A Shot to Remember

Photo by Todd Aki

Click, review, repeat. That’s the beauty of a dive resort’s house reef. You can shoot a subject, return to your room, review the shot on your laptop, figure out how to improve it and reshoot it during the next dive. I found a perfect house reef in central Sulawesi, Indonesia, that checks all the boxes: shallow for longer dives, no current and an abundance of critters. As a bonus, this particular reef is open 24 hours a day. During my last weeklong stay I took full advantage of this underwater photographer’s paradise to dive the house reef before and after each day’s boat dives and repeatedly shoot the same subjects, aiming for better results each time. 

I visited a resident frogfish every day to try different angles and techniques. One day I waited patiently and was rewarded with a photo of him yawning. It was a nice image but not original. I took shots using a black background, a blurred background and several different angles. Every time I reviewed my images in my room, however, none stood out as exceptional.

A trio of cooperative banded pipefish hung out close to the frogfish, and I got to know them very well. They were playful and very curious about my underwater housing. I progressively took pictures of just one, then two and then all three in the frame. Watching their graceful, swaying movements, I tried to shoot them in unique body-bending positions. When I switched to my fisheye lens, the pipefish acted like teenagers, pushing each other out of the way to use my dome port as a mirror. Sadly, like with the frogfish, all the time I spent with the pipefish did not produce a single shot that pleased me.

Toward the end of my trip, a fellow diver mentioned that he saw the pipefish swimming around the frogfish. A composition immediately popped into my mind, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the house reef, vowing to spend as much time as necessary to finally get a unique shot.

After finding my four fish friends on my next dive, I waited patiently for the party to begin. Time after time, one of the pipefish would swim parallel to the frogfish, but no matter how loudly I yelled through my regulator, it would never swim so that the two fish would be facing one another as if they were having a conversation. Maybe the thought of getting eaten by the frogfish was more important than being a good model. 

I was about to give up when suddenly it happened. One of the pipefish wandered in front of the frogfish and turned to face it. I hit the shutter and screamed as I knew I had gotten the shot. 

Diving the house reef allowed me an abundance of time with the same creatures, and I was finally able to get what I was after — a shot that I will forever cherish. 

© Alert Diver — Q3/Q4 2020