Tangkoko National Park

Tarsier at Tangkoko

We took the opportunity while we are in North Sulawesi for two days of photography at the Tangkoko National Park before our Underwater Tribe Photo Fun Week begins.  Tangkoko is home to the world’s smallest primate, the tarsier, as well as endemic black macaque monkeys.  There are several homestays in the area for folks who are interested in spending a few days there or else it can be done as a day trip from Lembeh (a one hour drive from Bitung).  The photo opportunities with the black macaques are great, they are readily approachable and very patient with people.  However, a zoom lens is recommended as the monkeys do need their space.  Tarsiers are an incredibly cute little primate with giant bug eyes and large ears reminiscent of Gizmo the Gremlin.  A day in the park is a great day out when in North Sulawesi, simply ask the management at NAD Lembeh to organize the trip for you.

Black Macaque Tangkoko

Luca Tangkoko

Constant Light or Strobe?

A frogfish with constant light source

It’s always fun to experiment with different techniques underwater.  As I am in Lembeh with the Underwater Tribe and no particular deadline or assignment in mind I have been using the time to try out a few different cameras and shooting styles.  One of the styles I have been playing around with is the use of “constant light” from a powerful underwater light, my Fisheye FIX 7000 in this case.  The results have been fairly encouraging, even though I have only tried it a few times with no real scientific basis behind it. The photo above is from the Panasonic GH-4 in a Nauticam housing with 12-50 lens with the settings of 320 ISO, f8, and 1/100 and the Fisheye FIX set to 50% power.  I am sure that if I spent a bit more time on lighting I could have achieved better colour but it was a quick and easy snapshot in shallow water (about 5 metres) just to see what I would get.

On the other hand, here is the same frogfish shot with a single Sea and Sea YS 110 alpha strobe with the same camera set to: ISO 320, f22, 1/200.  The colour saturation is obviously better on this shot and if would certainly work better as a print or published photo, however, there is nothing wrong with the constant light image and it looks fine on social media and the web.  For folks not interested in the finer points of having to deal with fstops and strobes then this is a nice combination that gets good results.

These shots are straight from the camera, I am sure with a little TLC in Photoshop or similar then the constant light photo could pop the colours as well.

A frogfish lit with strobe

Camera Reviews

Emperor Shrimp on Cucumber

One of the things I always enjoy about coming to NAD Lembeh Resort is the chance to play with the latest camera gadgets that Simon always seems to have in stock.  Last year, I was able to spend a few days shooting the Sony A7s in a Nauticam Housing as well as the Olympus EM-1 in a Nauticam housing; to see the reviews of these two setups please click here (Sony) and here (Olympus).  This year I am trying out a couple more setups:  the Panasonic GH-4 and the Olympus TG-4, both of which are combined with Nauticam housings.  First up, here are a few thoughts on the TG-4.

A cowrie shell

I have seen a lot of posts recently on social media singing the praises of the Olympus TG-4 compact camera.  Being ever the cynic, I was not a firm believer in the claims that the photos were “uncropped” and “straight from the camera” on the photos being posted around the net from this setup.  I have shot with dozens of compact cameras throughout the years and one thing that they all had in common was that they could not take a decent macro photo without some sort of external diopter. Although many boast a “macro” mode which allowed for focusing mere centimetres away, as soon as any sort of zoom was applied the camera could no longer focus.  Therefore, the only subjects these cameras could shoot on “macro” without a diopter were of subjects that didn’t move: nudibranchs or frogfish and the like.  Therefore, I was certainly skeptical of any photos that showed high magnification, high quality macro photos taken with a compact camera without any additional diopters.  However, after trying the camera on a dive today, I am now highly convinced!  What a camera!

Pikachu nudibranch

The Olympus TG-4 is a tiny little shockproof, water resistant compact offering from Olympus that is rather unassuming and not really what a photographer would think of when deciding on a camera for underwater.  It doesn’t even offer manual settings which are pretty important when shooting underwater.  When paired with the Nauticam housing, it is a very small and easy to carry underwater system with nice big push buttons and a large viewing screen.  When I used it today I brought along one of my Fisheye FIX 7000 lights to illuminate the subjects but a smaller light such as a FIX 2500 would work just as well.  A wide light is recommended as many dive torches are just too narrow to illuminate a photo in a pleasant way.  The key to using the TG-4 was setting it to the “Microscope” mode, which offers a “super macro” experience with a compact camera unlike any other I have used.  Although turning it to “microscope” meant that the on board flash no longer worked, I was able to get around this with a good video light.  It does have an LED light onboard that might be able to trigger a fibre optic flash but I didn’t bring one with me to test that but I am told that it can be done and the Nauticam housing does have a fibre optic port for a strobe attachment.  What the camera can do on “microscope” mode though is Zoom, and not just zoom a tiny bit, but rather zoom a whole lot while still retaining focus even from a few centimetres away!  This is an exciting finding and means this camera is a serious player for beginning underwater photographers who want a quality, inexpensive and easy to use “point and shoot” option underwater.  As a nice bonus, the camera itself is water proof to 15 metres and if the housing suffers from a flood it should survive without any problems.

Snake eel
That’s enough talk from me, what truly matters are the photos.  These are all straight from the camera jpg only resized with logo added, no processing or cropping.  I used the camera on automatic with a constant light from a Fisheye FIX light. I can certainly see myself buying one of these systems for our business in Bali very, very soon!

A pair of yellow gobies

Mike Veitch, Underwater Tribe

Blue Ribbon Eel

Blue Ribbon eel

Sometimes the best subjects in Lembeh are ones that we often just swim right on past.  When people come to Lembeh they are usually in search of some of the more hard to find critters on the reef: exotic species such as hairy frogfish, flambouyant cuttlefish, and blue ring octopus are typically the critters that everyone wants to find.  More common subjects such as lionfish and the blue ribbon eel, are often “poo-pooed” by those in the know and many photographers will often swim past them.  However, it’s sometimes these subjects can make photographers work a little harder and experiment more than usual in order to take a photo that is slightly different from the norm.  In this photo, I have shot the blue ribbon eel with a wide open f-stop in order to give it a limited depth of field and therefore stand out from the blurred out background as opposed to shooting it with the black background that is so popular with macro photos.  Next time you are out on a dive, don’t just swim past the subjects you see all the time, stop and open yourself up to some new ideas and try something different, you may just be glad you did!

Fish Butts!

One of the things we hear the most when talking to underwater photographers is “I have a whole hard drive full of fish butts!”  I believe everyone knows the feeling of sneaking up on an underwater subject to get just that much closer when “boom” the subject you have just spent endless time stalking suddenly turns and speeds off just as you pull the trigger!  The resulting photo is what is lovingly called a “fish butt” shot and I know I have a hard drive full of them myself!  In fact, I have often thought about publishing a book called “Butts of the Pacific” but then I figured it may get banned for censorship reasons so unfortunately I have yet to do so!  However, not all “butt shots” are created equal, in fact, I think this small hawksbill turtle has a lovely butt, he sure did spend a lot of time with his beak in a hole eating sponges and showing me nothing but butt until I ran out of air, therefore, before heading up I had to snap off at least one photo of this turtle and I believe the result wasn’t too bad, for a butt shot!

This was taken at Whale Rock in the incredible Misool area of Raja Ampat where we will be heading again in 2017!

 

Turtle Butt

Mike Veitch

Catfish Parade

When diving in Bali or Lembeh or a myriad of other sites with sandy bottoms, do you ever see a cloud of dust rising up in the distance?  When you get close the disturbance it often turns out to be a big school of striped catfish churning up the sand in search of food.  These social fish with their distinctive barbed mouth are a common resident in the Indo Pacific area and always make an interesting photo subject in both macro or wide angle formats.  This shot was taken in Bali at Seraya Secrets with a Nikon D7000 and Aquatica housing, 105mm, f22, 1/250 and Sea and Sea strobes

 

Catffish

It’s A Sharky Kinda Day with a Silvertip!

We don’t really need to make an excuse around here to take a photo of a shark, so why not have a beautiful juvenile silvertip as today’s Photo of the Day!  This incredible shark is not very big, maybe only 4 feet long but he sure did have a staggering amount of swagger, silvertip sharks have one of the most “shark” profiles of any requiem sharks and truly are one of the most graceful large ocean predators.  Mike Veitch

 

Juvenile Silvertip

Shrimp Cleaning a Moray Eel

One of the more interesting behaviours that divers can encounter underwater is the always entertaining relationship between a cleaner shrimp and the creature that is being cleaned.  It might look like the shrimp is an easy meal for a moray eel as it prances along the morays head but in fact the moray more than tolerates the shrimps presence as it picks parasites from its skin and gums.  I always enjoy watching the “fearsome” moray flinch when the shrimp grabs a particularly sensitive piece of skin from the eel.  The observant diver can witness all kinds of cleaning behaviour on the reef at all times of day.  Shrimp are one of the more active cleaners but many species of small fish such as wrasse and butterfly fish are also commonly found cleaning other denizens of the reef.  Although it is common to see most fish visit a cleaning station from time to time, perhaps the most common visitors to these “clinics” seem to be moray eels.  In this photo, a yellow margined moray eel is being cleaned by a scarlet lady cleaner shrimp beneath a small coral head at the Seraya Secrets dive site in NE Bali, Indonesia.  Interested in seeing more of this activity?  We frequently run trips to NE Bali where the diving and photography are easy and very rewarding!  Have a look at our Bali Safari page for more details.

cleaning shrimp

Abstract Photos

One of the more unique looking photos you can take are of fairly common subjects but shot in an abstract way.  A simple way to do this is with a macro lens and using your “artsy” eye to see outside of the box.  In this photo of a wrasse in Bali I go right up close and personal and only focused on its pectoral fin rather than shooting the entire fish.  This style of photograph works extremely well with varied colored tropical fish which have interesting and unique designs.  Try out shooting abstract photos the next time you are shooting macro.

Abstract patterns of fish

Wild Oceans

Mike has put together a video short from our recent trip to Raja Ampat for an online media company called Earth Touch News which specializes in wildlife and nature programming. The clip is about the dive site Andiamo which is in the Daram island group in the Misool region of Raja Ampat.  If you haven’t seen his other contributions, Mike has also uploaded videos about Citrus Ridge in Raja Ampat, Manta Alley in Komodo, and most recently Andiamo in Daram, Raja Ampat.  The gist of the video is to have the cameraman narrate what he sees over a dive so that the viewer has an idea of what he/she is seeing throughout the world.  It’s like having a back stage pass to all the world’s premiere dive sites in one handy location!

Here is Mike’s latest video on Andiamo