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.
My home base is in Woodridge, Ilinois, a quiet area in the western suburbs of Chicago, but I’m gone about half the year for work. I’m the science editor of Ocean Geographic Magazine, a quarterly ocean conservation publication headquartered in Sydney, Australia, where I serve as an underwater photographer and environmental journalist. I’ve been shooting professionally for about six years, and I always say that I’ll go anywhere there’s water! That being said, Raja Ampat, Indonesia, and the high Arctic are probably my two favorite places on Earth. So far.
As a biologist, nature is endlessly fascinating to me. After I began writing environmental pieces for work, I decided to really buckle down with my photography so I could create images to accompany my articles, and I’ve been intoxicated by the craft since. The incredible underwater photographs of Ernie Brooks, Michael AW, David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes have remained a constant source of inspiration for me, and I am incredibly fortunate to now call them not just mentors, but friends.
I come from a science background, and am an insufferable biology nerd who never seems to run out of unsolicited animal facts or terrible nature puns. I just can’t kelp myself! Silliness aside, my fascination with organismal biology means that I’m always on the lookout for behaviors to photograph that will tell a compelling story about an animal, and understanding the science behind a behavior makes it easier to capture.
NANPA and me
I have been a NANPA member for two years now, and least year I was recognized in the mammals category with my image of a sea lion bursting through a school of fish. With all the isolation of the pandemic, I was looking for novel ways to connect with the photographic community. It’s great to have the chance to attend webinars, meet like-minded individuals, plan future trips, and work towards creating ever more impactful images.
Website: www.bluering.blue and www.ogsocitey.org
Instagram: @noblue.nogreen, @blueringinc, @oceangeographic
Facebook: Alex Rose, Blue Ring, Inc, and Ocean Geographic