for products that have no proven efficacy making their slaughter even more tragic and pointless. And in the case of mobulids it’s even more disturbing because the demand for their gill-rakers, the thin filaments that mobulids use to filter their food, has risen dramatically in the past fifteen years even though they were not historically used for that purpose. They are sold for up to $500 a kilo as an ingredient for a soup locally called pengyu sai, which is purported to boost the immune system by reducing toxins and enhancing blood circulation. Practitioners have even admitted that gill-rakers are not effective and many alternatives are available. Many young traditional Chinese medicine doctors are not even aware of the remedies that they are used for but still the slaughter continues and all mobulids are under serious threat worldwide.

It is inconceivable to me that such mesmerizing creatures as the mobulids are disappearing from the world’s oceans through such human ignorance and greed, and I will do whatever I can do as a conservation photographer, writer and teacher to educate and inform to help to protect these beautiful and highly intelligent creatures that grace the sea like ballet dancers. Cetaceans, whale sharks, and manta rays have been protected in the Philippines since the 90s but devil rays continued to be targeted by local fisheries, especially on the island of Bohol - up until April 2017 when they were protected in response to being listed as endangered on Appendix II by CITES. 

 

Additional Reading

If you're passionate for ray and whale shark consevation, be sure to check out the Large Marine Vertebrate Research Institute

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Duncan Murrell is a 65 year old British conservation, nature and travel photographer, artist, writer and environmental educator whose work has revolved around sea kayaking in some of the world’s wildest places for many years. It all began in Southeast Alaska 35 years ago where he discovered kayaking as a non-intrusive means of getting close to humpback whales to photograph them, and it was a love affair that lasted for nearly two decades. His whale photos were published extensively worldwide and used by all of the big conservation organisations for their Save the Whale campaigns. His passion for photographing humpback whales culminated with him winning the mammal behaviour category in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition in 2002 with another photo being highly commended. Consequently he was commissioned to write about his experiences for the BBC Wildlife Magazine and a photo of him kayaking with the whales was featured on the cover. In 2010 the photos and story of “the Whaleman”, as he became known in the many schools where he taught for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, were featured in eight UK national newspapers. Other kayaking journeys followed on from Alaska, including the Gulf of California, Madagascar, where he was the first person to kayak up the exposed east coast, Palawan, New Caledonia and very recently Raja Ampat. He has adopted Palawan as the main base for his photography adventures in Asia and the Pacific, and has been photographing whale sharks and mobulids there for more than ten years. As a dedicated conservation photographer he has also been involved with elephant conservation in Sri Lanka, rainforest conservation in Palawan and most recently Kalimantan where he works with the Borneo Nature Foundation. See more of his work at his website: https://www.duncanmurrell.com/. You can also check out his blog here: http://www.whale-of-a-time-blog.com

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Underwater photos and tips in shooting wide angle and macro photos using Nikon D850 and D500 in the Sea of Cortez

Wide Angle and Macro with the Nikon D850 and D500 in the Sea of Cortez

Underwater photos and tips in shooting wide angle and macro photos using Nikon D850 and D500 in the Sea of Cortez

The Nikon D850 and the Nikon D500 are two fo the most capable cameras on market currently for use in underwater photography. Let's take a look at the results when both of them are used on a recent dive trip - The D850 for wide-angle, and the D500 for macro.

Equipment Used - Wide Angle

Equipment Used - Macro

The 46 megapixel full-frame sensor on the D850 and its excellent auto-focus capabilities makes it ideal for wide-angle photography. The 16-35mm lens is a fast focusing lens, sharp behind a dome port, and able to zoom in for skittish subjects like bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, or mobula and manta rays.

The D500, on the other hand, is ideal for macro and supermacro with its cropped sensor, and it retains many of the advantages of the D850. Using both the D850 and the D500 on a trip means not having to change ports & lenses, and being able to quickly swap setups if necessary.

Both the 16-35mm and 105mm lenses used are AF-S lenses, which means they have an internal auto-focus motor. That is important, because AF-S lenses focus faster than lenses whose auto-focus is driven by the camera body, and it important when trying to capture behaviour shots.

Straight out of the camera photos from the D850 look noticeably better than either the D500 or the D810, possibly due to its brighter pixels and better low-light capabilities.

Autofocus in the 3D tracking mode was used with the D850 for wide-angle, and spot focus in continous focus mode was used with the D500.

For settings, see the captions below each photo.

Trip Details and Underwater Photography

Our Explore Baja, Sea of Cortez trip in early October 2018 on the Rocio Del Mar was to take us from San Jose del Cabo in the south all the way to Puerto Peñasco in the north – a distance of around 600 nautical miles over 12 days.  The biodiversity of the Sea of Cortez is world renowned and we were all excited to get underway and begin our journey of underwater exploration.  Exactly what you will see in this diverse bit of ocean is always unpredictable, but you can always rely on some amazing encounters with creatures both large and small.  This was perhaps a less predictable trip than usual, with a hurricane forecast to move across the Baja peninsula in the middle of our cruise.  A little juggling of the usual itinerary became necessary, but we were confident in the crew’s assurances that we’d still get in plenty of dives and see an incredible array of marine life. 

Onboard ship, the days start early, with a pre-breakfast dive as soon as the sun pokes its head over the horizon, before any day boats have even left port.  We encountered very few other divers the whole time we were there – one of the benefits of exploring in such a sparsely populated region.  

Playful Sea lion in the Sea of Cortez
F7, 1/250th, ISO 500. All wide-angle photos used the Nikon D850, 16-35mm F4 VR lens

 

Our second day of diving ended with a spectacular night dive.  We watched hundreds of mobula rays feeding on the plankton attracted to bright lights positioned by the crew in nearby shallow waters.  Again and again they swooped down over our heads in formation, then up into the lights only to circle back around, fan out across the sand and swerve in unison for another fly by. 

Hundreds of Mobula Rays feeding during the night dive, taken with strobes. The water was stirred up full of plankton, so the only shots that came out good were when the mobulas were up higher.
F7, 1/125th, ISO 640

 

Often the last dive of the day was at dusk, a time of increased activity on the reef when the hunting and mating action intensifies as the last yellow rays slant through the water.  We would surface to the deep orange glow of sunset and the swirling spirals of thousands of sea birds coming home to roost, mimicking the movement of the schooling fish below.

Sea Lion hunting
F10, 1/250th, ISO 320

 

The food on board was great – plentiful and always beautifully presented, with lots of Mexican flavors and wonderful desserts every evening.  A couple of very pleasant evenings were spent dining in the open air on the top deck with a fabulous barbecue buffet accompanied by plentiful margaritas.

One day, a huge pod of dolphins surrounded the boat and the captain turned full circle and slowed to their pace so they would play longer with us.  “Hurricane protocol” necessitated a day holed up in the Bay of La Paz, but with 12 days of diving we did not feel too cheated by Mother Nature and were happy to be avoiding the brunt of the storm.

Our luck with rays continued at La Reina – we were privileged to witness the return of the giant Pacific mantas to the Sea of Cortez.  Ducking from some ripping currents, we were awestruck by their effortless grace and calm, easy movement.  Our photographs and video clips will be used to help researchers monitor and learn more about the behavior patterns of these gentle giants and hopefully lead to some protections for the species.

Manta ray just cruising.
F8, 1/250th, ISO 320

 

Conditions at El Bajo were spectacular – a little too calm for the hammerheads’ taste, but we were treated to a beautiful view of the whole dive site with barely any current and watched intently as turtles came in for their cleaning rituals.

At several sites we had a lot of fun lying in wait for the signal blennies to perform, the pike blennies to show some aggression and the jawfish to rise up briefly into the water column.  All the dive sites provided opportunities for both macro and wide angle images and every day we had a presentation and image reviews to hone our skills and better capture the amazing creatures and scenes we were witnessing.

Signal Blenny raising his fins to "signal".
F20, 1/200th, ISO 200. All macro photos used the D500, 105mm VR lens

 

No trip report from the Sea of Cortez would be complete without mention of the playful sea lions encountered at several of the dive sites we visited.  When I found myself lying on the sand waiting for a giant jawfish to emerge from its hole, getting dive bombed by frisky sea lions with a school of barracuda swirling overhead, I could not help thinking this is as good as it gets!

Frisky Sea lions goofing around.
F8, 1/250th, ISO 200

 

From the very beginning of our adventure, to the time we all left the boat, the crew went out of their way to help in any way they could and to ensure that a fantastic time was had by every guest.  All in all, it was a great trip with a really fun group from across the US and Europe, and some lasting friendships were made. 

 

More Underwater Photos:

Crown of Thorns, taken with a low sun right before sunset. Strobes were in close.
F13, 1/200th, ISO 320

 

Hydroid close-up. I had to point my strobes inward to get a black background, otherwise my strobes lit up the ground behind the hydroid.
F22, 1/250th, ISO 125

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Helen is an award winning underwater photographer and avid sailor. She is also the chair of the ReefCheck.org board of directors. She resides in sunny Pacific Palisades, California.

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Josh Musselwhite describes how he shot an Octopus on the hunt that won him the best in show in the SoCal Shootout 2018
By Josh Musselwhite

Story Behind the Shot: Octopus Sunball

Josh Musselwhite
Josh Musselwhite describes how he shot an Octopus on the hunt that won him the best in show in the SoCal Shootout 2018

For me, diving and photography started roughly around the same time. After getting certified in California in early 2014, I was in such awe of the beauty underwater that I had to share it with my family. So, I purchased my first compact camera and began taking photos. I read every article I could get my hands on – especially those by the Underwater Photography Guide, and The Underwater Photographer, by Martin Edge, more times than I can count. After several years with my compact camera, I upgraded to a Nikon D7200 and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, which is what I shoot now. 

Finding the Octopus

The octopus encounter which led to my winning shot in the SoCal Shootout 2018 was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I went out on Saturday with the Sundiver Express to the front side of Catalina. About 15-20 minutes into my first dive (at Little Gieger), I spotted him. At first, the octopus was very shy and tucked himself back into the rocks, so I ignored him and tried to shoot a nearby sea fan instead. But after about 3 shots, he started walking along the pinnacle.

At that point, he didn’t seem to care about me at all; he had food on his mind. For the next 30 minutes, I watched him hunt. Every couple of steps, he would dig his tentacles into the reef and inflate like a balloon – turning solid white as he searched for food.

Composing the Shot

To create an interesting background for the shot, I moved to the opposite side of the octopus and placed the sun at his back. Because he was moving around so much, I had to keep re-adjusting the settings for each shot to get the water color and sunburst I wanted. In general, I shot between f18-f22 and 1/200 to 1/320 on ISO 200. The strobes were at the 10-2 positions, 2-clicks below full power. To keep backscatter to a minimum, I angled the strobes straight down at the reef so that the front edge of the light would hit the octopus and not the water. The octopus’s hunt was an amazing sight to witness and I feel very grateful and blessed to have been there for it.

Check out all the winners of the SoCal Shootout 2018, hosted by Bluewater Photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Musselwhite is an Android software engineer who has been delivering app-for-that solutions for a decade and an enthusiast photographer. When not working, you’ll either find him scuba diving or at a jazz club listening and bobbing along.

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Story behind Helen Brierley's uncropped underwater photo that won "Best of Show"
By Helen Brierley

Story behind the shot - Yawning Goby

Helen Brierley
Story behind Helen Brierley's uncropped underwater photo that won "Best of Show"

Finding the Right Goby

I was diving in the Catalina Dive Park for the SoCal Shootout. There were hundreds of blue-banded gobies, and most don’t want you to get close. I was lucky to find one that wasn’t shy, he held his ground and did not instantly flee like the others. I had already seen it dart out and eat something, so maybe it thought it had a good feeding spot. When it ate something, that motion had caught my eye and made me decide to come in for a closer look.

Goby Underwater Photo

Becoming Friends

I took 35 shots of this particular goby. At one point it opened its mouth wide for a couple of seconds and I got 2 or 3 shots off before the mouth closed. My strobes were pointed slightly in. Photo was uncropped. I used the “creep in” approach, getting a little closer with every shot. I started without the diopter, and when I realized he wasn’t scared at all, I  flipped the diopter down. His yawn lasted just long enough for me to get 3 very quick shots off.

Goby Underwater Photo by Helen Brierley

Settings & Equipment

I used the Nikon D500 with the Nauticam D500 Housing, flash trigger, Nikon 105mm VR lens, two YS-D1 strobes and the Subsee +5 diopter. My settings were as follows - 1/200th, F18, ISO 200. That enabled me to have my flash reasonably low powered to recycle fast and F18 meant I could blur the background as I got in close, though it made the focus a bit more picky of course. Most of what I then altered as I moved in closer was the composition, focus and strobe position.

[Publisher's Note] Helen's photo ended up winning best of show in the the 7th annual SoCal Shootout. Congrats Helen!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Helen is an award winning underwater photographer and avid sailor. She is also the chair of the ReefCheck.org board of directors. She resides in sunny Pacific Palisades, California.

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Take an inside look at photographer Sarah Alice Lee's creative process while pursuing this beautiful image
By Sarah Alice Lee

Story Behind the Shot: Swallows Cave

Sarah Alice Lee
Take an inside look at photographer Sarah Alice Lee's creative process while pursuing this beautiful image

Swallows Cave is located at the northwest tip of Kapa Island in Vava'u, in The Kingdom of Tonga. The cave mouth is about 15’ deep and about 20’ wide. We arrived on a dingy and as soon as we entered the cave I could see the shards of light dancing into the depths of the water and I couldn’t wait to jump in. We had no scuba gear so would be only snorkeling and freediving. My favourite work is created when using breath hold only - I find it less disruptive to the wildlife and I love the freedom of movement it provides.

As we dived into the water, a cathedral of cascading light and shadow greeted us and visually played with the realms of reality. Your imagination can be free here and the thought of what was lurking in the darkness intrigued me. That familiar hand of the blue reaching up and willing you to dive down and explore, my camera in hand ready for some action. The cave was barren of life on the walls of rock which, was a contrast to the abundant coral reef that adorned the mouth of the cave entrance. It was, however, brimming with bait fish that to look at was like observing a constantly moving sculpture reflecting flashes of light as the late afternoon sun hit their scales. Bait fish at depth are tricky to expose properly when using underwater strobes because of how reflective they are, but their movement was mesmerizing and when my freediver friend entered the water, diving right into the school, I knew there had to be a shot there.


The Shot

The Shot - a diver swims through Swallows Cave.
Nikon D300, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye, Sea & Sea D300 housing, dual Ikelite DS125 strobes.
ISO 800, f/4, 1/125. Photo: Sarah Alice Lee

 

Our first visit was during a busy time and a few boats had entered into the space. With snorkelers everywhere I knew that we would have to come back to shoot at a quieter time, and that the image I wanted to create would need a little setting up. Luckily Cath (who agreed to model for me) and another photographer were able to visit the cave at such a time and I had the opportunity to play with the strobe positioning in correlation to the sun entering the caves entrance and decided how best to direct the subject. With the unpredictability of the bait fishes movements we were required to make dives over a period of approximately forty minutes but we knew we had the shot.

Related: Moments with Humpback Mother & Calf in Tonga

 

Behind the Scenes

 

The model first enters the water and swims through the bait fish. Photo: Sarah Alice Lee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working with the angle of light, sun rays, fish and dive model until all the elements came together. Photo: Sarah Alice Lee

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Alice Lee learnt to dive in the warm waters of the Red Sea at fourteen and has been in the water ever since. A qualified Padi instructor Sarah attended Falmouth University College Falmouth where she specilised in underwater photography for her BA HONS degree. She worked commercially in London upon graduating and then went to explore the world with her camera. Sarah chose Australia as her home followed by New Zealand and established her underwater photography business working both with wildlife under the waves and capturing images of babies underwater in pools all over Australasia.  After ten years away Sarah returned to the UK in 2017 and can be found in pools all over the South East.

Website:  www.sarahalicephotography.com     |     Instagram: @sarahalicephotography

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An interview with William Drumm about shooting the Yucatán Dive Trek web series above and below the water
By UWPG News

The Yucatán Dive Trek: Behind the Scenes

UWPG News
An interview with William Drumm about shooting the Yucatán Dive Trek web series above and below the water

We recently caught up with wildlife videographer William Drumm about a web series he put together with fellow lensman Andy Trace: The Yucatán Dive Trek.

The diving tour took place across (you guessed it) Mexico's famed Riviera Maya; diving reefs and cenotes and snorkeling with some big exciting animals. The adventure was organized by sponsor Yucatán Dive Trek, who did an excellent job showing these two videographers the local diving opportunties.

The video series takes us along for the ride, with beautiful underwater footage mixed with the usual topside culture, food, shenanigans and inside jokes that come so natural on dive trips. We watched all 5 episodes and now can't wait to get back to dive the Yucatan!

- The Editors

 

 

UWPG:  How did you plan this trip and web series idea?

William Drumm:  What’s great about Yucatán Dive Trek is they take all the hassle out of planning the trip. You basally tell them what kinds of diving you want to do (Cozumelcenotes, bull sharks, sail fish, whale sharks, tech diving, crocodiles, giant tarpon, etc.) and they help you plan it all. The trip we went on was a bit of all the best stuff that was offered during the time of year we went, which was May 2016.

 

What was your favorite part of the trip?

WD:  By far my favorite part of the trip was in Chinchorro, diving with huge American crocodiles. It was the best single ocean adventure I have ever been on. Banco Chinchorro is an offshore atoll reef lying off the southeast coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico, near Belize. Around the diving is amazing diving, with most of the reefs still unchartered and never before dived. On the way out, you dive at some of these little seen reefs, and spearfish for invasive lion fish, used to lure in the crocodiles, and served as dinner for the guests once you arrive. While in Banco Chinchorro you stay in a small fisherman’s hut (shared between XTC dive center and a very friendly local fisherman). Almost right away, the crocodiles began to pop up around the fishing hut. The American Crocodile is a relatively large species, with males reaching a length of 5-6 meters, and females generally measure 3-3.5m in total length. Although the American Crocodile is similar in size to the salt water crocodile (Cocodrylus Porous) and the Nile Crocodile (Cocodrylus Niloticus), it is not as aggressive and does not include human beings as part of its diet, as the other two species do. Nevertheless, being in the water with these dinosaurs is definitely a rush! The entire experience, from the amazing coral reef diving around the atoll, to sleeping in the small fisherman’s hut, to interacting with the crocodiles themselves, was incredible.

 

Were there any challenges to getting the right shots for the series?

WD:  The series was a run and gun operation. I found out that I was going a few days before the trip, and we showed up eager but not knowing what to expect. What followed was 15 day dash up and down the Yucatan, all over Quintana Roo, and ending up in a lagoon near XTC Dive Center with Mexico on one side and Brazil on the other. We had lots more adventures that didn’t make it into the series, including going to Cozumel for quick half day trip, and going to Calakmul Mayan ruins. There were absolutely challenges, mostly involved with the logistics of hitting so many spots in a relatively short amount of time. When you plan your trip, don’t rush things. There is so much to see, but best to only hit a few of the amazing dive sites and activites on each trip.  

 

What camera gear were you using underwater?

WD:  I was using my Lumix GH4 and Nauticam GH4 housing, primarily with my 8mm Lumix fisheye. I also used the 12-50mm medium angle - macro zoom lens, and 60mm macro that I rented from Bluewater Photo. My lights were 2x Light & Motion SOLA 2500’s, and 2x I-Torch Venom 50’s, also from Bluewater Photo. I ended up shooting almost all wide angle, (crocodiles, cenotes, whale sharks), but loved the 12-50mm for its versatility. I also liked the I-Torch Venom 50’s.  They were nice and bright, however they seemed a bit cooler temperature than I am used to and I had an unattractive oval where the two lights met, at least while diving cenotes.

Andy Trace, who filmed all the shots of me and some of the wildlife and other dive footage, was using his Sony A7RII, with a cheap ($260) Meikon plastic housing. For the price, we were both surprised that the Meikon worked as well as it did, although it probably works fine until it doesn’t and it floods. 

 

Watch The Yucatán Dive Trek

 

Episode 1:  Swimming with Giant Crocodiles

 

Episode 2: The Yucatán Culture Vulture

 

Episode 3: Cenote Tajma-Ha and Casa

 

Episode 4: Cenote Car Wash and The Pit

 

Episode 5: Insane Whale Shark Aggregation

 

 

View more of William Drumm's work at WilliamDrumm.com and follow him on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Photographer Ben Thouard captures a unique underwater perspective of surfer Anthony Walsh at Teahupoo
By Ben Thouard

Story Behind the Wave

Ben Thouard
Photographer Ben Thouard captures a unique underwater perspective of surfer Anthony Walsh at Teahupoo

Teahupoo is know for its surf break - a glassy and heavy wave with a lip that detonates across a shallow reef. Some of the best surfers in the world travel to Teahupoo (located on Tahiti in French Polynesia) to prove their big wave skills in the clear water, and naturally, surf photographers follow them there.

Shooting photos of surfers from the water at Teahupoo can be a challenge, as you want to be close to the action while remaining safe in ever-changing conditions, since finding yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time can have serious repercussions. Photographers who also surf have the advantage, as it allows them to swim into the best spot to shoot, using long-time experience with waves to capture perspectives that look great from the water. Shooting surfers and waves underwater goes beyond this.

We are very lucky to have some crystal clear water in Tahiti, and I took advantage of this many times to create some amazing images of surfers at Teahupoo... shot from below.

 

 

For this shot of Anthony Walsh at Teahupoo I used a Canon EOS 1DX with a 8-15mm fisheye lens inside an Aquatech 1D Delphin Housing with a medium fish eye dome. Aquatech housings are the best for surf and wave photography as they are light, functional and allow you to move fast compared to dive housings. They also have a trigger grip that allows you to shoot with one arm extended.

 

Additional Photos Behind the Scenes

 

 

 

 

Be sure to check out the rest of our surf and wave photography tutorials.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I’m Ben Thouard, a watersport photographer based in Tahiti for 8 years. I mostly shoot surfing, however I love spending time in the ocean shooting a bunch of different things. I now dedicate a lot of my time to shooting empty waves because I love it - it’s fascinating. All the waves are different and the light you can capture reflecting on the surface of the ocean is amazing. Check out more of my work here:

Website:  www.benthouard.com

Facebook page:  www.facebook.com/Ben.Thouard.Photography

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/benthouard

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

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Take an inside look at the underwater camera gear used by UWPG editor Brent Durand to lead two upcoming photo workshops in Sri Lanka.
By UWPG News

What's in the Camera Bag: Brent Durand

UWPG News
Take an inside look at the underwater camera gear used by UWPG editor Brent Durand to lead two upcoming photo workshops in Sri Lanka.

Our latest installment of What's in the Camera Bag looks at the gear used by UWPG editor Brent Durand.


I've been fortunate to shoot with quite a few different camera systems over the past few years. 

And after using various compacts, mirrorless and even DSLR cameras, plus leading a workshop last fall with just a GoPro, it has become apparent that the small, inexpensive systems can hold their own against more exensive setups in some situations. Why? Because those of us who aren't working pros shoot to share online - an arena where action cam images and video can collect just as many likes and can go just as viral, or even more viral, than imagery from mid and pro-level camera systems.

The simplicity of use in small cameras allows us to be more aware in the water and to engage more consciously with marine life. Small cameras allow us to pay more attention to dive buddies. They're more streamlined and easy to swim with. They cost far less and are easy to pack. They make prep and cleanup for local diving easy. Their affordability allows more of us to share our experiences underwater with divers all over the world. In short, small cameras are proving their place in the big camera world.

And without further ado, here's a look at my camera bag for leading Bluewater Photo's back-to-back Sri Lanka photo workshops.

 

The Cameras

Redundancy is very important on a dive trip and I always make sure to roll with two cameras. For Sri Lanka underwater photography and video, this will be my mobile phone and a GoPro.

iPhone 6s Plus

I plan to pop my mobile phone into the Kraken Sports smart phone housing, pump the vacuum and be ready to go. The 67mm ring adapter allows use of any 67mm wet lens (optics tests still to come). This housing retails for just $299 USD!

GoPro HERO5

GoPro's image quality is incredible for a $400 camera. If you don't believe me, just check out the still images in our GoPro HERO5 Review for Underwater. I plan to shoot the HERO5 a bit more during our second workshop snorkeling with whales and dolphins.

 

The Kraken Sports smart phone housing paired up with dual Kraken Hydra 5000 video lights, useful for both underwater video and constant lighting still images.

 

Lighting and Accessories

The rest of my camera kit pairs everything down to the essentials: Dual Kraken Hydra 5000 video/constant lights, Ultralight Control Systems tray/arms/clamps, homemade selfie stick (yes, tease away), the new Fantasea / AOI UCL-09 macro diopter, and the new Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle wet lens.

 

This lightweight kit will deliver Full HD video and amazing images at a fraction of the cost of a camera/housing system and is much easier to travel with.

 

Extra Accessories

I always pack a mini tool kit for international dive travel (the box on the left in the shots below), which can help fix most basic housing problems in the field. The box is super light while the tools are the lightest versions of things found useful during underwater photo trips. Not pictured is the usual trip stuff like duct tape, aquaseal, superglue, microfiber cloths, topside camera rain cover, mini first aid kit, etc.

 

It's essential to be able to make basic gear repairs in the field, especially on dive trips where there likely aren't any other underwater photographers around.

 

Enjoy the rest of our What's in the Camera Bag series:

 Brook Peterson   |   Ken Kiefer   |   Mike Bartick   |   Ron Watkins   |   Serge Abourjeily

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer and story teller from California.

Brent is an avid diver and adventure photographer, and shoots underwater any time he can get hands on a camera system. He can be reached at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Follow Underwater Photography Guide on Facebook or Instagram.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Take an inside look at the camera and housing gear used by underwater photographer Serge Abourjeily
By UWPG Editors

What's in the Camera Bag: Serge Abourjeily

UWPG Editors
Take an inside look at the camera and housing gear used by underwater photographer Serge Abourjeily

Our latest installment of What's in the Camera Bag looks at the gear used by photo pro Serge Abourjeily.


I switched to Nauticam housings in 2010 because of their spot-on ergonomics. The best example is how the cursor for changing focus points is located right on your fingertips, which is essential to me when shooting macro. Not having to take your eyes off the viewfinder to change settings is priceless, and I would not, at least at the moment, want to switch to another housing brand.

Another important important aspect of my camera system – besides housing ergonomics – is trim. I use 6 different float arms and some "normal" arms to achieve the desired buoyancy for each lens/port combination. I also use a carbon arm with quick disconnect for my INON LF-800N torch; I can take it off with one click and use it for lighting or backlighting.

I am currently using Sea&Sea YS-250 strobes and love them for their power, recycle time and reliability. I have used various INON and Sea&Sea models before but really appreciate the speed of battery packs over strobes that take AA batteries. I optically trigger them, which allows me to use rear curtain sync on Canon. It's a shame that Sea&Sea has discontinued these beautiful strobes. I'm now considering a switch to Seacam strobes.

 

 

The Camera Kit

Camera: Canon 7D Mark II

Lenses: EF 100mm 2.8L Macro, EF-S 60 mm Macro, Tokina 35mm Macro, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye

Housing: Nauticam NA-7DMK2

Strobes: Sea&Sea YS-250 Pro (optically triggered so i can use rear curtain sync)

Diopters: Nauticam SMC & Sea Gadget

Focus Light: INON LF-800N on a carbonarm quick disconnect

Arms: 2x INON Megafloats M, 2x INON Floatarms ML, 2x Ultralight Floatarms and various normal arms

 


My Little Field Repair Kit Contains:

  • Spare kit (fiber optic cables, c-clips for housing buttons, o-rings, clamps, ballmount o-rings etc)
  • Nauticam key-set, micro screwdrivers, pliers, cutting blade, duct tape, epoxy glue, super glue, alcohol, toothbrush, battery tester
  • Lens and port cleaning material

 

Serge's Mini Portfolio - Canon 7D Mark II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left: A male cardinalfish shows us the eggs he is brooding. Photo: Serge Abourjeily

Photo right: Nudibranchs always make beautiful photo subjects. Photo: Serge Abourjeily

 

 

 

 

Enjoy the rest of our What's in the Camera Bag series:

 Brook Peterson   |   Ken Kiefer   |   Mike Bartick   |   Ron Watkins

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Serge Abourjeily has been a u/w photographer since 2005, living and working in Indonesia. He has spent the last 7 years in the famous Lembeh Strait (recently as Dive Manager at NAD-Lembeh) where he collected a lot of experience with critters and macro Photography. Beginning in 2017, Serge will be working on the Samambaia Liveaboard, cruising the Indonesian seas enjoying wide-angle AND macro. 

www.serge-mondial.com

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Divers off Baja California experience magic moments with passing orcas in these natural encounters
By Jerónimo Prieto

An Encounter with Orcas in Mexico

Jerónimo Prieto
Divers off Baja California experience magic moments with passing orcas in these natural encounters

We recently caught up with underwater photographer and Pelagic Life board director Jero Prieto after spotting his fantastic photo of two orcas under the surface, bathed in late afternoon light. In-water encounters with orcas (aka killer whales) are fairly rare, and natually, we wanted to share the photos and ask what went on behind the scenes. Below is our brief interview.

 

Where were you diving when you encountered the Orcas?

JP:  In Bahía Magdalena (Magbay) Baja California Sur, Mexico during one of the last Open Ocean Safari of the season led by Pelagic Life. 

 

 

Where you in a boat or already in the water?

We were returning from freediving with baitballs and marlins 50 nautical miles offshore. On the way back we spotted the pod, grabbed our gear and jumped in the water to freedive with them.

 

What was the encounter like?

The orca pod was on a clear path (heading south). To avoid any disturbance or risk the encounter, we would move the boat several meters in front of their trajectory. Once we were in a good location we would turn off the engine and silently jump in the water. Within 30 seconds the orca pod would encounter our divers. They usually looked at us and showed us their belly and remained in the surface; clear signs of a healthy interaction. All of the divers stayed at the surface and did not chase the animals. Once the pod passed we would repeat the exercise. We were fortunate enough to make 8 passes with the pod. On the last pass, the orcas (as soon as they saw us) became more compact as a pod and dived in front of us, passing several meters below the divers. This was when we decided to stop the interaction since we interpreted the behavior as non-inviting. The pod continued moving south.  

 

 

Is there anything that helped you capture these photos? Any tips to share?

I would suggest not forcing the encounter. Use common sense and try to cross path with the animals in the least invasive way possible. This allowed the orcas to swim straight towards us, at the surface and get as close as humanly possible. I would recommend checking your camera settings three times before jumping in the water because once you are in the water your entire attention will probably only focus on the encounter. Just remember to leave your finger pressing the trigger.

 

 

About the Author

Jerónimo Prieto, Pelagic Life  (pelagiclife.org)

 

 

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


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