Watching and photographing huge masses of creatures is fascinating. From schools of fish and murmurations of starlings, to colonies of ants and swarms of people, it is incredible to see thousands of individuals moving as what appear to be a single organism. Shoaling behavior in sardines is the epitome of group movement, and it was a real treat to visit this shallow dive site in the Sea of Cortez and be able to just hang in 30 feet of water and watch this spectacle. After being completely surrounded for about 15 minutes, the cloud of sardines lifted off the bottom to reveal Eliot, a diver and fellow underwater photographer, who had until then been obscured by all the fish, adding some much-needed perspective to my image.
How I got the shot
I regularly return to this specific dive site (Los Islotes in La Paz) because it is frequented by shoaling sardines in the fall, but this was by far the densest I’ve ever seen the fish there. Silver fishes are extremely reflective, so it is easy to “blow them out” by using too much light. I was careful to have my strobes firing at quarter power so as to only highlight the sardines; this setting also allows the lights to recycle much faster so you never miss a shot.
What I used
I shot this image with a Canon 5D Markiii and Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens in an Aquatica housing complete with two Ikelite DS-161 strobes. Camera settings were 1/200 second at f/11, and the strobes were on manual at quarter power.