Underwater Photography 101: “Peak of the Action”


A great underwater action shot can be the most challenging objective a photographer faces. Not only does it require that the photographer be thoroughly prepared, but patience and a fair amount of luck are involved as well. Perhaps the easiest of these requirements is being prepared.

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#1  Be Prepared

The image above is what we call a “grab shot.” A fast moving animal swims by, and you quickly grab an image and hope for the best. Or do you? This image was taken at the end of my dive as I was completing my safety stop. Previous to this shot, I had been shooting images with a sun-ball and so had my aperture stopped down and shutter speed high. Before I started my ascent, I changed my camera settings to f/8 and 1/125th just in case something came by. The key here, is that I prepared ahead of time for the possibility of a grab shot. I had seen some sea lions playing near the surface, and I hoped I would be able to get an action shot of them. Being prepared means that you are aware of what the possibilities are, and before you move on looking for your next subject, you set up your camera for the possibility. A good rule of thumb to remember is “f/8 and be there,” and a shutter speed matching the conditions (i.e.  With our without strobes? Close to the surface or deeper?) In this case, I used ambient light, and so had my shutter speed down a little. I could have used a faster shutter speed to freeze the action, but that would have required strobes, and I would not have achieved the great reflections of the sun on the sea lion’s body.

#2  Patience

Wait for it….

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Wait for it….

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Not yet…

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 Okay, NOW!

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It’s great to get a frog fish yawning, but knowing when the mouth will be open at its widest is the key to getting a “peak of the action” shot here. Spend a bit of time observing your subject if it is something that will hang around for a while. This frog fish yawned several times during the thirty minutes or so that I spent with it. It took a lot of patience and a lot of shots to get a keeper.

#3 What Does Luck Have To Do With It?

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Luck may have less to do with it than you think. And yet, it is a factor. You can increase your chances of being lucky by being prepared, and increase them even more by studying your subjects. Many subjects will hang around for a while or may even live permanently in a specific place or area of a reef. If you want to get an image of a cardinal fish with a mouth full of eggs, for example, take the time to study the fish. Find out which ones are carrying eggs and what their habits are. Watch them and see how often they aerate the eggs and what the signs are that they are about to spit them out, or move them around.

mandarin fish spawning, with eggs

mandarin fish spawning, with eggs

These Mandarin fish mate at dusk in a predictable pattern.  The only bit of “luck” needed here was snapping the shot the moment the eggs were released.

Comorant fishing

Cormorant fishing

This cormorant along with several others made a number of dives through the huge baitball they were feeding on.  All I had to do was wait for it to come close enough (that was the “luck” factor) for a shot. Once you can identify the patterns of your subjects, you are much more likely to get the money shot:  “The Peak of the Action!”

If you have suggestions for underwater photography tips, or questions, please feel free to leave comments below.

As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me

How would you like your eggs? (Part 1)


Sometimes a photographer gets lucky and the shot of a lifetime appears right before her eyes.  Most of the time, however, it takes a great deal of planning, patience, and hard work to get that perfect shot.  I recently returned from the Philippines where I planned to find and photograph creatures that were brooding eggs.  I was fairly lucky, as I found so many beasties with eggs, that I will have to split this post in to two parts!  The images that follow are a combination of luck, patience, planning, and even a little courage and prayer.

Anemone Fish Eggs

Anemone Fish Eggs

Truly, anemone fish make the most beautiful babies!  It turns out that those cute little Nemos are fiercely protective of their brood.  I was bitten at least four times as I got in close to photograph the nest.  Fortunately for me, anemone fish have small mouths, and I was wearing a wetsuit, so it was all in good fun.  (At least from my perspective)

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In contrast to a nest of tiny anemone fish eggs, is this relatively huge (about the size of a marble) cuttlefish egg.  The interesting thing about this egg is that the cuttlefish inside is nearly developed and ready to hatch.  What a roomy apartment he has!

Clownfish Eggs

Clownfish Eggs

Surprisingly, the colorful Clownfish produces rather plain children.  In the image above, an isopod is attempting to feed on one of the eggs.

Jawfish with eggs

Jawfish with eggs

The Jawfish above has eggs that are new.  She carries the eggs in her mouth and lives in a tunnel in the sand.  The Jawfish below has eggs that are more developed.  You can begin to see the eyes of her babies appearing.  This jawfish tested my patience as I waited nearly forty-five minutes for her to poke her head out of her hole.  When she finally did, it was only to pull a piece of coral over the opening so I couldn’t see her anymore.  I guess I wasn’t welcome.

Jawfish with eggs

Jawfish with eggs

I hunted for this cardinal fish for several days.  They typically stay in a school just hovering under a ledge or table coral.  In the school, there will be one fish that has a triangular shaped jaw and that is the one that is brooding the eggs in it’s mouth.  Once spotted, I had to wait for the fish to aerate the eggs so I could take a photograph.  They move the eggs around in their mouth which causes them to extrude a little.  This process only lasts a few seconds, so I was only able to get one shot.  This fish’s eggs are new and yolky.  They have not developed eyes yet.

Cardinal fish with eggs

Cardinal fish with eggs

Of course, the beautiful Mandarin fish deserve an encore for their mating dance.  Their eggs are not brooded, but simply float into the water column, or settle down into the coral.

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–To be continued…  Please stay tuned for part-two of this post which will focus on invertebrates and crustaceans with eggs!