Night dive! This was the moment when I realized that diving in the dark dark ocean with sharks somewhere about was not so scary as the result of obtaining a worthy night image. This was the moment that opened my mind to the concept. “Fish on a platter” I was hooked and enjoyed and sought night dives whenever I could.
I discovered there are no words that come to mind. This photo is a night dive shot of a stone fish. You don’t mess with them; they are dangerous. I never did – mess with one. The warning was enough. I don’t know why not? I was never known to take warnings without some degree of skepticism. I should’ve/would’ve tried at some point…. This was the genesis of my love for night diving. Call it: “Stonefish on a platter.” This was it! It was the image that hooked me. It was not the first night dive. But when I put this image up in Lightroom, oh my! Can you say, “I was blown away?” You might laugh. I am. I just came across this image in a random sorting. This was the genesis of my enthusiasm for night dives. Shhh, cue the “Jaws” movie music. In a night dive it really is dark in the deep blue sea. And, the shark is out there waiting to eat you…. dum dum, dum dum….
This was the quintessential image that “hooked” (ha ha) me on night dives. Night dive? Sharks are out there in the dark?!! No. They don’t like the light. They think it’s a big eye; they don’t come near night divers. Hmmm? Who had a conversation with a shark and found that info out? I consider that bright flashing light a dinner bell, “Come one, come all, dinner is served!”
My first night dive during my “advanced” course was totally forgettable. I wasn’t allowed to take my camera. Drat! And double drat! We didn’t see much. It’s surprising how boring things are when you don’t carry a camera. But this image was taken during a boat dive and a night dive. We actually had a guy on the boat who was afraid of the dark and didn’t go into the water. Funny. But near the end of our dive, there it was – a stonefish on a platter. My! Everything was right (including the stars!) – I got this shot. Perfect! Well, for me it was so special to see this as I edited. Wow! You might be jaded and fail to see the difficulties that all culminated in this image. Me? I was just so impressed with everything that came together in that fraction of a second. What an image! Night dive? I was there ever after. We did not do many. It was not a thing that folks wanted to much wait around to do. Generally, we did a couple day dives and then moved along with our day activities. It was even rare to do a third day dive. I’d have gone (diving) morning till night. I appreciated the special moments and that they could end any time. Alas!
Stonefish are not bright red. They are bright red. How? Well, the light is filtered and red color fades as you go deeper under the sea. A flash will bring out what would otherwise be a dull colored fish and make it really stand out. Under the sea it actually looks pretty dull.
Sometimes the stonefish is really pretty ugly. And color can do it no improvement. This guy was posturing. He lifted his head as I took his pic. So I got a bit of pink. He did not intentionally pose for me. He wasn’t warning me off. Stonefish are pretty mellow. Both fish are very easy to miss. They don’t move. The human eye is sensitive to movement. It’s about survival. Something moving is a potential threat. These fish just lie still and blend into the surrounding coral. It’s worth a picture anytime we see one. It’s so nice that they pose for me.
A one eyed fish? Is it a cataract? All I can tell you is that there is no fish surgeon in the sea. Fascinating. It’s not that he’s got his eye closed and he’s winking at you. Fish do not have eye lids. This is problematic when you want to get some “shut eye.” But then again I’m not sure they sleep. Anyway, it’s an odd observation. Fishes with disabilities, do they have rights?
Here’s a behavior I don’t see very much. Isn’t that the point? Common things are not as interesting as the unusual. Stonefish were a lot of fun and good images when I first saw them. They don’t move too much and you can shoot away. But I have hundreds of images.
So what’s different? I found one and was shooting away. But then my buddy wrested the camera from my grasp and moved in and magically got this shot. I swear he did not speak to the fish underwater to get him to do this behavior.
Colorful mouth. Look closely.
See? It’s easy. Huh? Well, I didn’t see it. The group of divers I was with went nuts. Everyone was taking pictures. I thought is was because he had his mouth open this is unusual behavior by itself. I did not know the fish has inside lips that are colorful. Neat!
Whoa! I mean, whoa!! On my computer screen there is a fish inside. He ate him whole. Why did he swallow him head first. I guess tail first is not as tasty. But it would have been a nicer picture. Meanwhile the fish never moved as he attempted to swallow his meal whole. Would that be like hook, line, and sinker?
Another stonefish here, it illustrates the point. I did not see this guy either.
The fish was buried and the buddy I was with had a certain talent for picking up the eyes from the sand. Really, this is hard for me and I knew what they were pointing to.
In fact the fish is hardly photogenic. I am sure that I would have missed this fish if I was swimming alone.
This is unlike any stonefish I ever encountered before. My dive buddy saw it. This is a diver I have never been under with. It’s nice to have a fresh pair of eyes. He apparently knew what to look for. I came up to where he was pointing and saw nothing. He started waving his hand and raising the sand. Then the lump revealed itself.
The tiny eyes on the top of the head were really all that had been showing. How the heck did he see this! I’d never have spied this at all. And he was fast. As soon as he scurried and settled onto a new patch of sand he quickly buried himself. I doubt I will see this fish again.
I realize that there are different stonefish. This guy is colorful cute and cooperative. I see them for the details in the eyes and mouth. Otherwise it is entirely easy to miss them. And believe me this fish is not interesting in being detected. This group is dangerous and venomous. Familiarity may be dangerous. But these fish are pretty sedate. They don’t bother me as long as I don’t bother it. I can get in close with my camera. Just follow the rules. Don’t touch anything.
This is a definite dividend to an underwater strobe. The colors of this stonefish pop. I had a similar image during a night dive when I used the on camera flash. I have provided a couple images that were not lit with flash. Obviously the stonefish prefers to be camouflaged. So I am uncertain. I am told dogs are colorblind. What do fish see? Color or black and white? Are the images fish see such that the stonefish are hard to see. I think the answer is yes the camouflage is good.
Get in close. My early pictures were less so. I got brave. So far I have not been injured. Rule: don’t touch anything. Corollary: Don’t let anything touch you. Stonefish are supposed to be poisonous and dangerous. Myth or truth? Don’t touch anything. So familiarity breeds…. and I am braver and getting closer all the time. I’m not seeing any teeth and the fish is quite docile. It just sits there and stares at me staring at it. So far so good.
I take it for granted that you can easily see the fish in this picture. So I was surprised when Farid’s kids did not see this stonefish immediately. Right there!! It so easy. His kids are 6 and 4. Kelly the younger was not able to see the fish till we pointed it out. I was interested to realize that her eye is different than what I see so easily. I use the eye as my point of photographic focus.
From a different perspective, I guess I realize that stone fish are not easy to see in the wild. I easily do not see them because the blend to well with the coral background. Sometimes it’s nice to realize a different viewpoint.
I’m almost ready to commit to a more reliable external flash. This would be major money and more to try to keep dry and safe. My on-camera flash is helpful. It certainly works during a night dive. I can get very sharp images in available light. There is a definite boost to the color when flash is in play. My question? How do fish see? You may notice the fish eye bulge to the lens of the eye. And the pupil is dilated to catch all available light. But is the color spectrum of the fish eye the same as mine. In other words are colors drab and muted underwater or are the fish perceiving the bright brilliant riot of color I capture in the flash image? Help! I need a fish translator. I suppose it would not help to ask if some fish are colorblind.
Duh!? It finally dawned on me. I’ve been photographing stone fish regularly for three years. The come in different colors. There was one bright pink one I saw for a while. He did not blend with the surrounding coral. The again, what is the color of the stone fish supposed to be? Underwater things are tricky with light and color. Colors change with depth. Reds become muted.
And then the stone fish I see are sedentary. They don’t move. They are said to be dangerous with poisonous spines. The teeth and bite are not poisonous. The stone fish attacks in a few milliseconds and eats its unsuspecting prey by creating a vacuum that sucks the fish into its mouth. Well and good, but I did not realize the fish change color. Octopus and cuttle fish change. So too do the stone fish. I actually found this guy myself. After a couple shots, it got skittish. Usually they stay perfectly still. I can move in close for a shot. I admit I have been bold. I get right up in their face. This guy was nervous. He moved away. And then he took off again. The camera was not his buddy or he was camera shy. Maybe … well he did not bite. Reviewing my images it finally dawned on me.
The color changes were not due to the depth. The fish was trying to blend with the coral. Octopi act this way. They don’t change immediately. It takes a few seconds. Voila. Lightbulb! Aha!
There are variation and different names. The general category of these fish consists of bottom dwellers who lie in wait for prey. They are camouflaged well. Their prey are unsuspecting fish going by. This odd color teal is a first for me. It is pretty, but he kind of stands out. When he swims the underside of his fins are bright orange and yellow. To make sense of the shot, you look for the eyes and the mouth. Of course don’t get close. They are said to be very poisonous.
The camouflage is really good. And it’s part of the fish. It’s not something that was added or some fungus growing on the fish’s skin. I think about how animals adapt and evolve and nature is really amazing. It’s so easy to overlook another non-descript piece of coral.
But once you see it, it’s the eye you notice, then the body and fins. If you’re lucky you will see the mouth open slightly. The eye is just a black round spot for the pupil. It seems that they don’t blink. I’m pretty consistent with taking pictures where the human subject blinked. It was uncanny how my dog Nellie would be caught mid-blink every time I used a flash… really, just about every time.
This one was lying among the rocks at an angle so well that it was a miracle that one of buddies noticed it. You can see the outline of the mouth pointed in a frown. And you see two spots for eyes but that’s not where the eyes really are located. If you are unwary in shallow water you could easily step on this rock and get a very rude surprise. In a profile view it is easier to pick out the outlines of a fish. As I sit and look on the computer monitor it’s easy to pick out the eye. Without this recognition it’s hard to confirm this is a fish.
And then there was the dive where we found one under a ledge. We happened to swim back the same way and found not one, but two stonefish together. I didn’t know they hung out together… maybe for mating. As dangerous as they are, I’m not sure I’d be hanging with another stonefish.
Here’s something unexpected. We found this stonefish sitting pretty on a coral platter. I expect that he was just waiting for dinner to arrive rather than he was posing for dinner himself. But, at night the fish traffic is way down. I would think that the odds of surprising an unsuspecting fish would be better during the day. It seems that if you ever see a stonefish it is sitting perfectly still and doesn’t move until it’s ready to strike. So I got in pretty close with the camera again. An I even got to swim around to the other side. Perhaps I would have done more, but the dive group had moved on… and you never leave your wingman.
This one is my third stonefish. They’re rare to see. Julia and I saw two on one dive (posted on 4/22/2013). She recalls that they’re also called scorpionfish. They are considered the most venomous of fish. There have been a few reported deaths. Mostly it’s because an unsuspecting swimmer steps on one or pick it up. I already know to avoid touching anything. Even the coral can be irritating. I’m still itching from my brush up with some coral that I didn’t mean to get near.