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 – 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 – Coconut Octopus

The Coconut Octopus

Coconut octopus Bali

For me, the ultimate photo when it comes to close focus wide angle photography is capturing an octopus behaving in the unique ways that octopus do. In Bali, there is a black sand dive site called Puri Jati which is well known for its octopus population including long arm white V, mimic, and the ever curious coconut octopus. This particular photo was taken of a coconut octopus that I found in a few metres of water which was living inside its namesake: a coconut! The best thing about this encounter was the fact this octopus was a player, each time I edged closer, the octopus would pick up its home and scuttle across the sand away from me before settling down once again. The key to this image was shooting it from far enough away to show some of the background as well as the main subject. I also used a slower shutter speed in order to utilize the natural light to “burn in” the background to show the environment where the octopus lives.

 

Nikon D7000, 60mm lens at f11, 1/80, ISO 160

 

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 – The Liberty Wreck

The Liberty Wreck

My first time diving the Liberty Wreck in Tulamben, Bali was in 2006 during a photo workshop I was conducting with Tim Rock at Scuba Seraya. During my very first dive on the wreck, I swam the length of the wreck scanning the site for the best photo opportunities. Once I reached the midship area, with the open cargo hold, I kept it in my mind as being one of the best “photo ops” of the wreck as it certainly offered a real feel of being in a proper shipwreck as opposed to only the colourful soft corals which are plentiful on the Liberty.  Being ever the opportunist, I immediately decided that I wanted to incorporate photos of this scene into the photo workshop that we were teaching. Therefore, for the rest of the week I worked with each of the participants to set up this same shot again and again with very positive results for everyone who took the shot. Although it looks like a simple shot, the difference in brightness inside and outside of the hold does make it a great learning process for new photographers to work out the intricacies of shooting natural light photography and silhouettes.

For anyone who has taken a photo class with me in Bali since then, you will most likely recognize the photo. Knowing a good learning experience when I found it, I continue to utilize this scene in all of the photo classes that we teach in Tulamben to this day and I am sure will continue to do so far into the future.

If you are diving with us here in Bali, let us know if you would like to try your hand at this photo opportunity, we are always happy to model for you!

Thanks to Sofie for being the model in this photograph with the Liberty Wreck

Mike Veitch

How To?? – Shoot Underwater With Filters

Filter PhotographyShoot Underwater with a Filter

Filter photography has really come into it’s own with the advent of digital photography and the ability to white balance underwater. Although it has been used for a long time with digital video underwater, red filters and white balancing did not really become popular with still photographers until the early to mid 2000s. The use of a filter underwater allows the photographer to filter out some of the nasty blues and greens that dominate the colour spectrum deeper than 10 feet and bring back a warm colour balance along with a lot of contrast and typically a beautiful blue. Shooting with a Filter of any sort is actually quite easy, here are a few tips to get you started:

 

  1. Don’t Use Strobes – to get the most from a filter it’s best to use with natural light only
  2. Stay Shallow – as the shot will be illuminated with natural light, the best results are typically from 15 m (50ft) or shallower
  3. Keep the Sun Behind You – the key to illuminating the subject properly and getting the best colour is to have the sun helping
  4. Shoot Slightly Down- although this sounds like the opposite of what is drilled into new photographers (Shoot UP!) in natural light or filter photography shooting on a slightly downward angle helps
  5. Use manual white balance and re set it prior to shooting each new subject
  6. Concentrate on using a wide angle lens, this will provide the best potential for filters. Macro is best shot with strobes

That’s it! Now it’s just a case of getting your hands on some filters and a nice shallow dive site. Our friends over at Magic Filters provide the best and largest range of filters for underwater photographers so head on over to their website to have a look at their products.

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

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