About the island
Layang Layang is a diver’s paradise, with huge walls dropping off the side of the reef into the blue ocean depths. The isolated location mean the fish life is prolific, with colourful reef fish hovering between the coral and pelagic fish shooting through at speed. Excellent visibility in the warm tropical waters and huge amounts of life led to a large number of photos over the 20 dives of our trip. I had a good time experimenting with a number of new techniques and other things I hadn’t consciously played with before.
The advantage of a dive trip like this for me is that you can download and review your shots after each dive, note any difficulties or ideas that haven’t come out as planned, and hop back in the water to have another go. The repeated instant feedback loop is fantastic for trying new things and improving my underwater photography skills. Getting to do this in such an idyllic location is a bonus.
About the dive
After a number of calm diving days, we awoke half way into the trip to find the sea like glass. When this expression is used in Melbourne, it generally means the waves are under half a metre (and it’s time to go diving!) In this instance there were about as many waves as your average bathtub, and it was possible to see your face reflected in the ocean.
This also marked the point of the trip where I decided that 30 degree water made a wetsuit redundant, and moved to diving without one. As someone who normally shivers through an hour in 18 degree water in my drysuit, this felt like a revolution. This dive promised great things as we jumped off the boat and descended down the dropoff and into the blue.
One of the initial difficulties I had at Layang Layang was in isolating subjects. Except where the wall created an overhang with limited light getting underneath, every surface was packed with a huge diversity of corals. The 14mm lens provides a huge depth of focus that’s normally a great asset, but here it added to the confusion. With reef fish of every size and shape moving between the various fans, sponges and other formations, it was difficult to isolate a single point of photographic interest to draw the eye.
The typical way to avoid this visual clutter is to choose a pointy feature and shoot up into the sunlight and blue water. If you’re shallow and the vis is good, you’ll get the surface ripples as background to your shot. One other feature of shallow water when the sun is low in the sky and in the right direction can be rays of sunlight shafting through. Surface ripples reduce the number of rays, so the calmer the water is, the more rays you get – on glassy flat seas, you get spectacular results.
Some of the earlier advice I’d received for successful underwater photography was to find the perfect backdrop and then wait for something to swim through it. Having decided these sunrays were it, I was playing around with different subjects on the top of the reef at the end of the dive when this turtle was spotted. Unlike those we had seen off in the distance earlier in the week, this little guy seemed unconcerned by the presence of divers. He was casually doing laps and checking us out, and I took advantage of the situation by waiting for him to circle into the perfect location.