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Joe Daniels - Derawan

Located in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan the Derawan Archipelago is a group of 31 islands scattered across the Sulawasi sea. The archipelago hosts a number of unique ecosystems and stunning seascapes. A tantalising destination for any underwater photographer. 

At the end of January 2019 I packed my Nauticam NA5DSR housing and made the 3 day journey to Pulau Derawan which would be my base for the next 14 days. I knew the photographic opportunities on this trip would be diverse so packed macro and wide angle set ups. 
The weather in this region during January/February can be very wet and sometimes windy. Not a great combination for underwater photography.


Our first day we stuck close to Derawan and made four dives on the reefs and rubble slopes around the island. I was advised to shoot macro and I'm glad I did. I found a pair of Dragon shrimp on a whip coral and my wife found a Blue Ring Octopus feeding on a crab during the nightdive. I shot both of these subjects with a 100m mm macro lens using the auto focus to get in the range of focus then used the Nauticam manual focus gear to get pin sharp focus on the critical areas of the image.


When making a trip to Derawan its worth packing your snorkel as the island has two fantastic shallow jetties perfect for wide angle photography and lots of huge green turtles feeding on the sea grass beds that surround the island. Some of which are very relaxed and are very comfortable being photographed.  For my wide angle set up I used a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens behind either N120 8.5’’ acrylic dome port or the Nauticam N120 140MM Optical Glass Fisheye Dome Port. I use the N120 8.5’’ acrylic dome port for when there a good chance I will be shooting split shots. I have had it for years and it has been chucked and bounced around dive and research vessels bumped by blue sharks and scratched by rocks in cenotes, and it still shoots perfectly. I love the rugged construction and versatility of the dome.
If I am not shooting split shots I shoot with the Nauticam N120 140MM Optical Glass Fisheye Dome Port. The image quality for this size of the dome is un paralleled. Whether you are trying to streamline your set up when diving in strong currents, shooting close focus wide angle or cant fit a large dome in your camera bag this dome is un beatable.


I found this dome particularly useful at one the archipelagos hidden gems. Kakaban islands jellyfish lake. This has to be one of the most bizarre and beautiful places I have ever visited. The lake is located in the middle of the island. The lake its self was once a lagoon (around 2 million years ago) During this time the walls rose above the sea level creating the lake, which turned from salt water to brackish water. The result is a other worldly environment with jelly fish and other marine life evolving separately from the rest of the world creating a truly unique ecosystem of stingless Jellyfish, various fish species, flat worms and jellyfish eating anemones.
The lake is lined with dense mangrove systems around its margins. The roots are covered in technicolored sponges making this a real treasure trove for underwater photographers. The small size of the dome meant I could tuck my strobes in close and really get in among the mangrove roots and capture some of the incredible shapes and colours of this amazing ecosystem.

Another unusual encounter to experience in this area are the Whale Sharks that take advantage of the free food underneath the fishing platforms (bagans). What makes this encounter a bit more unusual is that the sharks are attracted by the lights from the bagans and usually show up in the early hours of the morning and hang around until the nets are lifted around sunrise. This meant getting out there before sunrise every morning, leaving the resort at 05:30. Each evening I would set my camera and housing up so I was ready for the next morning. The vacuum system that is now fitted as standard on Nauticam housings is invaluable. The easy to use system meant that a quick check of the green light before we headed out gave me the peace of mind and confidence to get straight into the water when the action started.
Jumping into pitch black water before the sunrise with one or more 10m + sharks is not for the faint hearted. Photographically it was also one of the most challenging environments I had been in. The low light meant it was impossible to stop and look for controls on my housing. With the NA5DSR this is never the case as the ergonomic controls are very intuitive allowing me to concentrate on focusing, composition and light (or lack of). Even when the sun did rise the water is very green often with a lot of particulate. This meant strobes all the way back to my elbows trying to minimise back scatter.


Although the area is rich in amazing photographic opportunity it is not an easy place to take pictures mainly due to the ever changing weather and sea conditions. That being said Nauticams line of rugged, intuitive and innovative products makes it a lot easier!


To see more of Joe's work: