Dec 312012

Boarfish and zooanthids

About the site

Both of these photos were taken on different bits of Lonsdale Wall. The rich temperate waters support a lot of life, including huge populations of the yellow zooanthids and other colourful sponges and corals. The walls look beautiful underwater but the colours can be really hard to photograph well. Strobe light drops off a couple of metres from the camera and balancing natural and artificial light sources without having some portion of your yellow zooanthids looking a sickly green can be tricky.

A few years on, I’ve perfected lighting zooanthids so they come up yellow against a blue background. With some clear blue waters hanging around Melbourne over the last month, I’ve done a handful of brilliant dives on various bits of the wall and finally got some shots I really love.

Wrasse under a ledge

About the dive

A temperate reef is not a tropical one, and finding ample fishy subjects to fill the frame can be a challenge. We don’t get great schools of pelagic fish hanging mid-water, or groups of purple anthias and glassfish schooling over the reef. The local fish tend to hang out in ones and twos, and stick close enough to the wall that framing them against blue water unexpectedly is almost impossible. With a wide angle lens you also need to get really, really close – closer than most fish will put up with.

On the plus side, fish are curious about divers. They’ll swim away as you swim towards, but turn around at any given moment and you’re being followed by a small entourage. From this observation I hatched a plan. Rather than swimming, I would choose a nice background ledge, find a conveniently stable position out of the surge or current, and wait for the fish to come to me.

About the photo

The photo above was taken on a dive where both my buddy and I agreed to have a slow and gentle pootle along the shallowest bit of wall. While he investigated under a ledge up ahead, I lay in wait. This curious boarfish circled under the ledge three times, coming closer and closer each time. When startled these fish lower their dorsal spines and duck under a ledge. By waiting for him to come to me I got this lovely spines-raised shape and curious expression.

The second photo was on a surgier dive where my bubbles were creating silt from the ledge overhead that the surge then mixed into the photo. As a result the sit-and-wait strategy was less successful – the fish came in, but so did the dirt. I did manage to get this shot of a pair of wrasse, eyeballing me as they turned for another loop. What I most like about this shot was the chance to pick my own background. Having selected a frame of colourful corals I waited for a subject to swim into the picture. As a strategy, it certainly beats chasing fish into non-photogenic corners to take pictures of their behinds disappearing down a ledge. I’m looking forward to more fishy success in 2013. Until then, Happy New Year!

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