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Queensland AIPP Science, Wildlife & Wild Places Photographer of the Year 2015

Queensland AIPP Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 award

Each year, Queensland’s working photographers can enter their recent work into the AIPP Queensland Professional Photography Awards. The AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography) is the leading industry body for photographers in Australia.

There are several categories in the awards; I entered my prints into the Science, Wildlife & Wild Places category. A panel of five expert judges score each print, evaluating the image itself as well as print quality and presentation. For each category, the three photographers with the highest aggregate score are considered for the overall category winner; the three finalists were Darren Jew, Gary Cranitch, and me. This year I was delighted to be named the winner.

Here’s a bit about my four images. All are underwater macro photos taken during a recent expedition to the Solomon Islands.

Ghost-goby on Hard Coral

QPPA Gold award (score of 91)

Underwater macro photograph of a Ghostgoby sitting on a hard coral polyp
Nikon D810, Nikon 105mm macro lens, f22, 1/160th sec, ISO 100, two strobes

This 1-inch ghost-goby (Pleurosicya micheli) is a plankton feeder. Having eyes on the top of its head allows it to scan the passing current for a suitable mouthful of plankton. These little fish are territorial, sticking to one small patch of coral. They launch themselves into the water column to catch plankton, then quickly return to the safety of the coral. I waited and hoped he would land on the largest coral polyp in his territory, which would make a nice composition—and he did just that a couple of times.

Josh happened to be filming me while I was photographing this ghost-goby (video above). You can see that the small patch of coral was encrusted on the hull of a shipwreck. This was in the Solomon Islands.

Juvenile Lionfish Hunting

QPPA Silver with Distinction award (score of 85)

Underwater macro photograph of a juvenile Lionfish (Pterois volitans) hunting behaviour.
Nikon D810, Nikon 60mm macro lens, f3.2, 1/320th sec, ISO 125, two strobes

The venomous Lionfish hunts with its head down, its eyes scanning the substrate for prey. It uses flamboyant pectoral fins to corral small species into its strike zone. This is a common species of fish that has been photographed many times before, so I tried to photograph it differently: a behaviour shot using a tiny depth of field.

Crocodilefish Camouflage

QPPA Silver award (score of 84)

Underwater photograph of a Crocodilefish's head, showing perfect camouflage against the coral rubble substrate.
Nikon D810, Nikon 105mm macro lens, f20, 1/320th sec, ISO 250, two strobes

The Crocodilefish (a type of flathead) is an ambush predator that relies on perfect camouflage to hide in plain sight. Even the black pupils are disguised with a frilly lappet. I tried to show some of the fish’s immediate surroundings, so that you could see how effective his camouflage is. Finding these cryptic creatures can be a challenge; often, the trick is to look for symmetry in a field of asymmetry.

Coral Hermit Crab Feeding

QPPA Silver award (score of 83)

Underwater macro photograph of a Coral Hermit Crab filter feeding on passing plankton.
Nikon D810, Nikon 105mm macro lens, Subsee +5 wet diopter, f20, 1/125th sec, ISO 200, two strobes

Coral Hermit Crabs live in discarded worm holes in the shallow surge zone of coral reefs. They catch passing plankton using their feathery antennae, then scrape the food into the mouth. This was the most difficult shot of the four. I spent nearly 2 hours with this subject, and just about sucked my tank dry. This guy is tiny, less than 1cm in size. The depth of field with the macro lens + diopter is insanely small; underwater photography rarely allows the luxury of tripods, so this was hand-held. And, he was twisting his antennae at lightening speed—the current was running so he was feeding continuously. I really wanted a shot where he was scraping his antennae, but this happens in milliseconds.
Total number of frames shot: 159.
Number of frames with both eyes in focus: 6.
Number of frames showing the scraping behaviour and both eyes in focus: 1.

Liz Harlin AIPP Queensland Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015
Proof that I do own *some* clothing that isn’t made of neoprene.
[Photo by Stephen Jones, used with permission.]
AIPP Queensland Award Winners 2015
Thrilled and honoured to be in the company of some of my photographer heros.
Group shot of all the category winners: Ryan Schembri (Weddings), yours truly (Science, Wildlife & Wild Places), Ken Drake (Pets / Animals), Kris Anderson (Illustrative), Richard Muldoon (Landscape, and overall QPPA winner), William Long (Commercial), Matt Palmer (Documentary), and Kelly Brown (Family). Absent on the night: Peter Rossi (Portrait) and Alex Huang (Travel). [Photo by Stephen Jones, used with permission.]
Thanks to the AIPP for having this awards system, it’s a tremendous incentive and channel for photographers to keep improving their work each year. Visit their website to see the work of the other category winners.


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Jules Glennon
6 years ago

Liz, a very big congratulations! These are mindbogglingly difficult and beautifully and meaningfully composed shots. You deserve to be applauded in your quest for astounding photos and in teaching this craft to others. With your respectfully captured photos you show others the beauty of underwater life at all scales.

Liz Smith
6 years ago

Congratulations, my favorite iss the hermit crab. Beautoful photos all, would should be very proud.

Diana Deeley
6 years ago

Ah Liz, these are breathtaking gems, congratulations on the awards and thank you for sharing these astounding images with us all.

Justin Sargood
6 years ago

Tremendous work, congratulations!

Baz Atkins
5 years ago

Just beautiful, Liz
thanks from Baz

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