While diving in Bonaire a few years ago, I witnessed an impressive show of camouflage. The nine pictures below are all of the same octopus over a span of 15 minutes as we played a game of hide and seek. With its ability to change shape, skin color, and skin texture, the octopus definitely had the advantage. The most surprising moment came when the octopus assumed a fish-like shape and horizontal black stripes to cross an open patch of sand. It was a truly memorable interaction.
Nudibranchs are one of my favorite underwater critters to photograph. They typically display flamboyant coloration and are slow moving, perfect for macro photography. I also like the challenge of finding them, especially diving in the Caribbean. The photograph below is a Gold Line Sea Goddess (Hypselodoris ruthae) I found diving Tent Reef in Saba.Just how small is a nudibranch? They range in size from the huge Spanish Dancer, which can be up to 40cm / 15+ inches long, down to the size of, well Tony from Saba Deep Dive Center said it best: a fingernail clipping. The images below should give you sense of how difficult it is to find some of the smaller nudibranchs. The first image below shows the size of the nudibranch in relationship to the boulder I found it on. The second picture shows the size of the boulder in comparison to the rest of the reef. So essentially it’s like finding a fingernail clipping on a rock the size of a watermelon in the ocean.
How does one ever find such a tiny thing in the midst of the vast ocean? The first step is diving very slowly. You’ll never see anything like this if you’re moving quickly. I could easily spend 10 minutes inspecting just a few square feet. Having excellent buoyancy also helps you hover closer to the reef without touching. The last thing I do is review pictures in my nudibranch field guide before diving. I feels this trains my brain on the types of pattern and color combinations I am trying to detect. So far it seems to be paying off, and as always a little luck helps too.
Can you find the hidden crab in the image below? I was searching for a shortnose batfish in Saba when I found this little guy instead. Drag the green slider to reveal the answer! Click here for a closer view.
It’s no wonder that people step on scorpianfish. They are hard to see when they are right in front of you. Can you find the scorpianfish in this picture? I found this one near Sipadan, but they are very common in the Caribbean as well. Hover over the image for the answer! Click here for a closer view (with no risk of envenomation).
It’s not often that you get to see the world in a totally new way. So my first dive to view fluorescence in underwater creatures was really mind-blowing. Fluorescence is commonly confused with bioluminescence, the simple difference being that bioluminescence refers to light generated from within the organism, while fluorescence requires an external stimulus, in this case light.
In order to view fluorescence, you need a light source (flashlight, camera strobe) and special set of filters – one for the light source and one for the viewer (your eyes, camera lens). I use filters from NightSea. The filter on your light source is called an exciter filter. It is calibrated to only allow let through wavelengths that will excite the fluorescent pigments. The exciter filter is blue/purple. The filter on the camera lens or in the visor you wear over your mask is called a barrier filter. The barrier filter is calibrated to block the exciter wavelengths so that the only light seen by the camera is the fluorescence. The barrier filter is yellow/orange (opposite of blue/purple). My barrier filter is inside my camera housing, so I am fully committed to photographing fluorescence for that dive!
So what is it like diving with all these filters everywhere? Pretty weird. It adds a totally new dimension to night diving. Your vision can be in one of four states at any given time: no filters (normal night dive), exciter filter only (everything looks blue), barrier filter only (everything looks yellow), or both filters on. Your world goes black when both filters are active. Inky black. The glow from fluorescence is a very faint greenish glow and not much to navigate by. In the photographs you can clearly see the differential in light coming from the subject and background or substrate. For my camera settings this means f2.8, ISO 1600, shutter just fast enough to get sharp images, strobe dumping a full charge every shot.
Creatures that look quite ordinary during the day now take on otherworldly colors. Giant sea anemone tentacles look light green or tan during the day; at night they glow brilliant green and wouldn’t look out of place at a rave. Bearded fireworms look quite festive. Lizardfish blend in with the sand during the day, when hit with the exciter source they look like radioactive fish that swam too close to the nuclear plant. Coral polyps glow with variety of colors. Hope this was enlightening! I’ll show myself out.
I love capturing the amazing natural patterns I find when diving. They aren’t the obvious photographs to take when surrounded by fish, turtles, and other critters. But I am drawn to them for some reason, perhaps because I move very slowly and have time to notice and appreciate. I try to pick subjects that will provoke a “what IS that?” from the viewer. Sometimes color is an important part of what makes the image work; other times I find color irrelevant to the story and these images I convert to black and white. Enjoy this selection of my favorites!
This gallery contains 12 photos.
Complete darkness. Deep water. Caves. Confined spaces. Skeletons. Some common primal human fears to be sure. Taken together, they made for the most memorable dive of my recent scuba diving trip to the islands of Mabul, Kapalai, and Sipadan off … Continue reading
Another test post. Since you clicked, check out this nudibranch. Guess which Pokemon it is named for!