Mar 052012

Blue Devil at the Grotto

About the site

Melbourne sits at the northern end of Port Phillip Bay, and the heads open out into Bass Strait at the southern end. A comparatively large volume of water flows through a small heads entrance, leading to strong tidal currents each day. This water movements carries nutrients through the entrance, and when the water flow stops as the tide changes direction, great diving become accessible.

Diving between the heads of the Bay is of necessity a well-timed activity, and one that’s well worth it. In some places the wall of the channel steps down from 12m reef flats at the top to over 60m deep in 5m blocks. The vertical walls are coated with soft corals and sponges in red, yellow, orange and occasionally bright blue. Impressive numbers of fish follow divers around, and in great vis it’s a stunning part of the underwater world.

Besides the many bits of the wall itself that I’ve dived, there are also great dive sites a little further into the bay that can only be dived at slack water. This photo was taken at The Grotto which is shallower and flatter, with great curved bommies scattered across the landscape. One side of each bommie is covered in kelp, while the other is coated with yellow zooanthids and other colourful growth and other had ledges running well back into the reef.

Diver and blue devil

About the dive

With flat seas up top I made a last minute decision on Saturday morning that I really wanted to get underwater. Looking down the diving schedule, The Grotto had a few spots left and I booked us in.

I hadn’t dived this particular site before and the shallow depths allowed nearly an hour underwater for exploration. The most noticeable thing was the local fish, who seemed particularly unbothered by bubbling divers in their domain. My 14mm lens is not normally the ideal fish portrait lens – to fill the frame with your average sized reef fish, the subject needs to be almost pressed against the dome port. Perhaps it was the late afternoon sunshine or the calm waters, but the residents of this site were relaxed about posing for the camera. By combining their laid back attitude with my patented sneak-up-on-fish techniques, I was able to capture this shot.

About the shot

This photo was taken from less than 10cm in front of this Blue Devil’s disapproving nose. Blue Devils are common inhabitants in this part of the Bay. They prefer to hang out under ledges and generally use their pectoral fins to gently retreat back into darkness before turning and swimming out of sight. To sneak up on this guy, I started by moving slowly.

Without holding my breath, I slowed my breathing to reduce the noisy bubbles I was creating. Good buoyancy let me gently drift forwards towards him with tiny fin movements and without crashing into the bottom. Before moving in, I’d taken a test shot of the ledge next door and corrected exposure and strobe positioning for the approximate subject distance. This meant I could extend the camera at arms length out in front of me and take a series of increasingly-closer shots without tilting the housing backwards and forwards to review the results.

The still water under the ledge also had fewer particles than the open seas outside. By taking a series of shots as I moved in, and reorienting the camera to get a couple of different angles, I had a great selection of shots to choose from. This one is my favourite because as well as the fishy expression it gives a great view on the colourful sponge growth on the ceiling of this undercut.

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