Story Behind The Shot: Hatching Octopus

The story behind an image of hatching octopus, taken with a Canon 5D Mark III
By Todd Winner

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


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