After managing to completely skip last week’s fantastic diving weather, I was determined to get out over the weekend. Of course the weather closed in and the Heads got worse. In desperation to get wet, I ended up at Pope’s Eye. With low expectations I was pleasantly surprised by spending a fun hour photographing gannet bottoms.
Australasian Gannets pair up and nest in big breeding colonies, including on the rocks and platform at Pope’s in Port Phillip Bay. When feeding they dive into the water at high speeds, grab a fish and swim for the surface. The rest of the time they appear to have a great social life. From the boat I watched several turf wars and some friendly social sparring underway. Landing birds would circle to find a good spot, with birds sitting on the water needing several hops across the surface to get into the air.
I was in stealth mode underwater and not producing any bubbles. This allowed me to hide in the refraction of the surface, completely invisible to the floating birds. The inside of Pope’s is shallow and all of these photos were taken from between 1m deep and surface level.
Once I got close enough to be inside Snell’s window, the bird would either swim a metre further away, or stick their head under the surface to see what I was doing down there. The stickybeakers were persistent, alternating between a quick check on the skies and underwater face. Being eyeballed by a gannet while underwater is a fairly unique experience.
After half an hour of flashing their bottoms and occasionally getting a beak in the picture, the gannets were relatively comfortable with me. The photo settings were relatively consistent – high shutter speeds to deal with the bright sky overhead, a touch of one strobe to bring out the shadows and the feet, and a mid range f-stop to keep everything sharp. The main issue was the sand in the water from the course divers practising exercises in the middle of Pope’s, and the difficulty of reviewing shots in bright sunshine. It took some persistence to get angles I was happy with, and to find the curious birds who kept looking down. For a very shallow dive, it was very productive on the photography front.