How did you capture the bluebottle image "Sailing"?

August 21, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

SailingSailingA Portuguese man o war cnidaria (Physalia physalis) sailing on a stormy morning at Bushrangers Bay NSW Australia. This image was a finalist in the NHM/BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards 2014.

All Limited Edition prints are made on fine art matte paper with a 1 inch (2.5cm) white signature border around and hand signed and numbered by Matty Smith. All editions are limited to 100 prints of each size only, numbered in ascending order and come complete with a certificate of authenticity.

During strong summer nor’easterly winds, the east coast of Australia sees huge armadas of Portuguese Man o War siphonophores (AKA Physalia Physalis or “Bluebottle”) washed ashore. Often mistaken as a jellyfish, though it is not. Each individual Man o war is a colony of four different types of organism living together in a symbiotic relationship, a floating city of animals if you like, each one with it’s own important job to support the colony.

This image was taken in a place called Bushrangers Bay in Shellharbour NSW.  I had noticed that the Man o wars often get trapped in the bay making them slightly easier to photograph in their natural environment. I wanted to pick out the beautiful colouration and detail in the tentacles against the eerie darkness of a stormy early morning. The wild atmosphere adds testament to the lifestyle of this sailor of the open seas.

Despite shooting all manner of different scenes and creatures with my over/under style the Portuguese man of war was by far the most difficult. What you don’t see in the still image is the constantly changing dynamics of what’s going on. The ocean is surging back and forth, the wind is blowing and these guys are perfect sailors – they motor along in the slightest breeze! And you’re trying to frame all this up whilst treading water or swimming along side trying not to get stung. It can be frustrating at the best of times!!

Lighting was the most critical component of this image, I needed to retain the desired darkness of water yet pick out the detail of the animal. This took lots of experimentation with different techniques over several weeks. Eventually employing the use of fibre optic snoots on my underwater flashes enabled me to pick out just the right amount of detail without over exposing too much of the surrounding ambiance.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5mm f2.8 Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing


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