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Dive Photo Guide


A Gang of Morays
By Eric Riesch, November 12, 2012 @ 09:00 AM (EST)

Why won’t these fish cooperate?

My thoughts are suddenly consumed by frustration. I attempt to focus on multiple species of moray eels in one small coral outcropping in Bonaire as the slippery subjects rapidly swim in and out of my frame. I first observed this phenomenon of an eel gathering years ago in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia and was able to get a shot.


This time, however, it is much harder. Patience is more than a virtue to an underwater photographer—it’s the mantra by which we live. It is easier said than done when, after two hours on one spot, my patience and air were both running low.

You rarely get the opportunity to photograph more than one moray in a single frame. But even a portrait of a single individual can also have a strong impact. Knowing how to approach an eel, preparing for the shot, careful attention to lighting, and a few simple tips will help get you a dramatic image.

Group Shot

Aside from a divemaster, an underwater photographer’s best leads come from the eyes of experienced fish watchers. They will give you invaluable information on where you can witness a particular fish or an unusual animal behavior.


It was my fish watcher friends in Bonaire that gave me a hot tip about the location of an eel gang. That day I found three goldentail morays, one viper moray, one spotted moray and one chain moray buried among the blades of fire coral. Jackpot—or so I thought.

Photographing groups of morays is comparable to photographing a group of restless children. My best advice here is to settle on one spot and let the fish swim around as they want. Eventually they come back to a central area, giving you a chance to get all of them into one frame.


Make sure to keep a relatively deep depth of field with high apertures, so that you can keep all of their faces in focus even if they aren’t the exact same distance from the camera.

Individual Portrait

The old rule of thumb when photographing morays—but one that still creates dramatic images—is to get a shot with their mouth open. It adds a bit of dimension to the photo and gives a slight impression of action. They open their mouths wide to pass water through their gills to breathe. Get as close as you can and position your strobe to light up the head, and in this case the mouth.



Eels can either be found in recesses among the corals or out hunting along the reef. Occasionally you will see the Spotted Moray and Goldentail Moray out hunting during the day, but all others hunt exclusively at night. The hunting eel is much harder to capture, as they move rapidly and dive head first into holes looking for prey.

When approaching an eel in a hole, slowly move towards the eel in spurts. They act like a wimpy but protective dog that barks while moving backward. They will jump out at you initially, but as you get close they frequently retreat. Just like the frightened dog, they could bite when their personal space is invaded. Don’t agitate or aggravate them!


Prepare for the Shot in Advance

Assess the overall situation and position yourself for the best angle. Look through the viewfinder, adjust your settings and get ready before you approach. You will want to be prepared when four subjects suddenly move together for the shot you want.

Lens Selection

Eels range in size from a few inches to several feet, so your lens selection will largely depend on your subject. Macro lenses are standard for a profile type shot, as they allow you to capture every toothy detail of an eel yawn. However, using a fisheye can be appropriate when shooting larger subjects, or to follow along with free-swimming eels. Use the distortion of the fisheye to really make that eel “pop” from the shot.



  • Try to wait for all the eels to have mouths open, as this will create a more dramatic shot.
  • Frame your subject.
  • Eels are usually found in a position that creates a natural frame with the edge of the dark hole the fish is protruding from.
  • Try to shoot from below. Yes, this is easier said than done in most cases with eels. They are found down in the reef so getting deeper is possibly not an option. Do your best to shoot up and not down on the fish.
  • Strobes: Be sure to pay attention to careful placement of strobes to adequately light an often dark moray eel extending out of a dark hole.
  • If you are able to change the lens/port and return for a second dive to the same location, it will add a nice dimension to the shots you took earlier.

If you encounter multiple eels, work them hard and try to remember a few of these tips. I didn’t quite get the entire group of six I wanted that day in Bonaire, but the experience I gained will be invaluable the next time I am fortunate enough to see an eel gang. As with most travel experiences, I still hold that first encounter sacred.

Author Bio
Eric Riesch is the photo editor at New World Publications on their series of marine life identification books. For more information on identification of moray eels in the Caribbean, please see Reef Fish Identification: Florida, Caribbean and Bahamas by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach.


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