Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat

For the last part of my trip report I want to show you the photos from the northern area of the Dampier Strait. We dived many quite a few different sites here (including Arborek Jetty which I’ve already posted about).

Mantas:

Here we saw a host of amazing creatures, larger ones such as mantas & woebegones, and smaller critters such as pontohi pygmy seahorses, snake eels, robust ghost pipe fish and more. Without further ado here are some of the photos that I liked most from this area.

Two (mating?) woebegone sharks, I love how they just look like bits of old carpet!

Pontohi pygmy seahorse:

Many of these images were taken on the Olympus OMD EM1 camera which was lent to me for review so tomorrow I’ll post up a bit more about my experience with it and the pros & cons verses my own little EM5.

Arborek Jetty, Raja Ampat

This might be one of the most photographed jetties in all of Raja Ampat but it is truly a great place to go and take all types of photos. And it changes year on year, here is the link from last year. There is usually some sort of school of fish swirling under the jetty, then there are the beautiful soft corals on many of the posts (I concentrated more on that last year than this), then there is the giant clams (and I do mean giant) and of course the lovely macro subjects. Also, I enjoyed snorkelling there to take some split shots (see below).

Candy crab on the soft coral on the jetty pillars:

In fact with an eagle eye’d dive guide you may even ‘see’ one of these:

Its a hairy shrimp, the damned thing is so small it looks like a tiny spec, not even big enough to look like a bit of fluff! I’m pretty good at spotting (I often even find my own pygmy seahorses) but I had trouble seeing these guys even when pointed out. I cracked out Alex’s subsee +10 (to put on my 60mm which is already equivalent to 120mm) and then cropped in!

The schooling fish:

Its interesting at night, lovely stars above (if the weather is with you):

And an interesting night dive below, here is a toadfish I found:

Other creatures come out at night two, we saw a walking shark and these little tiny skeleton shrimp:

We saw mating Nudis (i think this may have even been a threesome not that you can tell from the photo):

and Adorable frogfish:

Above & below tiny fish stream by:

To see more of the cool stuff we saw at this jetty & other photos from the trip head over to my Raja Ampat gallery. And to see an image Mike took when we went onto the island see his blogpost here, you can’t take the street photographer off the streets for long. I’ll continue my trip photos tomorrow with more from the Dampier Strait.

Mangroves, Raja Ampat

We went again to the same mangrove area as last year in Yangeffo. They arnt quite as cool as they blue water mangroves we visited in 2009 but we didn’t fancy facing the crocodiles so here we are.

This year I had the presence of mind to take in a macro lens so I got some more close up shots of the smaller subjects such as this flower floating on the surface and of course the archerfish:

The mangroves are an incredible nursery for young fish and several times I saw a juvenile blacktip shark cursing up and down, sadly no photos of him as he was practicing creeping up behind me rather than posing for photos

If you like these photos of the mangroves there are more over in my full Raja Ampat photo gallery. Stay tuned, coming up on my trip report is the amazingly diverse Dampier Straits area (including Arborek jetty again, which we saw last year) and a review of the Olympus OMD EM1.

Crossing the line

Crossing the line

Continuing on from my recent posts about our Raja Ampat trip, today I want to tell you about some of the antics we got up to when we crossed the equator. We crossed by boat and also underwater. Not many people have dived across the two in one dive, we dropped down on the southern hemisphere and swam to the northern hemisphere. What was more fun though was participating in the traditional crossing the line ceremony where King Neptune himself came aboard to preside over the festivities of those who were once slimly pollywogs becoming honourable shellbacks.

The ritual, in which previously inducted crew members (Trusty Shellbacks) are organized into a “Court of Neptune” to induct the Slimy Pollywogs into “the mysteries of the Deep”. Physical hardship, in keeping with the spirit of the initiation, are tolerated, and each Pollywog is expected to endure a standard initiation rite in order to become a Shellback.

King Neptune:
King Neptune

Davy Jones introduced King Neptune aboard and carried out the ritual shaving (with foamy soap water) and general rousing of the pollywogs.

Davy Jones:
Davy Jones

But first the King had to preside over a beauty pageant, to decide who to award the wig of beauty…

The lovely ladies of the pageant:
Beautiful Ladies

An honourable shellback holds aloft the Wig Of Beauty:
The Wig Of Beauty

The slimy pollywogs then had to eat this spicy tofu…
Spicy!

…and get ‘shaved’ by Davy Jones. Here’s Mike and I getting treated to this:

Suzy gets turned into a Shellback

Suzy gets the bucket of water over the head

Mike gets turned into a Shellback

Mike gets the bucket of water over the head

So after our ordeal (initiation), it is certified that I am a trusted Son of Neptune

Cert.

Of course during all of this the crew looked on in bemused fascination. After this we took our dive at Equator Island, some folks even took beer down (to pose for the pictures) and horrified the dive guides by cracking them open and drinking them at 10m! Apparently they were a little salty – teehee.

Here are a few images of our crossing the line underwater…

This is me (taken my Jarret with my camera), I like this one because it looks like my bubbles are ears!

Here is Jarret

and Peter:

Note: Topside photos in this post © Michael Walker-Toye & Alex Mustard.

Aljui Bay, Raja Ampat

Instead of Pele which I posted about yesterday, we went to Aljui bay on the first trip and I was disappointed not to go back there on the second trip. Its quite a lot further north than most itineraries usually go though. I was kicking myself for not doing more wide angle dives there, they had some pearl frames dangling from the jetty which I didn’t photograph (because I had my macro lens on). Paul Rosenblum got a lovely shot of them here (go team Olympus)!

Here are some shots I did get from the area though…

Debbie:

Green frogfish:

For more images from this trip see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Pele, Raja Ampat

Following on from yesterdays post on Misool. We only visited two sites in Pele, Kaleidoscope & Toblerone. Most itineraries for Raja dont come out this way but Toblerone tunnel is kind of interesting too see again (we stopped by there in 2009). I took down my off camera strobe to see what I could make of the sea fans on the tunnel floor (see above).

Its a pity the weather wasn’t better when we were here because it was a bit murky for wide angle on Kaleidoscope but it was like fish soup! Amazingly fun dive site just to go and watch them all swirling around and around

It was also interesting to see how big these sponges had grown in that time… here they are from 2009:

There is a little air pocket in the top of the tunnel, here’s Alex come up for a breather

For more images from this trip see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Misool, Raja Ampat

Following on from the previous post at Daram, We spent quite a bit of time diving around the Misool area so I might end up splitting this area into two posts. Its great for both Macro and wide angle so you couldn’t go in with the wrong lens.
We went to Yillet Kecil, Magic Mountain, Boo Windows, Boo East & West, Tank, Whale & Nudi Rock and lets not forget Wedding Cake.

Everyone loves to take photos of the famous Boo Windows but the macro there is amazing, I watch some squids laying eggs and found a couple of Misool Pygmy seahorses.

These little red & white pygmy seahorses are only found around the Misool area.

Nudi rock, so called because it looks like a Nudibranch:

for more images of the divesites at Misool see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Daram, Raja Ampat


I think the best way to show you the different beautiful areas of our Raja Ampat trip is to split it up somewhat based on my little route map, first stop Daram. Here we visited Andiamo and The Candy Store divesites. Please click on the images to see them larger on phase.

The image above shows the silversides racing back and forth just under the surface of the water (chased by the jacks pictured here).

We dropped down on our first dive (on the Candy Store) and I found this little chap sitting in a fan at about 18m. For those who don’t know, He’s a Bargibant pygmy seahorse (this one was about 2cm tall).

The image below is of a scorpion fish blending himself in with the reef.

This area has some of the biggest sea fans I’ve ever scene, much bigger than a person (and impossible for me to light), here are two biggish ones.. these are at the limit of the lighting I have with the tiny strobe arms on my camera.

for more images of the divesites at Daram see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Back from Raja Ampat

Since the end of Jan we’ve been floating around the sea in an area called Raja Ampat. After last years trip, We did two Alex Mustard workshops back to back in this amazing area. See the route for trip 1 in red and trip 2 in green on this route map below:

route map

I’ve put this as best I can into a google maps so you can click the points to see the list of divesites we visited:

As you can see from my photos from last year this area is very diverse for photography and I have lots of images to go through & post in the next couple of days (and I need to upgrade my LR catelog to work with the new Olympus OMD EM1 files – review to follow shortly too). We had a great time, met some nice new people, saw many critters, pygmy seahorses, toadfish, pipefish etc etc. We also celebrated Alex & Mikes birthdays, and crossed the equator underwater (not many people can claim that)! So stay tuned to the blog!

Best Photos 2013

As in previous years it is time to review and select my best/favourite photos of 2013. I always really enjoy looking back over all the posts and pictures I’ve made throughout the year and reflecting upon how fortunate I am to go to such great places and have such supportive people in my life. I found it gratifyingly difficult to choose my top ten this year but I can see a few areas where I’d like to improve upon next year (like getting some decent shots of Mantas). With no further ado, and in no particular order, here are this years top ten (click each for larger version on pbase):

Top Ten Underwater:

This year, for me, has been the year for schools of fish and photos with movement in them…

Sweepers: This cave in the Red Sea was the first time I truly realised how versatile my new camera set up is. I saw the cave, and thought this could do with some backlighting. Popped off my strobe right there and then and took the shot I wanted. After many years of electronic sync cords, the fibre optic can-get-wet kind are incredibly freeing for my photography.

Under the Jetty: These little schooling fish under Arborek Jetty in Raja Ampat, Indonesia were like, as cheesy as it sounds, poetry in motion. Constantly tumbling and swirling into new shapes, beautiful to watch.

Wonderpus: Also from Raja Ampat, at a divesite called the Algae Patch, this cheeky little wonderpus.

Reef top: Another wide angle shot, this time of a reef top in the red sea. Near sunset to low sun hits the water at a good angle for shallow water photos such as this one. Most of the colourful reef fish which inhabit the reef during the day have already gone to bed so I was lucky to get this stream of fish swimming past in the background.

Grumpy Snappers: Its tricky to get a head on shot of the schooling snapper because if you swim at them they disperse (and all your fellow dive buddies groan in frustration as you mess up their shots). They look so adorably grumpy though so I took advantage went I found myself alone with them.

Worried Dad: Human fathers don’t know how lucky they have it. In the sea it’s often the males that give birth, or in the case of this Jaw fish, brood the eggs in his mouth. He occasionally spits them and jiggles them around until they are aerated. Fascinating to watch but don’t get too close or he disappears into his hole.

Underwater Train: Something you don’t usually see underwater – a train. This was blown off the wreckage of the Thistlegorm. This famous world war two ship wreck in the Red Sea has so much cool stuff inside the main wreck (motorbikes, trucks, guns etc) and often strong currents around the exterior that I’d never actually seen the second train which is around 10-15m swim away. On this dive the sea was calm and blessedly free of other divers so we not only got to the train but all the way to the front of the wreck to see the guns. See some of my other photos in this blog post.

Schooling Snappers: I’ve tried to see the impressive schooling fish aggregations at Ras Mohammad on quite a few years and this year I actually got quite a few shots I was please with. I think not having to psh so much weight through the water with my smaller camera allowed me some extra swimming power to keep up with them.

Tiny Cowrie: I found this beautiful cowrie in Indonesia at the beginning of the year while searching this sea fan for pygmy seahorses.

Swirling Barracuda: To round off my underwater choices here are some schooling barracuda from the Red Sea, which reminds me I still need to process the video from this trip, I think I might have some nice footage of these guys.

Favourite Other Photos from 2013:

This year I got married to Mike, I didnt take many photos but I did produce a video I was quite pleased with.

We went on honeymoon to Venice, I liked these two because they are a bit ‘postcardy’

Also, This year I’ve been finishing off the first module of my photography degree course. I’ve really enjoyed some of the lighting techniques such as this spotlighting of Danbo here:

I also enjoyed the trip to Kew Gardens to do one of my assignments on colour:

If you’ve made it this far through the post then well done and I hope you enjoyed :) If you want to see the other photos I enjoyed taking this year I put a whole bunch in a gallery on pbase here. Last years top photos post is here. Stay tuned next year for more underwater fun.