Story Behind the Shot – 70 Islands Palau

70 Islands Palau Micronesia

I lived in Palau from 1999-2002 but never took advantage of heading up on the local plane in order to see it from the air while I lived there. It was not until I visited again as a tourist in early 2005 when I decided to take advantage of this incredible flight opportunity on my birthday! My friend Matt was the pilot (and he is still working there as a heli pilot doing charter flights if anyone is interested) of a small plane that I chartered for a one hour flight around the islands. As there were only 2 of us on the plane (plus Matt) we were able to take the door off the plane and shoot directly out into the air. For those who have never seen photos of Palau, it’s an incredibly beautiful country with hundreds of small karst islands surrounded by bright white sand. Perhaps the most picturesque area is the protected “70 Islands” preserve which is off limits to any and all visitors other than rangers and conservation teams due to the presence of nesting turtles. On this shot I simply had to lean out the window and snap away and allow nature to take care of the rest. I will let you decide if there are 70 islands or not…

Nikon D70, 12-24mm lens at 24mm, f10, 1/400

Mike Veitch

Story Behind the Shot – Yap Caverns

Story Behind the Shot - Yap Caverns

One of my all time favourite dive sites in the world is “Yap Caverns” in Yap, Micronesia. This site is located on the far southern tip of the main islands of Yap and is a series of ravines and gullies cut into the reef structure with many open caverns creating a maze like dive. The best way to dive this site is to jump in the shallows and follow the twisting caverns before emerging onto a steep wall with crystal blue water. The caverns themselves are in constant flux as they undergo a series of changes over a 3 to 4 year cycle with periods of bare rock showing at the bottom interchanged with periods of bright white sand filling the channels. Photographically, the periods of bright white sand is superior to the rocky periods for obvious reasons. I took this photo during a period of time when the bright white sand had settled back in to the caverns after several years of nothing but rocky bottom. To create this photo the conditions had to be perfect with the sun shining brightly overhead but still early enough in the morning that it was not overpowering. The key was to position myself so that the rock wall blocked the main portion of the sun in order to allow the sharp sunrays to filter through the water column. The other key ingredient to make this photo stand out was the fact that a bit of swell was running which stirred up the sand and created a “sand filter” that allowed the sunrays to shine through.

Yap Caverns, Yap, Micronesia, Aquatica housing and Nikon D70 with 12-24mm lens at 12mm, f8m, 1/500 (no strobes) ISO 200

Mike Veitch

Story Behind the Shot – The Peeking Orangutan

Peeking Orangutan

This was taken at an Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok in Sabah Province, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. The Centre has a “feeding platform” where recently released orangutans often come to get a free meal in the morning, as they may not yet be fully adapted to life in the wild. This particular orangutan was a very shy individual and allowed the other primates to have first crack at the bananas that the handlers were handing out. However, she did keep a keen eye from afar on the goings on at the platform; I believe this photo really captures her look of curiosity and patience while awaiting her mid morning snack.

Nikon D70s, 400mm lens, f5.6, 1/80

Story Behind the Shot – The Coral Reef

Cabbage Coral hard coral reefI admit it, I have a bit of a weak spot for shallow hard coral gardens. I know most people think they are simply a nice bit of reef to look at, but don’t find them overly photogenic and give them a quick “once over” before looking for critters or heading down the wall.  However, I could take photos of hard corals for hours on end. If an area has a healthy hard coral reef, then it’s usually a strong indicator of the overall health of the marine environment in that region.   As hard corals are very fragile, they are often the first life forms to be destroyed when a major catastrophe happens such as a large storm or “El Nino” style event. Unfortunately, I have seen all too often the devastating effects of El Nino, typhoons, crown of thorn starfish outbreaks, and dynamite fishing; all of which can completely destroy a beautiful coral garden within a very short time. Therefore, when I find healthy and extensive hard coral gardens I just can’t help taking photos from every angle.

I visited a new location last week called Parigi Moutong, which is located in the SW corner of Tomini Bay in central Sulawesi, and I had the opportunity to get in the water for three dives. One of the first things that I noticed while surveying the area was the health of the hard corals as well as bright blue water. I have to say that the corals in Parigi Moutong were surprisingly healthy and abundant along the reef drop-offs and I spent most of my dives in the shallows documenting the beautiful forms of these reefs.

This photo is of the hard coral garden on the dive site “Rose”, was taken with a Nikon D7000 and Aquatica housing with a 10.5mm lens and Magic Filter at f8, 1/40.  I simply made sure my strobes were turned off, had the sun at my back, aimed slightly down and fired away.

Story Behind the Shot – Coconut Octopus

I am a big fan of octopus, I would willingly spend an hour with a curious octopus watching it go about its daily life, combing its environment looking for food and avoiding predators. The species of octopus doesn’t matter; they all seem to have an innate curiosity of their surroundings and will often interact with a diver who moves slowly and carefully.

Coconut octopus in Puri Jati, Bali, Indonesia

One of my favourite octopus encounters was with this coconut octopus during a dive at Puri Jati (PJs) in north Bali, Indonesia. Coconut or veined octopuses, Amphioctopus marginatus, have recently been designated as the first invertebrate able to use tools, elevating their status as an intelligent animal. On this dive, I encountered this guy in less than 5 metres of water and was able to spend a long time watching and photographing his/her daily life. The first thing that stands out in the photograph is that the octopus is obviously using the coconut shell as a home (hence the name) but that the “roof” of the house is a bright pink plastic cap! This photograph pretty much sums up the intelligence of these animals and lends credence to the idea that they can use tools. Not finding a suitable shell to use a “roof” to close up the shell when threatened, this octopus was able to substitute the next best thing it could find. Thinking I would help out this little guy and find it a clam shell to use instead of a piece of bright pink plastic, I found a big clam shell and brought it over, but when I set it beside the octopus it showed no interest whatsoever!  He/she was more than happy with its bright pink roof and just picked up its shell and trundled away!

Story Behind the Shot – Shark Parting the Red Sea

Story Behind the Shot – Shark Parting the Red Sea

As Discovery Channel is continuing to run “Shark Week” this week, I will continue my shark theme here as well!

Grey Reef Shark and Bigeyes

Most photos that you see of sharks don’t hold a lot of colour but instead feature a greyish/blue shark against an otherwise empty blue or green water background.   Not that there is anything wrong with that, in shark photography less is often more and it’s the shark itself that truly captures the eye when looking at a shark photo. However, for myself I always took it as a challenge to capture a photo of a shark that was a little bit different. This photo is one of my personal favourite shark images, as the bright red school of “bigeyes” really makes the image pop, its not just another photo of a grey reef shark. This shot was taken in the Tuamotu Island chain of French Polynesia on a spectacular “pass dive” on the island of Toau. On this site, the dive plan was to jump in the water in the open blue and then drift toward the mouth of the pass until reaching the reef, where an incredibly diverse population of sharks rides the incoming current. The list of sharks that I have encountered in this area reads like a divers top ten list, including silver tips, grey reefs, black tips, white tips, nurse, lemon, and the occasional silky or hammerhead. After watching the sharks at the mouth of the pass, we would then drift with the current down the channel until coming upon a large cut running perpendicular to the pass, lovingly called the “Wrasse Hole”. A resident school of big eyes was always present in this cut as they were able to shelter away from the strong current. Displaying the brains of the smart predators that they are, a second set of resident sharks also lived in and around this cut, patrolling the area ready to pounce upon any sick or injured fish. On this particular photo, I was able to duck down into the school of fish and “hide” myself from the skittish sharks by breathing slowly and staying still. After patiently waiting for a shark to come toward me, I then “popped” out of the schooling fish and captured this shot, “Parting the Red Sea”

Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia, 2003, Nikonos V, 15mm lens, 2 x Sea and Sea YS 120 strobes, Fuji Provia 100 film