Jan 092012

Orange sponge on the wall

About the site

I’ve talked about the wall between the Heads of Port Phillip Bay before. A stunning dive at slackwater a short boat ride from Queenscliff on the west or Portsea or Sorrento on the east, several kilometres of colourful reef makes for hundreds of different dive sites. Boat passage through the Heads and out into the open ocean can be difficult when the weather is bad, restricting the access to the wrecks outside. However, some bits of the wall are always accessible at the right time of day although visibility can be very variable. Slack water dives when the tide has been ebbing out of the Bay and the ocean is about to flood in through the Heads can have a lot of floating particles in the water – not good for photography. Longer periods of windy weather or recent rainfall creating run off from the land will also impact visibility.

I’ve done dives expecting 5m vis and been able to see the bottom 25m under the boat. I’ve also done dives with glass like conditions up top where the conditions were more like a green washing machine underwater. In the end sometimes you just can’t tell what’s going on under the sea until you’re there and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by dives in terrible conditions (and vice versa!). With this as my favourite local dive site, learning to take good pictures in crappy vis has been part of the fun when the vis you were hoping for doesn’t turn up on command.

Colourful life on Nepean Wall

About the dive

The photo above was taken on a dive on Christmas Eve with almost ideal conditions. The weather up top was flat and sunny, providing lots of light down through some very clear water. The tide stopped running at the appointed time and we jumped in to discover a spectacular bit of wall. We’d taken advantage of the low swell conditions to dive the outside of Nepean Wall on the eastern side. On previous dives in this area there had been a lot of a certain type of grey hanging sponge that is very hard to make attractive in photographs. This particular location featured deep ledges and a very colourful array of sponges.

Blue water is very good at filtering natural light, and it can be hard to tell what colours are going to come up under flash until you take the picture. When I go looking for colour on dives like these, I take my cave diving primary light with me. Meandering through the reef with brief pauses to inspect sponges and soft corals for attractive colours is a great way to spend a dive. Having found a coloured subject, I then consider whether I can get the camera close enough and low enough without squashing any nearby life. From here a good background such as a wall silhouette or co-operative diver is helpful. Last up is rearranging the strobe lighting appropriately to give colour, shadows and depth to the picture.

About the photo

Towards the end of this dive I was drifting along the wall as the tidal current began again when the vibrant orange of this sponge caught my eye. Sticking out into the blue water it was perfectly positioned for a photo that didn’t require me to adopt a strange angle in the water. By moving to a portrait orientation most of the lighting is coming from the strobe positioned above the camera, which gives more natural shadows on the subject and the small multi-coloured corals underneath it. My second strobe was out to the right to provide a little bit of fill lighting, and I moved myself around the sponge to get the background wall silhouette lined up properly.

I like this photo because it shows the colour and diversity of life on a temperate reef, while also managing to clearly isolate a subject. With so much going on out on the reef a lot of my wide-angle shots here can be very busy. Drawing the eye to the clear focus of the photo, especially without a model in the picture, is something I’m working on at the moment and this photo is a success along the way.

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