Never Leave Your Macro Gear at Home

Discovering a world of macro photo possibilities in a wide angle photography hot spot
By Mark Hatter

At 96 feet I crept sideways to the incoming current, completely prone against the rubble bottom.  Like a starfish, I splayed arms and legs and used my critter probe like an ice pick in my left hand to hold position.  I was glad to have swapped my dome port for my macro rig; less buoyant and more streamlined, it was far less of a sail in the pushing tide.  My chin to the rubble, I scanned for my target in excellent visibility.  Then, there they were, a small colony of them scattered about over a square meter of bottom, perched and vigilant at the entrance of their hidey-holes.

I smiled inwardly and clicked away at the Banded Shrimp Gobies and Alpheus shrimp, the nearly blind commensal house-mates to the gobies, until the physics of compressed gas at depth forced me to leave.  My smile was not so much borne from finding the colony, but more from the irony of the guidance provided by the other divers before I left the U.S. for my trip to Fakarava and Rangiroa, French Polynesia. “Leave your macro setup at home,” they advised, “this trip will be all about large animals.”  Thankfully, I had elected to ignore the advice.

To be sure, the trip was fantastic, filled with all of the wide angle subjects promoted.  Indeed, I loaded memory cards with plenty of large animals - certainly enough to keep me busy for weeks in post-production work.  But I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be disappointed in bringing my macro gear at the chance of changing the game just a bit; and I certainly wasn’t.

Over the course of 10 days I had plenty of time to survey sites for macro opportunities between sightings of big animals.  And, there were a number of “filler dives” on off-tide cycles where just getting wet was the main objective; perfect dives to exploit the virtues of macro.  From Fire Dartfish to Blue Green Chromis, varieties of hawkfishes and butterflyfishes to coral polyps and feather duster worms, these dives had plenty to offer. 

Late in our trip in another bit of irony, I elected to shoot macro on a dive where the group had hoped to see a pod of dolphins.  My decision was purely based on the odds, for the previous week the dolphins had proved elusive to the groups of divers in search of them and, the reef was loaded with Pygmy Flame Angelfish.  I didn’t have the Flame Angelfish in my image collection and they are poor subject matter for anything less than one-to-one (macro) image shooting.

“You know what’s going to happen,” our group leader said to me as we rigged for the dive.  “The dolphin are sure to come and play because you are using macro!”  He was right!  The pod arrived almost immediately and was particularly playful with the divers.  And everyone got great images.  Well, almost everyone... but I nailed my Flame Angelfish image and was completely happy with my choice.


French Polynesia Underwater Macro



This was my main target, shot on an incoming tide at 96 feet at the bottom of Tuamotu Pass, Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia.  I expected to find shrimp gobies in the rubble at the bottom of the pass and was not disappointed!



Oddly, I did not see a single Flame Angelfish in Fakarava.  However, in Rangiroa, they were literally everywhere below 60 feet.  Yeah, I missed the dolphins but nailed the shot of this beauty at 70 Feet in Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia.



Fakarava Atoll has some of the best coral coverage I’ve ever encountered; nearly 100%. Many species exhibited full polyp extension, even during broad daylight.  This Acropora species was no exception; I shot this coral on the wall at 40 feet in Tuamotu Pass, Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia.



While most hawkfish are easily approached, this species is exceptionally shy.  I had to work hard to get just a few images of this species.  In this image you can see a second Flame Hawkfish hiding deep within the coral head.  I shot this at 50 Feet in Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia.



Like the shrimp gobies, these fish like rubble bottoms in deeper water, I found them in the middle of the pass at depths below 60 feet.  This shot was taken at 65 feet in Tuamotu Pass, Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia.



Large stony corals often house feather duster or Christmas tree worms within their structures, I found this worm at 40 feet on a large stony coral in Tuamotu Pass, Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia.



One afternoon on an outgoing tide, we dived an expansive shallow plateau on the far side of Tuamotu Pass.  The reef abounded with many different species of butterflyfish.  I found this one at 25 feet; Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia.



I’ve seen plenty of trumpetfish in my journeys to different places around the world but never one this brilliant yellow.  This fish was hanging between two large bommies at 40 feet inside Tuamotu Pass, Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia.



The ubiquitous and colorful blue-green Chromis is always a camera friendly macro target.  These schooling fish were common above 30 feet everywhere in Tuamotu Pass, Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia.



Moray eels are generally one of the most macro friendly subjects on the reef when you can find them.  I found this one at 35 Feet in Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia.



On a slack-tide dive in the pass channel right off the diving dock at Tuamotu Pass, Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia, I found this octopus at 70 feet.  I only was able to capture a few shots before it slunk back into the reef.   



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Further Reading


Mark Hatter is an accomplished photojournalist who has had over one hundred feature articles with many hundreds of images published in more than two dozen diving and fly fishing publications and related books, on-line media and commercial advertising champagnes over the last three decades.  His most recent photo essays have appeared in Ocean Geographic, Alert Diver and Silent World magazines as well as the UWPG. Click here to view more of his photography at his website


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