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




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:


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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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



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


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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


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


Further Reading


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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








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



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,


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







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



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


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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Story Behind the Shot: "Manta Madness"

Tobias Friedrich
The story of how I got the shot that won the 2011 Ocean Art Contest

Story Behind the Shot: "Manta Madness"

The story of how I got the underwater shot that won the 2011 Ocean Art Contest

by Tobias Friedrich





"Manta Madness," Tobias Friedrich's photograph that won "Best in Show" in our 2011 Ocean Art Contest.


I was planning a week-long liveaboard trip to the famous Hanifaru Bay, in the Maldives, when I was dismayed to hear that the site would be permanently closed for divers after an upcoming date! I knew that this trip would be my last shot to dive with the manta rays. Going to Hanifaru Bay was a risk, since nobody knows when the mantas are coming to this small bay to feed, but I decided to chance it in the hopes that I would experience some luck.  

The liveaboard trip started at Male. From there we enjoyed a five-hour boat ride northwest to the Baa Atoll. Hanifaru itself is a small, sandy bay in the southern part of the Atoll and is not a regular dive site. It's only the mantas make the place an attraction. The Atoll doesn't offer the best dive sites of the Maldives, so if there were no mantas at Hanifaru it could have been a bit of a bust. In the end, our group was very lucky and had an amazing day with 40-50 manta rays swimming in the bay. Of course I wanted to capture the moment from different perspectives, from above, from same level as the manta rays, and from underneath. I was preparing for a silhouette shot of a manta with the sun at its back, waiting in a depth of around 5-8 meters and looking up to the surface. As I prepared, there was a moment when not a single manta but a group of several rays passed by and I seized the chance to take my wonderful shot.

The best images of the series, of only three to four pictures including the winning shot from Ocean Art Contest, have not been cropped at all. Just some bubbles and backscatter were removed as well as saturation adapted in a reasonable manner. The shot was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II in a UK-GERMANY housing. Lens was a Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens @15mm and the dome port without sunshades. Time setting was 1/320s with f/9 at ISO 50. Two Ikelite DS-125 strobes were set on manual. In total I took about 200 to 300 pictures of the manta rays and would only consider ten of them good ones. It's not easy to get in the right position and capture the right shot at the perfect moment, but this is what motivates us underwater photographers, to always get a better shot than last time.


About the Author

Tobias Friedrich is an avid diver and underwater photographer, winner of our 2011 Ocean Art Contest, and the mind behind


Further Reading


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Story Behind the Shot: Bettina Balnis

Bettina Balnis
Bettina explains how she achieved this winning shot of two skeleton shrimp for the 2010 Ocean Art Photo Competition.

Story Behind the Shot: Bettina Balnis

Underwater photographer Bettina Balnis shares how she captured 1st Place Supermacro in the UWPG 2010 Ocean Art Photo Competition

By Bettina Balnis


Bettina Balnis

" First Lesson in Life"


My Set-Up

This photograph was taken using a Nikon D80 in a Sealux housing, a Sigma 50 mm macro lens, a +2 wet diopter,  and a +2 dry lens.  For lighting I used 2 Inon z240 strobes, and a Fantasea focus light.  Setting were F10, 1/80 sec, ISO 100.



My picture was taken in Oosterschelde, Netherlands (aka Eastern Scheldt, which is an estuary in the province of Zeeland, Netherlands).  This estuary is about three hours away from my home, and I frequently go there for weekend trips.

I took the picture in late September so the water temperature (14C / 57F) was already decreasing and the upcoming autumn winds made the conditions a little bit rough. 


The Subject

The picture shows two Skeleton shrimp (Caprello mutica), a female adult and a baby.  In Netherlands they are also called Macho Kreftjes.

The females have a big red-dotted belly.  At first I thought that the red dots were the eggs, but then I discovered that the hatchings crawl out of the belly.  This was very surprising for me.  They can carry up to almost 200 babies in their brood pouch.  After birth, the babies stay in the surrounding for a while, on the edge of a sponge for example. The baby in my photo is a little youngster who is starting his independent life.  He interacts with his mother to get his "First Lesson in Life."  I discovered this behaviour after several dives. The lesson I learned from this was to go frequently to the same spot, to open your eyes, to change the perspective, and to carefully watch what you see.  From that time on I kept watching these little creatures frequently on many dives. Each time I would see more and different activity and behavior.  I witnessed how they fight each other like little thai boxers, how they ate, and how they gave birth.  Very fascinating creatures.


The Shot

The chilly 14C shallow water with waves making movement made very difficult to autofocus. Not to mention the Skeleton shrimp rarely stop moving!  I had to concentrate and stay quiet at the spot for a long time. Getting colder and colder, I began to shiver and because of the waves in shallow water I almost became seasick.  Several times I had to move to deeper water to calm down.  Finally, everything came together, and at the precise!


Publisher's note:

I really liked this photo when I first saw it, but now that I read the story of the shot from Bettina's perspective, I appreciate it even more. Thanks for sharing with us Bettina! Bettina won an 11-day trip on the SMY Ondina, anywhere the boat goes. We look forward to hearing how her trip goes! - Scott

Further Reading

Guide to Underwater Supermacro Photography

Best dive destinations for underwater photography

Winning photos from the Ocean Art 2010 photo competition

Story Behind the Shot: "Manta Madness"

Learning Super Macro Photography in the PNG


Support the UWPG

Looking to add supermacro tools to your setup? Check out the supermacro tools offered by Bluewater Photo & Video, and contact them via phone/email for expert advice.


Story of the Shot: Douglas Hoffman

Michael Zeigler
Award-winning underwater photographer Douglas Hoffman shares his approach to capturing shark images.

The Story Behind the Shots: Douglas Hoffman

Award-winning underwater photographer Douglas Hoffman shares his approach to capturing shark images


Interview by Michael Zeigler



I had the pleasure of exchanging a few emails with Douglas after reading his story in the Maui News.  He was interviewed as a result of donating shark photographs to the Humane Society International for use in a campaign to end shark finning.  I asked him a few questions about how he achieves success in his underwater photography.



Oceanic Shark

Oceanic White Tip shark in Kona using a Nikon D100 in a Nexus housing, 16 mm fish eye lens, F7, 1/200th.  No flash. Photo by Douglas Hoffman.



MZ: Is there a particular mindset that you have when you enter the water with the sharks? 

DH:  I feel a sense of excitement.  I know that each dive is different and that I will see different sharks.  Before getting into the water I double check that I have turned both strobes on, and that the camera is on and set up the way I want. This means the ISO is at 320 or 640, the metering is on spot, and the drive is on single servo. For sharks I tend to use Shutter Priority mode and set the speed to 1/250th.  In this mindset I am hoping to freeze the sharks but also the sun's rays.  Other times speed is not as important and I use Aperture Priority mode and set the camera at F8 and let it determine the shutter speed. In this way, I can get good depth of field.  This is good when I am doing an environmental style portrait and want to show sharks in the foreground and background.


Requiem Shark

Requiem shark in Tonga.  Nikon D300 set at -3 exposure compensation, Nexus housing 12-24 Nikon lens F4.5, 1/200.  No flash. Photo by Douglas Hoffman.


MZ:  Do you have an idea of what shot(s) you're hoping to capture, or do you seize each moment as it happens?

DH:  While I have images I would like to capture, the dives are not scripted and anything can happen. It would be great to have a 15 foot tiger come by and give the camera a good look but I have learned that you get what you get, so don't get upset. 

There are many variables that come into play and all of them effect the success of the dive.  Some include current, turbidity, visibility, tidal exchange, time of year, water temp, as well as the number and variety of species of shark in the area.

When photographing sharks my goal is not to get the Jaws-style in-your-face-and-make-you-scared photograph, rather it is to show an apex predator in its environment.  I want to show the beauty of sharks and help raise awareness that sharks are the barometer of a healthy ocean and should be protected. 


White-tip Reef Shark

White Tip Reef shark in Fiji. Nikon D300 set at -.3 exposure compensation, Nexus housing 12-24 Nikon lens F9, 1/200. l. Strobes are Ikelite DS160 model set on -2 power. Photo by Douglas Hoffman.



MZ:  Any "preset" settings you use before you jump in, just in case an opportunity presents itself (e.g. 1/125, F8)?

DH:  I usually go in the water with the camera set on Shutter Priority.  Once I see the actual behavior I might switch to Aperture Priority and set the camera on F8.


Nurse Shark

Nurse shark created in Fiji.  Nikon D300 at -.3 exposure compensation and Tokina 10-17 lens. F5.6, 1/100th. Two Ikelite DS160 flashes set on -3 power. Photo by Douglas Hoffman.


MZ:  Any particular equipment you use a majority of the time (e.g. scuba vs snorkel, etc)?

DH:  I use scuba.  It feels good to have a tank on my back.  The bubbles and metal give me a sense of security.

I use a Nexus housing and Nikon D300 body.  Either a 12-24mm Nikon lens or a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens.  I use 2 Ikelite DS160 strobes with custom diffusers.  The power is set at minus 3.


Grey Reef Shark

Grey Reef shark in Fiji.   Nikon D300 body set at -.3 exposure compensation and Tokina 10-17 lens. F9, 1/250th. Two Ikelite DS160 flashes set on -3 power. Photo by Douglas Hoffman.



Lemon Shark

Lemon shark in Fiji.  Nikon D300 body set at -.3 exposure compensation and Tokina 10-17 lens. F7, 1/100th. Two Ikelite DS160 flashes -3 power. Photo by Douglas Hoffman.


More of Douglas Hoffman's photography can be seen at



Further Reading


Story Behind the Shot: Diving the Shallow Waters of Guam

Tony Cherbas
First place winner in the "Novice" category of our Ocean Art Contest, Tony Cherbas describes how he got his winning shot "Narcissus"

Story Behind the Shot: The Shallow Waters of Guam

First place winner in the "Novice dSLR" category of our Ocean Art Contest, Tony Cherbas describes how he got his winning shot

by Tony Cherbas







"Narcissus," Tony's winning shot in the "Novice dSLR" catoegry of our Ocean Art Contest


My first place "Novice dSLR" photo, entitled “Narcissus," was taken at Piti Channel, my favorite local night-dive in Guam. It’s a very shallow dive, about 15 feet at it's deepest point, which I find convenient for long, solo photo sessions. Other than being used for an occasional open-water dive training class, Piti Channel sees very little dive traffic on a regular basis. At night there is usually noone around, and this easy-entry shore dive is probably the best muck dive in Guam. I see things in the channel that I don’t see anywhere else here, including but not limited to; leaf fish, frogfish, conger eels, mantis shrimp, flatheads, large pipefish, juvenile snapper and sweetlips, oscillated lionfish, an assortment of shrimps, crabs and even a small eagle ray that shows up quite regularly on high tides.  

My winning photo was taken a year ago, shortly after I bought my first dSLR, on my very first dive with two strobes instead of one. Prior to this I had been shooting with a single strobe positioned directly over the housing. The addition of the second strobe (both Inon z240s) really allowed this shot to happen.

Both strobes were positioned on either side of the housing, one directly under the squid as the camera was positioned vertically, to compose in the traditional portrait style. Recognizing the potential for a unique shot, I followed the subject for a long while in about three feet of water, firing away and recomposing, until I decided that the squid had probably taken enough flash abuse. The greenish swirl of the water was due to the reflection of the dead coral substrate covered with algae that was directly below me. 

The strobes were set to S-TTL via fiber optics, which is my preferred way of shooting macro due to ease, cost, and versatility. The use of dual strobes allowed for even lighting over the subject so that the reflection was represented clearly and stood out nicely. I have since been back to Piti Channel to take similar reflection photos with only one strobe and found it much harder to achieve full, even light coverage for this particular composition. 

The camera settings were: F 18, 1/160th sec, ISO 100. I will note that due to the amount of particulate matter floating in the water, some backscatter was removed via Adobe Lightroom to clean up the presentation (the RAW file was submitted to the judges to show this). The photo was taken with my former Canon T2I in a Sea & Sea housing. I have since sold the T2I due to the inability to manually adjust the flash output, which greatly impedes the flash recycle time when using S-TTL. This was really the only fault I found with the camera, but a large enough one for my style of shooting that it was necessary for an upgrade. I now shoot with a Nikon D7000 in a Nauticam housing.  

I’d like to thank Scott, Michael and everyone at the Underwater Photography Guide for an excellent website that offers a wealth of information for those starting out in the hobby. And of course I’d like to thank the judges for selecting my photo for first place in the "Novice" category and awarding me with an unbelievable prize package to Papua New Guinea


Other Photos from the Shoot



Canon 60mm, F/20, 1/200, ISO 200. Piti Channel, Guam


Nikkor 40mm, F10, 1/200, ISO 250. Lit with fiber optic snoot, Piti Channel, Guam


Canon 60mm, F/18, 1/200, ISO 200. Piti Channel, Guam


Canon 60mm, F18, 1/200, ISO 200. Lit with Seahorn Snoot Piti Channel, Guam


Further Reading


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