By Hamid Rad
Raja Ampat. The mere sound of these two words evokes pristine coral reefs and a feeling of remote wilderness like no other dive destination on on Earth.
Beside the gorgeous reefs and the overwhelming abundance and variety of species, sites like ‘The Passage’ or ‘Hidden Bay’ offer a stunning network of mangroves with unique photographic opportunities. Stumbling upon this single tree, growing in about five feet of water with its massive roots surrounded by coral heads, I knew there was potential for a winning shot.
Now I had to find the right angle and make the best use of available light. Conditions were ideal and I had plenty of time to get the shot right. The advantage of shooting a tree is that, unlike fish or other generally uncooperative wildlife, it tends not to swim away or get spooked easily.
After a few tries shooting the tree at a more conventional angle a few feet away, I realized I needed to get closer and shoot at an upright angle to get a nice spherical effect in the frame.
By then, clouds were obstructing sunlight and I still did not get the desired globe-shaped effect I had in mind. I had been working around that tree for quite a while and was not yet happy with the shots I had. Either the subject was too constricted or the composition a bit dull. I decided to position myself right at the base of the tree and shoot straight up.
I was getting there, the sun was back out and I was happier with the general composition and dynamic range of the photo. Now the last trick was to get the sun in the frame, using the branches to get nice sun rays fanning out and soften the light intensity. It was especially tricky as I was in very shallow water and did not want to over-darken the tree’s silhouette by pushing f-stops.
I soon found myself lying on my tank, facing straight up, the right handle of my housing against the trunk. Luckily, the tree still did not get spooked and stayed put.
Finally all the elements were coming together - the tree in its entirety, the sun, Snell’s window and the reflection of the coral bottom at the surface.
I was lucky enough to go to Raja Ampat twice in 2012, this photo was taken on my first trip and was really looking forward on my second trip to dive Hidden Bay again, as it is one of the best and atypical dive sites I have ever visited.
Unfortunately, a big salt water crocodile had been spotted a few times in the area, and even though the temptation was strong to get a chance to see the croc, survival instinct and common sense refrained us from going back.
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