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Dive Photo Guide


Flamboyant Cuttlefish
 July 19, 2010 @ 12:04 PM (EST)

Words By Matt Weiss

Images By Matt Weiss, Hergen Spalink and Kerri Bingham

By all accounts the flamboyant cuttlefish is one of the ocean's most unique treasures. Part of the sepiida family, commonly known as cuttlefish, the flamboyant cuttlefish gets its name from its ability to flash an array of bright colors and intricate patterns.

In addition to their colorful livery, flamboyant cuttlefish also display fascinating behavior. Rather than swimming in the water column like other cuttlefish species, flamboyant cuttlefish walk along the seafloor.  Photographing the ornate species creep along the sand while it stalks prey is a memorable critter photography experience.


Description: Flamboyant cuttlefish are small, reaching only around 3 inches in length.  They have three pairs of fleshy papillae protrusions that vertically line their mantle, which breaks up the cuttlefish's body to aid in camouflage.  Like all cuttlefish, flamboyant cuttlefish have 8 broad arms that are used for warding of predators and capturing prey.  

What the flamboyant cuttlefish lacks in size they make up for in color. Although the normal "default" color of a flamboyant cuttlefish is a dullish brown, when excited they can change their color and texture in a mesmerizing fashion.

By contracting and expanding three types of pigment containing structures, chromatophores, leucophores, and iridophores, flamboyant cuttlefish can rapidly change the color and texture of their skin.  They can quickly change from their dark grey to display a set yellow, purples, reds and oranges.  


Behavior: Flamboyant cuttlefish are diurnal species, active during the day. A unique behavior of the species is its tendency to use it's tentacles to walk along the sea floor while it hunts small crustaceans and fish. They are capable of swimming in quick spurts and often do so when they feel threatened. However, the cuttlefish normally just uses its bright coloration to warn predators that it is poisonous, and is capable of releasing ink to confuse predators, giving it time to escape.


Location: Tropical waters throughout the South East Asia and Northern Australia regions.

Depth: 3-86m


Flamboyant Cuttlefish Underwater Photography Equipment Tips

Compact Cameras

No extra equipment is need for flamboyant cuttlefish image. For particularly small individuals a macro wet lens can be very helpful.  As with all colorful critter photography, some sort of artificial light is needed to bring out the flamboyant cuttlefish's intricate textures and colors.


Macro photography equipment is needed to photograph flamboyant cuttlefish --  either a 60mm or 100/105mm macro lens is suitable.  Many people prefer the 100/105mm range because it will allow for a great working distance, and the smaller angle of view allows the subject to fill the frame more at 1:1 to magnification.


Flamboyant Cuttlefish Underwater Photography Tips



Get Close
As always, get as close to the flamboyant cuttlefish as it will allow. Normally, they are quite tolerant of photographers.


What's That?

Flamboyant cuttlefish are strange creatures and when viewed in a one dimensional photograph, it can be very hard for an uniformed viewer to figure out the critter is even an animal.  Therefore good eye contact in the photograph is very important, as it gives the viewer some sense of what they are looking at.

Because the eyes are located on the sides of the cuttlefish, head on shots make it difficult to get the eyes in focus.  Additionally, not getting your camera low and being eye-level with the animal diminishes the impact of the eye contact.

The easiest way to create good eye contact is to shoot either a full side profile or three quarter view profile shot.  The diagonal lines in a three-quarter view image creates more drama in the image, but a full side shot provides a better view of the animal and is better for an ID shot.

Rapid Fire!
When you approach the flamboyant cuttlefish, it will likely notice your presence and start to display its warning signs by flashing colors, changing textures and raising its arms.  When it's displaying, use your cameras continuos drive mode to fire off a few frames a second. Each image will likely come out very different as the cuttlefish rapidly changes its colors and positioning.  Note that this is harder to do when using fiber optics to connect your strobes, as you must wait for you cameras internal flash to recycle which can take a few seconds.

Keep Background Colors In Mind

As with all macro underwear photography, the background of a flamboyant cuttlefish image is an integral aspect of the composition. Given the fact that flamboyant cuttlefish are already intricate subjects, a plain, non-distracting background suits them best.

Keep the color of the flamboyant cuttlefish in mind when choosing a background. The paler, less colorful tones can very easily blend in the with the background and you should avoid lighting the background up as much as possible.

When displaying their full set of colors, flamboyant cuttlefish contrast nicely on solid, non distracting backgrounds. If you can get low enough below the cuttlefish so that you have only open water behind it, try going for a solid black or blue object. Due to the species small size, this isn't always possible.  

If you are muck diving and there is black sand surrounding the flamboyant cuttlefish, sometimes shooting slightly down (but still keeping the eye in focus!) can help contrast the colorful species against a dark background.

Additionally, decreasing your aperture and shooting bokeh images is a great way to minimize distractions in the background, and make the foreground stand out.






  • Flamboyant cuttlefish are small cuttlefish, reaching only about 3 inches in length.



  • They get their name for their ability to flash bright colors when they feel threatened
  • Their small size calls for a macro lens capable of achieving 1:1 magnificatio
  • Keeping the eye in focus is a critical part of engaging the viewer in a flamboyant cuttlefish image
  • Simple backgrounds are the best way to make the intricate flamboyant cuttlefish stand out in the image


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