Story Behind the Shot – Banded Sea Snake

Banded Sea Snake on the Surface

Sea Snake Surfacing

One of my all time favourite photos is this photo of a black and white banded sea snake (krait) surfacing for breath.  The photo was taken at the island of Bunaken on one of the famous Likuan dive sites which feature a shallow reef bordered by a sharp vertical wall.  It was during the morning on a dive to this site where I encountered this beautiful sea snake while doing my safety stop in the shallows.  I patiently followed the snake for a while taking a photo or two of it while it stuck it’s head into a few holes in the corals, possibly looking for a meal.  The snake was not bothered by my presence and continued to swim along the reef in no particular hurry.  However, as any air breathing animal is want to do, it eventually had to swim toward the surface for a breath of air.  This is when I knew the best photo opportunity would take place, as the snake would have to swim up toward the flat calm surface.  Sure enough, off the snake went toward the surface and I quickly followed it while taking a few shots of it from below.  Immediately, I knew the photos would be winners as I could see the beautiful blue/green water pop up on my screen afterwards.  There are two elements of this photo that I believe really make the photo:  firstly, the green reflection of the reef surrounding the white clouds and blue coloured snell’s window and secondly, the ripples that the snake’s head makes on the water as it surfaced for air.

Nikon D90, 10.5 mm lens, f7.1, 1/200, ISO 200   Sea and Sea Strobes

Mike Veitch

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

 

Story Behind the Shot – Wayag Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat Wayag Behind the Shot

 

Although most of our “Story Behind the Shot” images are typically underwater photos, I have chosen this image from Wayag, Raja Ampat, Indonesia as it’s such an iconic photo from this area. The island group of Wayag is a located in the far NW quadrant of Raja Ampat and it’s famous for it’s beautiful vistas. Measuring only a few miles from east to west and less than a mile from north to south, this incredible little archipelago consists of hundreds of small karst islets which have been carved into mushroom shapes over the millennia. Although this photo looks incredible, it’s quite an easy shot to take (other than the journey to get all the way to Wayag!) There is a rocky path that leads up one of the hills inside the lagoon that offers a fantastic 360 degree view all around the archipelago and beyond. Although the common perception would be to take this photo with the late afternoon “magic hour” lighting behind the photographer, it doesn’t actually work too well because the low light coming from behind tends to blow out the sky on the horizon. Instead, the best time to take photos here is between 10am – 2pm while utilising the magic of a circular polariser. Even better, is if the low tide coincides with the timing, as this allows the camera to capture the beautiful greens of the sand and reefs that offsets the royal blue of the deeper water. The high overhead light during this time really allows all of the colours to pop.

Nikon D7200, 12-24mm lens at 22, f8, 1/250, iso 320

Photo of the Day – School of Batfish

It’s been awhile, we have been exceedingly busy here in Bali over the past month and somewhat lax when it comes to our social media! Therefore, as a special gift to you all, we present another Photo of the Day!  Hope you enjoy this photo from Raja Ampat.

Raja Ampat Batfish

Story Behind the Shot – Hungry Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill Turtle

 

One of my favourite underwater photo subjects are turtles, it doesn’t matter if it’s a “relatively” common hawksbill turtle or green turtle or any of the other more endangered turtles, I am always happy to encounter any turtle when diving. On this particular encounter on the island of Layang Layang in Sabah, Malaysia, I ran into this friendly hawksbill turtle who was happily munching away on sponge embedded in the hard coral.  As with any turtle encounter, I stopped and watched it for a few moments to see if it would be spooked by my presence or if it would allow me to get closer.  After watching it for a while I decided that it wasn’t bothered by my presence and so I slowly moved closer in order to take a few photos.  After snapping a couple of shots from the side I then decided to see if the turtle would allow me to approach from the front, as this photo can attest, it sure did!  As I moved from the side toward the front I realized that the turtle was allowing me to get quite close, but as I started to maneuver my strobes closer to the port the young hawksbill turtle decided that it was a lot more interested in my dome port than the sponges!  Abandoning the idea of moving my strobes, instead I started backpedaling away from the hungry hawksbill while snapping off a few photos and trying to avoid “turtle bites” on my port!  My guess is he/she reacted to the reflection of another turtle in the port and the attempted biting was in order to scare off a potential competitor.  After I backed off again the happy hawksbill went right back to munching on sponge and ignoring my ungainly presence.  Although I didn’t necessarily get the lighting correct on this shot, it is a photo that stands out as it was really a funny situation with a personable turtle who was intent on showing me who’s the boss!

Layang Layang, Sabah, Malaysia – Nikon D90, Aquatica Housing, 10-17mm lens, f10, 1/100, Sea and Sea Strobes

Mike Veitch

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!