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Underwater Festival Blog

Best of Show - Photo - 'Behind the Shot'

Hi everyone! Paul Rudder here! I was so honoured and over the moon to be awarded 'Best of Show' in the photography category this year and I hope you all enjoyed the festival as much as I did.

I had a great time looking at the Australasian map on the site and seeing all the fantastic photos submitted in some of the coolest places I really want to visit!

As the festival was so enjoyable, I wanted to take the time to write about my experience of the festival this year and what led to me submitting this photo.

September in Nelson Bay on the East Coast of New South Wales, Australia turned out to be a challenging month this year I found, for underwater photography.

With less than favourable viz, wind and rain it made me wonder why I was out there in the first place?! 

As always though, all I had to do was to slip below the surface, start looking around and I was swiftly reminded why - Because of all the weird and wonderful critters waiting to be discovered that I love to photograph and share with the world.

Nelson Bay in my mind, is a Mecca for diving. Having moved here about 6 years ago purely because of the quality and diversity of the diving here, it is not often that I do a dive where I don't see something new and amazing.

During the festival I dived multiple sites, tried new techniques, searched for cool subjects, socialised with old and new friends and to be honest, just enjoyed myself.

But I found myself coming back to one of my favourite sites in the Bay - Seahorse Gardens.

Seahorse Gardens is a shallow, sloping, silty muck dive. With the max depth for me usually being only 11 metres,  it is perfect to stay there as long as my air permits and lose myself amongst the beds of soft corals, sponges and all the cool critters that live there. Critters such as Striped Angler Fish, Decorator Crabs, Seahorses, Pipefish, Octopus, Various Tropical and Temperate Fish species and of course, the humble Pyjama Squid - one of my favourite yet most challenging subjects.

Following are some techniques I find useful when photographing these fantastic little guys.

To get shots like this of Pyjama Squid, there are some key elements to consider:

- Lighting: Pyjama Squid are Nocturnal so they immediately shy away from any light, shut their eyes and bury into the sand.

- Movement: When you find an active Pyjama Squid, stay with it. Watch its direction of travel and anticipate where it is likely to head next.

- Camera positioning: To get a black background your camera needs to be as low as possible to the sand and pointing diagonally away from the sand. 

- Camera itself: This is far easier with a compact camera due to is smaller 'compact' size (I use the Genuine Canon G10 housing as well).

- Size of the subject: For this shot, the smaller the Pyjama squid the better as you will have a greater chance of capturing it in your shot as it leaves the sand.

Preparation for shooting the subject:

Once you find an active Pyjama squid out on the sand or weed, you must have your focus light or torch on the lowest setting, as far away from your body as possible, and pointing away from the squid so the subject is in just enough light for you to be able to see where it is. It is extremely important to do this immediately and not point the light directly at the squid while you prepare your gear. This would be way easier if you had someone to hold the focus light or dull torch for you after a giving them a good briefing on what you need. 

After a few seconds, the Pyjama squids eyes will open up naturally and adjust. I take a number of trial shots at this point to get my settings adjusted correctly.

Shooting the subject:

The rest of the shot is patience and luck. The squid will often cover itself in the sand again, or it will start moving around the bottom, looking for a mate, food, or what ever a squid likes to do provided you don't move the light around much and move slowly. 

Pay attention to the movements of the Pyjama Squid and anticipate what it is likely to do next. Follow its movements with your camera positioned and ready.

It is extremely important to get your camera as low as possible and to angle it slightly upward so when the subject leaves the sand to move to its next point you can capture it. Shooting across a sloping bottom helps here as well as it gives you a bit more distance between the subject and the sand for the shot. Weed can work well as a background instead of sand as well.

Pyjama Squid, I find, have different personalities - So some are more relaxed and less jumpy than others. These are the ones that you can spend time observing and will have the best luck with.

Some key tips to remember:

Maintain distance with your light - If the Squids Eyes are closed you have very little chance of anything special happening and 9 times out of 10 the Squid will bury itself again.

Be patient - If you rush at the subject or kick up too much sand - your chance is over.

And remember, Patience, Practice and Luck is the key.

I hope you find these techniques useful if and when you get the opportunity to see one of these awesome little guys.

I am really excited already for next years event after seeing all of the outstanding entires this year. 

Thanks to Tim and the Underwater Festival team for another fantastic event and I can't wait to do it all over again in 2014!

All the best and see you all next year,


- Paul Rudder


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