Ocean Art 2023 - 3rd Place Blackwater

3rd Place Blackwater

Jialing Cai

"Snowy Night"



Jialing Cai won a buy one get one free 10 dive package with Sea Saba!


The Story: 

I captured this image during a blackwater dive a few days after the Taal Volcano eruption in the Philippines in early 2020. This female paper nautilus was hitchhiking on a floating piece of wood debris in the extremely turbid water. It belongs to the octopus genus called Argonauta, one of the few octopi’s lineages that live in the open ocean. The females are unique in having evolved a shell for laying eggs. As I pressed the shutter, the surrounding particles reflected my flashlight in a manner that created the illusion of falling snow. For blackwater photography, we like to place the strobes in an angle and position where the light can shine directly on the subject, ensuring a clean dark background. However, when I initially attempted to capture this Argonaut, I was unaware that the strobes were placed in a “wrong” position. The light was shining on the space between the subject and my camera, which had illuminated the presence of all the surrounding particles. Instead of portraying chaos in the aftermath a natural disaster, these particles evoked an unusual sense of serenity, transforming the scene into a fairytale set on a snowy night.

Blackwater photographers are obsessed with clear water. We are drawn to the pure darkness that mirrors the vacuum of outer space. We tend to forget that the suspended particles which include the sand grains, organic matter and even miniscule organisms are an integral part of the ecosystem. These particles always fade into the background or are simply removed through editing, but they form the foundation of the complex marine food web. If the water were genuinely transparent, there’s no way the ocean could sustain such abundance of life. The “snowflakes” in this captured scene always remind me of these tiny yet ubiquitous existences.  



Anilao, Batangas, Philippines

Equipment Used: 

Camera Settings: 

  • Aperture: F22
  • Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
  • ISO: 250



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