My Favorite Wide-Angle Dive: Contributors' Picks

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My Favorite Wide-Angle Dive: Contributors' Picks

May 23, 2020 - 18:22

We asked our contributors what their favorite wide-angle dive was and they came back with stories and photos from some of the most unique and exhilarating dive sites on earth, many of them relaying interactions with large marine life from Steller sea lions in Kamchatka and giant manta rays in Komodo to tiger sharks in the Bahamas and humpback whales in the Dominican Republic.

Photo by Matthew Meier: North Atlantic humpback whale calf (Megaptera novaeangliae) at the Silver Bank off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Exposure: 23mm, f/8, 1/500s, ISO 800. Camera Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikon 16-35mm lens, Subal housing, using available light.

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Text by Larry Cohen

When shooting wide-angle images underwater, it is important to control the ambient and strobe light. Changing the shutter speed will affect the ambient light exposure but will have little effect on the strobe exposure. The aperture will affect both the strobe exposure and the ambient light exposure. For this reason, it is a good idea to rarely change the aperture. One can change the shutter speed to produce a light or dark background.

It is best to use strobes with a continuous power dial. This way, one can adjust the strobe power to get the correct exposure on the subject and foreground. In most cases, you do want the strobe light to blend with the ambient light for a more natural look.

Nearby objects will look larger than they really are when using wide-angle and fisheye lenses. The objects will also look farther apart from each other. It is important to consider this optical effect when using these lenses. One can use this as part of the design element of the image. ■

X-Ray Mag contributors reveal the beauty of the underwater world—from the topical paradise of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines to the subtropical seas at Mexico's Socorro Islands and the temperate waters off California and South Africa—where they captured their favorite shots and experiences.

Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

Text and photos by Matthew Meier

My most recent favorite wide-angle dive was not a dive at all. It was a snorkeling trip to swim with North Atlantic humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) at the Silver Bank off the coast of the Dominican Republic with Conscious Breath Adventures (). Fellow snorkelers and I spent a week on the liveaboard M/V Sea Hunter, out on the water in search of whales, photographing both topside and underwater behaviors. The most spectacular experience for me was coming face-to-face with a curious juvenile humpback whale as it came up for a breath of air and lingered to inspect the odd collection of us humans floating on the surface. Words cannot express the feelings that swept over me while gazing into the eye of that whale. It is a moment I will cherish and one I hope to repeat time and again. Visit:

Jayne’s Gully, Fathers Reefs, Papua New Guinea

Text and photos by Scott Bennett

When it comes to wide-angle photography, there is no better destination than Papua New Guinea. Its offshore reefs are magnets for marine life and the Fathers Reefs, situated off the coast of New Britain, are no exception. Accessible only by liveaboard, the area features numerous seamounts, with sheer walls jam-packed with colourful sponges, whip and soft corals, and gorgonians. Due to their remote location, visibility is superb and often exceeds 30m. I visited during a 10-day liveaboard on the FeBrina, and one of my favourite sites was Jayne’s Gully. We did two dives here, each providing a wealth of wide-angle opportunities. Fish life abounded, with schools of barracuda, big-eye trevally and batfish, mingling with a plethora of reef fish darting amongst the coral. There are wonderful opportunities for close-up wide-angle images, with the barracuda and jacks swimming above the corals. A highlight was a pair of friendly hawksbill sea turtles. Small yet utterly fearless, they allowed a remarkably close approach. As I descended after a gulp of air, I was able to capture a frame-filling image with a sunburst behind. The only thing missing: hordes of other divers. Please visit:

Cape Kekurny & Rudnaya Bay, Russia

Text and photos by Andrey Bizyukin

Invited to visit Kamchatka, located at the easternmost tip of Eurasia, by my good friends Anna and Sergey Butkovsky, we headed out on their private boat to the Pacific Ocean from the port of Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky. After a few hours sailing southward, we arrived at Cape Kekurny, located at the entrance to Russian Bay, where a large rookery of Steller sea lions can be found. Here, scientists observe and research these animals, and Anna had come up with a technique for diving and observing their behavior in natural conditions underwater. For this reason, she asked me to take underwater photographs to document the dive. We anchored about 200m from the coast at a place where the depth was about 10m. After entering the water, which was +4°C (39°F), we waited in a tight group on the flat sea floor for the magic to begin.

One huge alpha male and many female sea lions lived at the rookery. Being very curious creatures, the females were the first to rush in our direction and all together began to study us divers underwater. They looked into our masks, blew bubbles (copying our noisy breathing), and tried to bite our fins. It was like a game to them.

After ten minutes of this playful display, all the females disappeared and one huge male—which dominated the territory of the bay—appeared, like the “Boss of the Sea.” His size and appearance were so impressive that we immediately realized the seriousness of his intentions. If he decided we were a threat to his dominance and harem of females, then we would definitely be in beaten.

According to safety instructions, the dive time was limited to around ten minutes. Apparently, at the start of these dives, sea lions would play carefully around the divers, but later in the dive, if you gave them free rein, they would begin to bite divers and pull regulators out of their mouths. For this reason, we quickly finished our photo session and moved in a tight group up to the surface. The boat crew was already in a hurry to pick us up, but about ten curious females kept circling around us at the surface, playfully looking to continue the fun game.

It was one of the most exciting dives of my life, because it was such a rare opportunity to dive with these large and very curious creatures. In the past, I had attempted to photograph Steller sea lions in Alaska too, but the conditions were not as favorable as those I found on the Russian shore.

Another unique dive on the Russian Pacific Coast is found at Rudnaya Bay, 600km north of Vladivostok. It is known to be a favorite habitat of giant Pacific octopuses. Typically, the octopuses hide in holes under stones, shying away from divers. But sometimes, when they grow very large in size, they feel powerful enough to actively defend their hunting grounds. They may display their considerable size, taking menacing poses and releasing ink. It was this rare moment that I was lucky enough to photograph (taken at a depth of around 17m), many thanks to local divers for helping with the dive and sharing their great octopus experience. Please visit:

Roca Partida, Socorro Islands, Mexico

Text and photos by Larry Cohen

The Revillagigedo Archipelago, known as the Socorro Islands, is a great place for wide-angle photography. They are 390km (240m) off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Wide-angle or fisheye lenses are needed to capture the large marine life in this area. Roca Partida is a very special wall dive, with many ledges, in this area. Facing the wall, one can photograph groups of whitetip reef sharks resting on top of each other. I was lucky to see a juvenile whitetip, using a huge moray eel as a pillow. When you glance into the blue, it is not unusual to see giant pacific manta rays for which the area is famous. You may also spot a light-colored yellowtail fusilier in front of a school of dark-colored fish. All images were captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera and Olympus M.Zuiko ED 9-18mm f/4-5.6 lens. The camera was in the Aquatica AE-M1 housing with the 8-inch dome port. For lighting, I used two Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes. Visit:

Tyler Bight, San Miguel, Channel Islands, California, United States

Text and photos by Brent Durand

My favorite dives tend to be those that cannot be planned and those that require careful planning to line up with favorable conditions. My first dive at San Miguel Island in California’s Channel Islands was both. The northernmost island, San Miguel, is subject to open ocean swell and trade winds, making it a tough destination to reach on a charter dive boat. The fog broke that morning in July 2015 and the captain confirmed we would indeed be diving San Miguel. We anchored near Tyler Bight, I patiently helped our guests, and then took a giant stride into the sea. I descended to find rock ledges, an expansive kelp forest, and my favorite—a massive school of blue rockfish. This dive felt just as wild as I always hoped San Miguel would be. Visit:

Tiger Beach, Bahamas

Text and photos by Jennifer Idol

Tiger Beach in the Bahamas is a photographer’s dream and a must-see destination that is alsomy favorite wide-angle opportunity, especially as a trip leader. Six shark species frequent these shallow waters: tiger sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, lemon sharks, great hammerheads, nurse sharks and bull sharks. Nothing quite beats the girth of a tiger shark or colorful lemon sharks. The aggregation of sharks unafraid of divers is the most thrilling sight above and below water. Depth and warm water allowed for a long dive that began at sunrise. I wanted to photograph free-swimming sharks, not just the feedings that bring tiger sharks here, so I kept to the periphery to enjoy private encounters. To be first in and last out, I was ready and calm, which was hard to do with these beautiful and exciting animals surrounding our boat. It is a destination I look forward to returning to next year. Please visit:

Percy’s Reef, Rooi Els, Gordon’s Bay, eastern False Bay, South Africa

Text and photos by Kate Jonker

Craggy, sheer cliffs plunge beneath the water’s edge into an enchanted kelp forest. This beautiful dive site starts shallow, with the rays of the sun glittering through the softly swaying kelp. A kaleidoscope of marine life, including anemones, sea urchins, sea fans and sponges, clings to the reef’s huge rounded boulders and ridges. Schools of small fish flit amongst the kelp stipes. Huge orange wall sponges provide shelter for smaller fish, and West Coast rock lobster lurk in crevices as their constantly moving feelers test the surrounding waters for predators. Juvenile Cape fur seals zoom overhead, and, if you are lucky, you might even encounter an inquisitive short-tailed stingray or broadnose sevengill cow shark. It’s an absolutely magical reef that I love to explore, as every dive is different and equally exciting. Please visit:

Manta Alley, Komodo, Indonesia

Text and photos by Brandi Mueller

Manta Alley, in Komodo National Park, is a great dive site to see mantas. Above water, the area is surrounded by brown, barren, but strangely beautiful rocks in contrast to the deep blue water. Underwater, it feels like a manta playground, with different manta activities happening around the dive site. Most dives start at the cleaning station where mantas come close to the reef to have their parasites removed and be cleaned by bannerfish and other butterflyfish. Moving into an area between two rocks, which looks just like an alley, mantas can be seen hardly moving in the current—just flapping their wings like it is a treadmill and they are getting their morning exercise. (It is hard for divers to keep up in the current though, and we get blown by them with the water movement.) The coral is healthy in this area too, with turtles, bumphead parrotfish and swarms of anthias. Visit:

Arborek Jetty, Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Text and photos by Don Silcock

“What’s your favourite wide-angle dive?” That is a really tough question, as wide-angle photography is very much my preferred genre and picking a favourite location is hard—there are so many candidates! After a lot of mulling and pondering, I decided on Arborek Jetty at the western end of the Dampier Strait in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat. It was at Arborek (aka Airborei) where I first really nailed the “triangulation” of correct foreground and background exposures with a strong composition. That was back in 2012, and the image is still on the wall of my study. I have dived the jetty many times since, and it is always a great and dynamic dive, courtesy of the rich currents that sweep past it. The 2012 image used the huge school of jacks as the main subject, with the jetty as the background, and it was a special moment when they started circling. Sadly, when I was at Arborek last year, the jacks were nowhere to be seen—but the school of batfish were still in residence. Again, I balanced the foreground and background exposures and triangulated the composition. Please visit:

Gabriella’s Fish Point, Oro, Papua New Guinea

Text and photos by Olga Torrey

Gabriella’s Fish Point off Tufi Resort in the Oro Province of Papua New Guinea is a great location to shoot wide-angle images. This reef was named after one of Tufi’s previous managers. The majestic wall is covered with growth and is teeming with life. I decided to use the Panasonic fisheye 8mm lens on my Olympus OMD E-M5 camera in a Nauticam NA-EM5 housing. This lens has a 180-degree angle of view and does cause some distortion. I used the distortion to enhance the beauty of the wall and mushroom leather coral. I positioned my model so my strobes would light him and the wall. The same lens was used for the image of the granular seastar. I moved in close to use the forced perspective of the fisheye lens. In this image, I positioned my dive guide farther back so he would be a silhouette. The interesting shape of the school of slender Pinjalo snappers was enhanced by the fisheye lens’ distortion. Since fisheye lenses produce a curved image, I used a 4-inch dome and still got sharp edges. For lighting, I used two Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes. Please visit:

The Drop-Off, Verde Island, Philippines

Text and photos by Beth Watson

The Drop-Off dive site is a rocky pinnacle that rises 200ft to the surface of the water. Below lies a plethora of marine life and rainbow of colors. It is known to be a hot spot and epicenter for marine life biodiversity on the planet. Currents can be strong, which makes for an exhilarating dive. These currents bring in nutrient-rich clear water, creating excellent visibility. Pelagic species can be seen out in the blue. Keep your eyes open—you never know what will pass by. Schooling trevallies, jacks, butterflyfish and surgeonfish can be seen on every dive. The cliff face and the sloping wall are adorned with black coral bushes, beautiful gorgonians, sea whips and large barrel sponges. Thousands of brilliantly colored basslets and anthias cover the reef. It is a wonderful dive with outstanding wide-angle opportunities. It is truly mesmerizing and takes my breath away time after time. Visit:

Originally published

on page 24