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My Kona Calling
By Joseph Tepper, April 4, 2013 @ 10:00 AM (EST)

By Joseph Tepper

Last year, I was privileged to win the Young Underwater Photographer Internship sponsored by Rolex. The internship, created by the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, is designed to help young underwater shooters like myself advance our careers.

Kept pretty busy as the Associate Editor for DPG and Scuba Diver-Through the Lens, and still a full-time student, I had only a weak of free time to use the internship funds. After the intense researching that all underwater photographers do before I trip, I settled on the Kona Aggressor based on the Big Island in Hawaii.

I have to admit, I had quite the big animal photography wish list when I took off on the 12-hour plane ride: Mantas, dolphins, sharks, and even a whale or two if I was lucky. But as impressive as my list was, the underwater photography in Kona lived up to it all. 

So, without any delay, here is Kona through my lens…

Open wide! This down-the-throat shot was something I always wanted and the key
was waiting for the manta to come at my camera, only moving it at the last second.

Double exposures proved useful with the black background. With two exposures,
I could position the second (or third subject) just as I wanted.

Lighting on the manta dive came down to this formula: strobes far apart
and on minimal power to reduce backscatter.


Dolphins by the dozens are regularly sighted in several bays on the Aggressor itinerary

Chasing down the dolphins is a lot of work, so I decided to streamline my setup
and leave the strobes back on the boat.

Without strobes, I used high shutter speeds to freeze the action of the dolphins.
This meant relying on a more open aperture and higher ISO.

This type of spotted Boxfish (2 inches) is endemic to Hawaiian waters. Living in the
sand makes for Bokeh photography, where the boring sand is blurred out.

Whip coral subjects remain my favorite for macro. Here, I kept my camera's aperture
at a high f32 to get as much depth of field as possible.

Redstripe pipefish is another great endemic species in Hawaii. The most difficult part
is composing a shot with both pipefish. I set my focal distance and waited for
both to fill the frame.

This decoy scorpionfish features a fake set of eyes on its dorsal fins to fool possible predators.

Bokeh is one of my favorite macro techniques. By setting an open aperture, you can
draw attention to the subjects eyes.


Love a good abstract! This is actually the colorful spines of a collector urchin as shot
with a super macro wet lens.

As a regular Caribbean shooter, seeing a lionfish makes me think "invasive species!"
But this red lionfish is endemic to the Hawaiian islands and a blast to shoot (pictures)!

For me, longnose hawkfish are the ultimate macro subject: colorful, and love to live in
a colorful black coral or sea fan. Here, Bokeh creates a pastel effect with the red subject/coral as
well as creating a nice blue water background.

On the Pelagic Magic dive, I had the opportunity to photograph invertebrates that
usually live at 10,000 feet underwater, but who come up to the surface at night to feed.

The Pelagic Magic critters were definitely the biggest challenge of the trip: trying to
focus on a translucent, microscopic subject as its floating past over thousands of feet of water takes some practice!

The largest hawksbill turtle. Ever.

The unique topography of underwater Hawaii was definitely a photographic draw.
Lava tubes and tunnels make for photo magic.

Lunch time! Although I do not participate in fish feeding, it is fun to watch the frenzy
that follows.

The current free waters make for a great opportunity to go a little creative. I used a
slow shutter speed (1/25th) to achieve this blur effect.

Frogfish aren't always macro subjects! I was told the site "Ampitheater" often features
a quite large frogfish, so I used the distortion effect of my fisheye lens to make him really pop!

Kona also features several fun wrecks like the "Naked Lady." I'll save the story of how
it got its name for another day...

The wonderful cathedral lighting in Kona's lava tubes lend themselves to natural light shooting.


Slow shutter speeds and a camera with high ISO ability are critical for providing some
fill light in the long, dimly light lava tubes.

Oh, and I can't forget the surprise visitor at the end of the manta dive! Two friendly
bottlenose dolphins checked out all the action...


What a trip! By the end it was time to say "Aloha" (the sad, leaving, good-bye version).
But I hope to say Aloha (the good, happy hello version) again soon!









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Jan Thomason
Apr 4, 2013 1:19 PM
Jan Thomason wrote:
Wonderful pictures! Great variety!
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