Photographing Jellyfish Lakes

Tips for photographing jellyfish in jellyfish lakes
By Paul & Lisa Hogger

Jellyfish. Love them or hate them, they are bizarre but interesting aquatic animals to photograph. With an estimated 2000 species worldwide, they can be found in every ocean around the planet in a considerable range of sizes.

The Acclaimed and Recently Closed Koror Jellyfish Lake

One area that is quite popular for photographing jellyfish are the many jellyfish lakes found throughout the Northern Pacific and Asia. Of those the most notable used to be the Koror Jellyfish Lake in Palau. Sadly, the lake was closed to tourists in 2017 due to a rapid decline in jellyfish numbers apparently linked to an increase in the lake’s salinity levels. Prior to the drought in 2016, the lake had approximately 2.7 million Golden Jellyfish. Both species within the lake have no nematocysts or stinging cells. Their isolation from predators over thousands of years resulted in the loss of their ability to sting. Because of the lake’s high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide at depths greater than 15m/50ft, scuba diving is not permitted. It was challenging to photograph them in the lake using snorkelling gear only. But after walking the steep and sometimes slippery limestone trail from the boat jetty, up and over the densely forested hill, and down to the lake’s foreshore with your camera and snorkelling gear, the last thing you’d want to do is have a scuba pack as well!

Jellyfish Heaven

During our extended stay in Palau, we watched excited photographers swim out to the center of the lake (where the densest population of jellyfish are during the daytime), get their photos, and return directly to the floating pontoon on the lake edge.

 

With calm conditions, patchy cloud cover, and the sun high overhead, some great photos from about 3m/10ft are achievable. By staying shallow and looking up, it eliminates the green color-cast that the lake produces when photographing down or at depths below 3m/10ft.

Shoreside Opportunity

In our opinion what visitors to the lake missed by swimming straight out and back was the amazing shore. The available structure can be used as terrific photo backgrounds. With the forested sides of the lake offering wind protection, the surface conditions can be very calm close to the edge. There is an abundance of mangroves, fallen trees, and overhanging foliage that offer many different photo opportunities. There are less jellyfish around the perimeter during daylight hours, but concentrating on just one or two in the frame with a unique background can result in an eye-catching image. After a few days of experimenting, we found the Nikon 12-24mm lens was best suited for the task but a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens also worked well.

Other Jellyfish Lake Opportunities

Despite the unfortunate circumstance at Koror Lake, there are some fantastic jellyfish lakes in Asia. We used the same techniques utilizing structure around the shoreline when we visited a series of jellyfish lakes in southern Raja Ampat in West Papua. The jellyfish are a different species with longer tentacles. Due to the lakes being open to the sea, some can sting you if you are not careful! With more time (and less camera carrying than in Palau) we could experiment with different lenses and tried the Tokina 10-17mm fish eye, Nikon 12-24mm wide angle and even a 60mm macro lens with its greater speed.

Conclusion

Whilst the world’s most iconic Jellyfish Lake has closed for now, don’t fret because there are others – just not yet as well known and sadly not as easily accessible, particularly for day visitors. If you are lucky enough to experience a jellyfish lake, try some photography around the shoreline with structure in the frame.

But don’t leave a jellyfish lake right until the end of your visit otherwise you’ll want to return with more time….

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul and Lisa are an Australian couple originating from Australia’s East Coast. Of their 20 years of marriage they have lived on their private yachts Purranha and Lorelei for 14 years and have been full time sailing/cruising for 9 of those years. Their latest expedition began in 2011 onboard Lorelei with the main purpose to dive many of the world’s best dive locations. To date they have explored 22 countries in the South Pacific, North Pacific and Asia – covering a distance of over 24 000 nautical miles.

They are independent divers and can proudly say that over 95% of their underwater images were taken whilst diving by themselves from their purpose built dive tender on board Lorelei. They are PADI pros and have over 8000 dives between them. Due to the harsh conditions of sailing life, they choose Nikon, Ikelite and Aquatica photographic equipment.

More information and images of their travels can be found on their blog:

www.yachtlorelei.blogspot.com

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