Call Them and They Will Come

According to marine biologists, it is not OK to touch the mantas. I was told that it could lead to skin infections on the animal. But years ago we were allowed to tickle their underside if they came to us. It seemed as though the mantas saw divers as big cleaner fish. They would circle around to check us out. Trying to get the manta to come to me took some serious underwater telepathy. I stayed very still in the water and waved one arm above me to get the manta’s attention. I looked it in the eye, sang to it, and called it to come to me like a would a puppy. It did work and mantas did come to me over and over again. Watching a massive animal swimming a bee-line straight at me was a bit unnerving. I was tempted to duck out of the way, but it gently glided directly above my head. I could reach up to touch it.

Several year ago I had a wonderful encounter with a manta at The Boiler. She came to me over and over again for a belly rub. When she stopped swimming directly above me, we would both start sinking. Mind you she has to weigh a thousand pounds. I had to push myself out from under her and swim back up to shallower water, where she looped around to meet me. This went on about four or five times in a succession. Other divers who were watching said she would roll her cephalic fins and twitch her wing tips when I was tickling her.

I have seen the same manta on return trips to San Benedicto Island. I like to think that she remembers me. For now she’ll have to settle for bubbles.

Stealth Manta

Another lucky shot very close to the surface. Shot totally in manual mode with natural light.

Planning Ahead To Get The Shot

I’ve got hundreds of manta shots, but just a handful of really good ones. When reviewing my images from any trip, I always look at them with the thought in mind of how I could make any particular image even better. Perhaps by changing the angle I’m shooting at, or the position I’m shooting from.

The ocean doesn’t always give you what you want, but if you know in your head what you’re looking for, you’ll be ready to capture it when the opportunity arises.

Before a December trip aboard the Solmar V to Socorro, I “Photoshopped” some composites of the perfect shot I wanted to capture, so I had the images in mind all the while I was diving. We had beautiful, calm water at Roca Partida, bright blue skies above, and a black manta that didn’t want us to get out of the water on our last dive of the day. I knew exactly where I needed to be (manta between me and the sun, near the surface), how I needed to set my camera to capture the rays and exactly when to trip the shutter.

The interesting part of my experiment was that I also got many other interesting variations of the shot that I wasn’t expecting.

Marvelous Mantas!

One of my favorite animals to shoot is the giant Pacific manta ray and the best place to do this is at the Revillagigedos Archipelago, more commonly known as the Socorro Islands, or simply Socorro. The visibility is often beyond 100′ and the combination of bright sun, crystal clear blue water, and extremely friendly mantas sets the scene for the perfect manta shot.

This doesn’t mean there are no obstacles when photographing them. This week I’m going to show you some of my favorite manta shots and tell you how I captured the shot.

Toward the end of fabulous trip in March 2010 on the Solmar V, I noticed two trevally tailing a manta. Since I was using a fisheye lens on my Nikon D300, I was much closer to the manta than it looks in the photo, trying to avoid running into the manta while working on the best possible composition. I had the camera set for manual exposure (1/250), and strobes set manually at 1/2 power. The trick here was to shoot in high speed continuous mode. This allowed me to capture nearly 20 different versions of this scene, some with strobe power and some without (strobes cannot recharge that fast). Then I could pick the best of the bunch.

I’m headed back to Socorro in March 2012 for another photo workshop. There are only two standard spots left, so email me if you’re interested in attending!

Bird Brained Ideas

OK, I got delayed a few days over the holidays. So let me pick up where I left off before Christmas…

On our way back from Galapagos we were all waiting in the outdoor snack area at the airport for our flight to Guayaquil. The birds kept swooping down to steal food off the tables. So we thought we would try to get a bird to eat off of Steve’s head. We propped him up against the wall, sprinkled breadcrumb on his hat and made him sit perfectly still. The entire restaurant was silent as we watched the birds come closer and closer. Finally we had a taker. The whole restaurant cheered!