Award winning photographer Joe Daniels takes us to Ambon, one of Indonesia's greatest macro destinations. Joe's extensive experience will help other shooters plan for their trip to photograph the amazing critters and unique underwater landscapes of Ambon.
Wallacea, coined by the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, is a geographical area consisting of mostly Indonesian islands. These islands have always been separated by very deep water from the Asian and Australian continental shelves. This separation from any large landmass has seen the evolution of some very unusual species.
Local fishermen in Ambon Bay
Located in the heart of this group lies the island of Ambon. The capital of the Maluku region in eastern Indonesia, Ambon has shot into the limelight among divers because of its incredible muck diving on the slopes of the long bay that almost splits the island in half. The diving is certainly not to everybody's taste, dive sites are mainly very fine silt with a scattering of rubble, halameda algae, small soft corals and sponges that slope down into the depths of the bay. Eastern Indonesia also has a lack of waste disposal and recycling so rubbish can be a problem here. Whilst dodging the rubbish and using delicate fin kicks divers are usually rewarded with sightings of unusual creatures.
Ghost Pipe Fish which gracefully drift back and forth mimicking anything from leaves to crinoids
Rhinopias have become synonymous with Ambon, this incredibly rare genus of scorpionfish is regularly encountered on dives here. Fourteen individuals have recently been observed over three dive sites. Growing up to 30-40cm in length they are the ideal subject for close-focus wide angle (CFWA). The Nauticam 4.33" Acrylic Dome Port with the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye is the perfect combination for these kind of images. The close focusing abilities of the 10-17mm behind the mini dome allows you to get very close to your subject with ease.
The size of the mini dome allowed me to get in close and almost shoot up underneath the Frogfish to incorporate the light shafts, schooling fish and some of the docked boat above.
There are plenty of other CFWA opportunities other than rhinopias in Ambon Bay, such as Jetty Air Manis. Dive here just before noon and you will be treated to incredible shafts of light piercing between the docked fishing boats and the jetty, whilst large schools of ox eye scad that flow in and out of the pillars. Look out for giant frogfish here also, the pillars of the jetty seem to be a favorite hang out of these beautifully ugly fish. This individual was positioned high on a outside pillar. Closing my aperture to at least f14 allowed me to keep the majority of the image in focus. Another benefit of the 4.33" dome is that I am able to tuck my strobes close in order to light my subject evenly with a good quality of light even when I am in close.
The most productive area for macro critters within the bay is in front of the sleepy fishing village of Laha. This is also home to the holy grail critter, the Psychedelic Frogfish (Histiophryne Psychedelica).
First discovered in January 2008, the news quickly spread across the diving community and everybody wanted to get a glimpse of this new fish. Nine or ten individuals were observed between 2008 and 2011 and only in Laha, after which they seemed to just disappear. The cryptic nature of a frogfish makes it difficult to find even in normal circumstances, but despite relentless searching for Psychedelica, it was nowhere to be found. It wasn't until 2014 that sporadic sightings of tiny juveniles were being reported, on sites far away from the original Laha location. In September 2016 two adults were found back in their original home of Laha, one of whom was again carrying eggs on its tail. More juveniles have since been found like the one pictured here. These unique fish, especially the juveniles, are usually tucked in-between small rocks with a generally bland and unattractive background. A snoot illuminates just the fish, enhancing its unique patterns and form while leaving the background black.
Shooting any subject that is close to, or on the bottom, is always a challenge when using a standard view finder (unless you are upside down with your face buried in the sand). This is where the Nauticam 45º Magnifying Viewfinder is invaluable as it allows me to compose my image and make sure I hit those critical focus points comfortably, while right-side up no less.
Another iconic feature of Ambon is the Twilight Zone, the aptly named dive site in Laha’s bustling fishing harbour where you dive beneath the boats and the blue water turns into a ethereal gloom.
Here there are also enormous schools of ox-eye scad and sardines that swirl through the cascading light shafts which fall between the parked fishing boats above. Timing is key here to capture the light show which is usually between 11am and 1pm. Whilst shooting this image it was a bit of a waiting game. I needed all the elements to come together. To complete the image I needed the schooling fish, light shafts and to be in just the right position to get the shot I wanted. When I find myself in situations like this, a split second is the difference of getting the image and not. I do not want to be thinking about what buttons are where on my housing. This is why I love Nauticam's intuitive design on all their housings. It saves me thinking about what position my fingers need to be in and I can focus on what is happening in front of my lens. Whilst diving the Twilight Zone the boat engines above reverberate through me while my buddy and guide scour the rubble slope for critters. The desolate seascape strewn with debris is rich in life. Although it may not be obvious, it is there.
Harlequin Crabs shelter beneath tube anemones
Coleman Shrimp nestle between fire urchins spines
Tunicate Shrimps and Amphipods are regularly found here too, so the Nauticam SMC 2 is essential for its magnification and corner to corner sharpness to fill the frame when shooting these minuscule animals.
Shooting the Tunicate Shrimps whilst they are in their host tunicate is no mean feat. When I first found out about these small shrimps I knew I wanted to fill the frame with the rich blue colour of the tunicate. Framing this tiny shrimp was very difficult. I had to focus through one of the valves on the tunicate to find the shrimp. The 100mm and the SMC 2 was the perfect combination for the shot because of the working distance the 100mm gave me and the magnification of the SMC2. Usually when shooting super macro I would be shooting at least f22 to get as much of the subject in focus. But for this shot I wanted some dreamy blue bokeh so just focusing on the shrimps eyes I opened the aperture to f11, giving me just enough depth of field.
This fascinating little island is a true photographers paradise with unusual subjects and even more unusual dive sites you are guaranteed to come away with something a little different from the norm.
About Joe Daniels
Joe has been lucky enough to have spent the past 12 years living and working in remote locations across the world. He first began shooting images underwater whilst working for a marine conservation NGO in Seychelles. After years of teaching dive courses and collecting scientific data, it became clear his focus had shifted to collecting images underwater, so Joe made the move to Indonesia and upgraded to a Nauticam system. Along with his partner Emily, Joe began managing Maluku Divers in Ambon. Being based in Indonesia allowed Joe to really focus on his photography and produce some award winning images. Now based in the south of France Joe shoots in the colder waters of Europe along with the overseas locations; he regularly writes for and is featured in British and international publications. Currently he is putting the finishing touches to a photographic coffee table book he is co-authoring on the underwater world of Seychelles called Underwater Eden. The book will be published in September this year. Joe shoots with a Canon 5DMKIII in the Nauticam NA5DS/5DSR housing.
Instagram - @joedanielsphoto