Hermit Crab Addiction

Hermit crab, Loch Long
A hermit crab (Pagarus bernhardus) watching the divers swim by, Loch Long. Nikon D200 in Sea & Sea housing, Tokina 10-17mm, twin Sea & Sea YS-110a strobes

Does anyone else find hermit crabs additive photographic subjects? I find it very hard to swim past one and not oblige it with a portrait. I’m not sure why they’re so addictive. It might be because they seem to ooze character with their cheeky body language and their habit of stationing themselves in prominent locations. It might be because of the amazing range of shells they occupy- all shapes and sizes and even with holes in; the shells are also often adorned with other sea creatures along for the ride. It might be their strong red colour, which often looks striking on a bland dive site. Or, it might be the challenge of capturing all the fabulous detail of their heads and claws.

They are a very common subject, but they are not an easy one to photograph well. There is a lot of white on their shell, which is easy to burn out with the flash. Talking of flash- black background or green water? They have a habit of sitting in an inviting position and, just as the camera is almost in the best spot, moving jerkily off. Those eyes on stalks are complemented by antennae long and short, and one must capture them just in the right position for a pleasing photo.

Well, this I could not swim past this fella in Loch Long. I was shooting with a fisheye and he (she?) was large and sitting well off the flat sea bed on a piece of kelp. An inviting position and a co-operative subject. There was however, rather more silt in the water for my liking. Nevertheless, I blasted off a dozen or so shots. I’m fairly pleased with this shot, but it won’t keep me swimming past the next hermit I see…


Getting snooty

Backscatter is a constant problem in underwater photography. So, the less water is lit up, the “cleaner” the image. I have always struggled with backscatter in these turbid UK waters and I have marvelled at the spotlessly clean images produced by other photographers. My buddy Trevor introduced me to the idea of “snoots”, which limit the area of lighting from a strobe, and which produce noticeably cleaner images, as well as opening up interesting lighting possibilities.

In his typically practical way, Trev uses various plant pots and cut-down drinks bottles to produce the fabulous lighting in his images. I’ve made my own “Trev-style” bottle snoot and very much enjoyed the images it has allowed me to produce.

Here’s a pic of Trev at work, with his Nikon 85mm macro lens and dioptre (which is why you can’t see the subject of his photo!).

Trevor Rees at work in Loch Long using home-made snoots. This one in use is made from a Tonic Water bottle, so making it involves drinking a Gin and Tonic! This image was taken with D200 and Tokina 10-17 lens @10mm and lit with dual Sea & Sea YS-110 strobes.


Campervan on the Loch shore
Campervan on the Loch shore as we prepare to dive

Diving a new site, possibly one that has not been dived before carries a great deal of excitement. Firstly, the dive begins well before one has even left home, let alone travelled the (in my case) usually considerable distance to the dive site.

Last week, my buddy and I dived in Loch Striven, a sea loch not that far from Glasgow and yet with a very pleasing feeling of remoteness. We did not find very many places to pull the van off the road and be able to get into the water, but we discovered a couple of very pleasant locations.

Entering the water, there is the thrill of the unknown- the charts give clues to the terrain and topology and, therefore, the species which may be seen. What will the visibility be like? Will I add a new species to my list?

In the case of Loch Striven, the dive was pleasant but did not reveal any new species. The highlight of the diving was the large number of very co-operative squat lobsters, hiding under every stone. A species which will usually withdraw into its hole as the camera approaches to a useful shooting distance, these were tolerant enough for me to approach very closely and try out some new techniques using a snoot on what is, for me, an oft-photographed species.

Squat lobster photographed in Loch Striven
Squat Lobster (Munida rugosa) in Loch Striven. Nikon D200 + Nikon 60mm lens. Single strobe with "Trev-style" bottle snoot.

Loch Striven

Cruising along the Eastern shore of Loch Striven, we found a nice spot to pull the camper off the road. The sea bed falls away very quickly and the Vis is quite good, with sandy, stony base. Not a great variety of subjects to go at with my camera, but some very co-operative long-clawed squat lobsters made the gas time pass pretty quickly.

Braving the rain for a second dive, we took a different direction and found different terrain and different species. Much more sandy/silty and lots to see, though at this time of year we did miss the fish.