One of my dear friends and photography idols is Tony Wu. He is a pleasant individual who is sometimes fun to be around. We have done a number of trips together over the past decade, most of which he works hard to forget. Anyway, years ago I saw some of his brilliant images of the red snapper spawning aggregation in Palau which inspired my own desire to photograph schools of fish having sex during my 2019 visit. The spawning only takes place a few days each month in the early morning hours the few days before the full moon. I planned my trip to coincide with these dates. Because the diving was going to happen before sunrise, I knew that it was going to be quite dark underwater. I was going to need my bulky underwater strobes and get as close as possible to the action. As I dove into the dark water and descended to the bottom, there were probably 8000 fish balled up together. I knew my air supply was going to get used up fast based on the depth I was diving to and my need to swim as fast as possible whenever they rocketed back to the surface to spawn. Needless to say, I did not have a very long dive, but was fortunate to come away with this fantastic image of an inspiring wildlife spectacle.
One of my favorite subjects to photograph underwater are clown anemonefish. I can spend an entire dive photographing them as they dart about in a comical, yet exasperated state. I encountered this red and black anemonefish while visiting Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands in 2019. While trying to create an image like this, I am dealing with multiple issues that my non-underwater photography friends are probably unaware of. I have to be aware of my surroundings, pay attention to the amount of air left in my tank, control my buoyancy, adjust my cumbersome camera equipment, and then hope that some of my images are properly exposed and in focus. Every once in a while, I get lucky and capture a moment like this. I like how the fish was off center while staring directly at me. I think it is especially amusing that it had one eye looking up and the other eye was looking down.
In October 2019, I realized one of my life-long dreams and traveled to the Solomon Islands. I have been sitting on these images for over a year, but now want to start sharing them. The Solomon Islands are infamous for the fierce fighting that took place there between the US Marines and Japanese forces during World War II. They are also a series of idyllic tropical islands surrounded by coral reefs and home to a diverse people with exotic cultures. I began my trip by scuba diving for 10 days at a tiny resort located in Marovo Lagoon. I was the only guest for all but my last few days, though to be fair, they could only host a maximum of 4 guests. I was there long enough that I was able to learn the local reefs and planned my dives around the tidal currents. This image is from my favorite wall next to the village. I was enthralled with the top of the wall covered in soft corals with the mangroves hanging above. This location was at the end of my favorite dive, so I planned accordingly to spend a lot of time there. At less than 10 feet deep, I was able to suck my scuba tank empty as I worked the wall for photos. I loved photographing this spot so much that the dive guides renamed it “Jon’s Spot” in my honor. Sadly, I recently learned that the older American women who ran the resort recently passed away. Lisa was a good friend and she will be missed.
I created this image on my last whale watching trip to Maui with my photography friends in February 2020. It is actually one of my closest photo encounters that I have ever had with a humpback whale. All I did was lean over the engine and dip my underwater housing in the ocean as this whale swam right up to the stern of the boat. Perhaps I wasted a lot of time over the past 2 decades trying to swim with whales and never previously getting this close? Since I was shooting “blind” with a fisheye lens, I was fortunate that I did not clip this animal’s tail in at least one of my images in this burst series at 10fps. There is so much detail in this image and especially the whale’s eye, that I am currently featuring a higher-resolution version on my website’s homepage slideshow. Please check it out and let me know what you think?
How is this for a wildlife photo? While visiting Tonga in September, I encountered this curious humpback whale mother and calf underwater. They were initially swimming from my right to left. My guide and friend, Ken Howard, were also in the water just to my left. Suddenly, the whales turned and swam directly towards us. It all happened so fast that I could only point my camera in their general direction and push the shutter release without looking. If I had got any closer using a fisheye lens I would have gotten run over. Oh, wait. That did happen.
One of the highlights of my adventure-filled life was being able to take my younger daughter, Chloe, scuba diving in Indonesia this past June. We had an amazing time and she got to see what a healthy coral reef looked like. It was not really an underwater photography trip, but I still brought along my Ikelite housing to take a few photos when the opportunities presented themselves. This is my favorite image from a dive site in Komodo National Park called Batu Bolong. I became enamored with this coral and sponge covered rock and love how the sun filtered through the water column while the reef fishes swirled above me.
Today, I was supposed to be flying to Australia for the first time to visit Lord Howe Island. Unfortunately, I broke my left little toe last Friday and can barely walk. So, instead I now find myself at home for a few extra weeks with plenty of neglected work to get caught up on.
One of my humpback whale images from Alaska is published in the current issue of Ranger Rick. My image is the smaller inset in the bottom right. I was delighted to see that my friend and photography tour partner Tony Wu‘s underwater image was the main double page spread. Congrats, Tony! It is admirable that in this current age of everyone being a photographer and the competitive nature of the business that the two of us have worked together so effectively for almost a decade. I look forward to our next 10 years of adventures and friendship.
I recently returned home to the island of Kauai after spending the last month visiting family and friends on “the mainland”. While vacationing with my wife’s family on the East Coast, I spent a few days photographing sharks from Rhode Island. It was a fantastic experience and I might even go so far as to claim that it was my favorite shark trip that I have ever done. Brian was a fantastic host and guide, and though the boat ride left me a little green in the gills each day, I would highly encourage any aspiring shark photographer to book a trip with Pelagic Expeditions.
I had hoped to photograph a mako shark during my 3 days on the water, but only saw one a few fleeting times. Dang, it was fast and my photos unremarkable. Fortunately, there were a lot of curious blue sharks that stayed around the boat and provided me with plenty of photo opportunities. This is one of my favorite images of a blue shark passing incredibly close to my dome port. I need to point out that I was not in a cage, but simply floating on the surface while having the hull of the boat against my back for safety. There were usually 2 or 3 blue sharks swimming around, so it was easy to keep track of them, but by my last dive there were at least a half dozen sharks taking turns at bumping into my camera. I spent about 30 minutes in the water solo before deciding that I had enough of sharks bumping into me.
I have to admit that it was wonderful to get back in the water scuba diving during my recent South Pacific adventure. All the transitions and disruptions in my life the last few years simply did not leave me with any time to be able to dive. The last time I really dove was 4 years ago when I first visited Fiji. Fortunately, my recent trip to Vanuatu required me to fly through Fiji, so I planned a week of diving on the Rainbow Reef in the Somosomo Straits. This was an area that I had not visited during my previous trip, but had always heard fantastic things about. I flew up to Taveuni and stayed at a wonderful resort for 10 days. I ended up diving with another resort than where I was staying, but it all worked out. Over the course of 9 days of diving, I got to know a few sites exceptionally well and planned my subsequent dives around the ideal currents. The current was totally ripping when I created this image, so it was challenging to say the least. This is one of my favorite bommies which was covered in soft corals while being enveloped in clouds of colorful anthias.
This is my favorite underwater walrus image from my Svalbard sailing expedition last summer with my co-leader Tony Wu. Early in our trip, we encountered walrus resting on iceflows with ideal blue sky conditions that allowed for great underwater visibility. As both the trip leader and inflatable boat driver, I cautiously motored towards a group of walrus to allow my clients to photograph them without disturbing them. Eventually, I delicately approached them and got close enough to extend my underwater polecam out to shoot the most curious animal. I love how he is looking right at the camera and the detail in this image is truly amazing.