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)
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)
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.
QPPA Silver award (score of 84)
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)
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.