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 – Peacock Mantis Shrimp

The Peacock Mantis Shrimp

Peacock Mantis Shrimp Cover Photo

This is another cover photo from way back, it appeared on the cover of Scuba Diver Australasia in 2007.  This photo was taken at the site “Basura” in Anilao, Luzon Island in the Philippines, a stereotypical “muck” site that features a rocky slope dotted with larger coral heads located right in front of a fishing village. Hiding underneath one of these coral heads was a fairly large peacock mantis shrimp which proved to be one of the more feisty individuals that I have come across, as it showed no fear of my camera (or me) whatsoever!  It was a large specimen which was very protective of his (or her?!) space and came right out to challenge my camera as I tried to take photos. The key to this image was the fact that I had a +4 diopter on my 105mm at the time which allowed me to get much closer the shrimp than I would be able to with just the 105mm lens.

Mike Veitch

Story Behind the Shot – The Trumpet Fish

Trumpet fish blue background

This photo appeared on the cover of Asian Diver magazine back in 2005.   As often happens with photos that get published, it was a last minute addition to a series of photos I presented to the Art Director who instantly knew this was the photo she wanted due to the myriad of colours that fill the frame. The main subject of the photograph is a juvenile trumpet fish that was hiding in a crinoid that was nestled within a sea fan on the dive site Yap Caverns in Yap, Micronesia. The idea behind this photo was to capture a bright blue background while shooting a small subject with a macro lens. The key element was finding a subject that allowed me to get below and shoot up, in this case the trumpet fish in a sea fan was a perfect opportunity.  Not many dive magazine at that time published macro photographs on the cover, this was my first “macro” cover, and I believe it was the blue background that really stood out to the Art Director.

Nikon D70, 105mm lens at f16, 1/60, iso 200 2 x Sea and Sea YS 120 Strobes

Mike Veitch

 

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!

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

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

Frogfish Portrait – Photo of the Day

This photo is a from a great site that I haven’t visited for a while, Secret Bay in the far north west of Bali in the town of Gilimanuk.  Secret Bay is a great muck diving location with lots of critter action including many resident frogfish such as this bright orange clown frogfish, Antennarius pictus, which was sitting perfectly in a sponge.  Photo taken with a Nikon D7000 in an Aquatica Housing with Sea and Sea strobes, f36, 1/250 and 60mm lens.

Frogfish Portrait