About the trip
For the first few days of the trip on the Arenui, we meandered along the lovely mucky shores of Alor. This meant lots of fantastic critters – mantis shrimp and little cuttlefish, ribbon eels and orangutan crabs, rhinopias, frogfish and pipefish. These critters come in fantastic shapes, sizes and colours but all manage to blend in exceptionally well with their environment. I was especially impressed with our dive guide Ronald when he managed to spot a small clown frogfish from over 15m away. I wandered away while others took photos and despite knowing exactly where he was, then came back and spent 5 fruitless minutes searching a very small area. As it turned out he was right under my nose with camouflage working well.
About the photo
The leaf fish aren’t quite in the same master camo list as frogfish and they can be found. Their strange shape makes them difficult to photograph though, especially when they decide to sit in the middle of a patch of messy coral and sponges. Isolating their silhouette from the background can be a challenge. So once I had a few shots in the bag that were definitely a leaf fish I decided to experiment a little bit. The nice thing about camouflaged animals is that they’re disinclined to move as they believe they can’t be seen. This gave me time to gently manoeuvre my strobe arm around. With the strobe behind the fish I pointed it directly back at the camera. The narrow flat body of the leaf fish is translucent enough for almost all of the in the picture to be coming through the subject. I also used my second strobe on its lowest setting to provide a touch of foreground fill light.
I especially like this shot for the way it isolates his profile and helps the eye really stand out. Regardless of the weird shapes and textures, it’s immediately easy to tell that you’re looking at a face in profile.
The same lighting principle applied for this very pretty ribbon eel. With another subject prepared to stay in one spot – if I moved in slowly – I had time to get creative with lighting. While he’s not as translucent as the leaf fish, getting the stronger strobe power behind him has given him a new look. I needed just a touch of fill light in front to bring out the eyeball without overpowering the backlighting. The lighting angle has reduced light falling on the uninspiring background and helped isolate the subject from his surroundings.
The next time you’re out with your macro lens and static subjects, especially if you’re swimming around with ridiculously long strobe arms on because you haven’t changed them from your wide angle set up, consider a touch of backlighting. You never know what might work out well.