By Jeff De Guzman
Coconut Octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus)
Description: Amphioctopus marginatus, also known as the coconut octopus and veined octopus, is a medium-sized cephalopod belonging to the genus Amphioctopus. It is found in tropical waters of the western Pacific Ocean. It commonly preys upon shrimp, crabs, and clams.
Environment: Reef associated species that is non migratory. Often found in coral rubble or sandy areas.
Depth: 1m - < 25m
Displays unusual behavior, including bipedal walking and gathering and using coconut shells and seashells for shelter. It buries itself in sand or encloses itself in a shell with only its eyes uncovered. This strange behavior has made it a favorite subject for macro photographers.
The sizes of coconut octopus ranges from as small as a dime to softball size leviathans. Because of the array of possible homes that the coconut octopus uses, there are never ending opportunities to capture unique and special images. They have been observed using plastic wrappers, coconuts, shells, glass bottles, sardine cans and more.
If you are using a compact camera, you can stay with the standard settings if the coconut octopus is one of the larger softball size animals. But if you find one that is a dime to golf ball size, switch to macro mode. As a rule you want to get as close as possible to the subject without spooking the octopus into retreating into his shelter, it might take several minutes for him to re-emerge wasting precious time and air.
If you are using an SLR camera, a macro lens that can achieve 1:1 magnification should be your tool of choice. Both 60mm and 100/105mm macro lenses work well, but 100/105mm focal lengths may be preferable as they have a greater working distance. The greater working distance means you can achieve higher magnification of the subject at farther distances and this reduces your chance of scarring the coconut octopus. As with all macro photography some source artificial lighting is required to bring out the colors of the coconut octopus and properly light it.
Underwater Photography Tips
When you spot your coconut octopus do not approach it immediately. Estimate the approximate size of the subject and its shelter. Find a rock or something similar in size and pre adjust your aperture, shutter speed, strobe position and strobe power. Sometimes you will only get one chance to capture an interesting behavior shot.
If the coconut octopus is displaying a certain unique behavior, take a few moments to study it. This will allow you to predict if and when the behavior will occur again and you can be ready to press your shutter button at the right time.
Don’t be stingy and fire off several frames of the same composition. Many times there will be moving particles in the water, and by firing off several frames, hopefully you will get a shot without any particles that can be distracting to your composition.
After you’ve fired off several frames retreat from the subject and review your shots. Pay close attention to your composition and levels. If needed, readjust your settings.
The golden rule when it comes to subject with eyes is to always make sure the eye is in focus. You might have a done everything right but if the eye is not in perfect focus, it’s not going to be a keeper.
The tendency of most photographers is to shoot from the top down. A more pleasing composition, however, is getting down and photographing the critter at eye level.
For SLR users it's helpful if you have a 45 degree viewfinder. If you don't have a 45 degree viewfinder, try digging a hole to sink your housing partially into the sand to get it eye level with the octopus.
Black is beautiful
Isolating the subject by using a black background will enhance your subject by removing any distracting objects or debris in the background, allowing the viewer of your image to focus on the main subject.
Utilizing edge lighting technique and fast shutter speeds is the way to go to achieve black background; but can be difficult to achieve.
Textures and Patterns
Aside from making sure the eye is in focus, the photographer should also make an effort to highlight the textures and patterns of the shelter of the coconut octopus. Utilizing a combination of edge and side lighting; will produce a black background and highlight textures.
Think out of the Box
When dealing with any subject the photographer should try new and uncommon shots, to produce a fresh and innovative shot.