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Dive Photo Guide


Mating Cuttlefish
By Jeremy Cuff, January 31, 2011 @ 10:00 AM (EST)


By Jeremy Cuff

Lankayan Island is a speck of land in the Sulu Sea, off the coast of Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo. It’s a lovely place, with a friendly and welcoming staff, superb beachside accommodation, excellent food and a great climate. There’s also some opportunities for great photography… 

The Idea 

Unfortunately, my visit to Lankayan coincided with a period of very poor visibility,  caused either by stormy and turbulent weather or by river run off from the island. Regardless of the reason, it reduced the visibility to UK-like levels at times, which forced me to work on my fisheye photography techniques in the given conditions.

But poor conditions were redeemed by the highlight of the trip: the great photographic opportunity to capture mating and egg-laying cuttlefish.

At the beginning of my stay, we learned that another photographer had such an encounter with matting cuttlefish underneath the jetty, which lasted almost an hour. Everyone assumed that it was a one off opportunity, but we soon discovered that there were several cuttlefish in the area mating and laying eggs in the shallow, current-free waters around the jetty. 

By spending time with the cuttlefish, which were surprisingly tolerant of our advances, I was able to photograph the mating, the egg laying, and the colourful, contorted displays of these fascinating animals. 


Image taken on 30th January 2010 using Nikon D200, 10.5mm Fish eye lens and a Subtronic Strobe. Camera settings ISO 100, 1/50th second, f8. Strobe power was probably quarter power. 

The Shot

When I began my approach, I had little pre-conceived notion about how to capture  the animals' behaviour, other than a general awareness of the light levels. Calculating some of the camera and strobe settings in advance, while also appreciating the unpredictability of the cuttlefish behavior on the dives, helped me prepare mentally and physically for the shots to come. The resulting image of the mating cuttlefish is a good example of the congruence between preparation and opportunity. 

In order to capitalize on the opportunity, I favored spending time around the possibly less appealing jetty instead of “wasting time” on the gorgeous reef where countless others were heading. On one of these dives I located a single female and spent time with her, shooting images whenever she drifted in front of pleasing backgrounds.

After more than an hour of this, a male cuttlefish cautiously approached the female, and the pair began acknowledging each other by exchanging their mysterious color change communication. That's when things got really interesting – they began to mate.

By preparing the strobe power for close up fisheye work and the camera with the optimum shutter speed for a well exposed background, I was able to concentrate on capturing and accurately framing the action, which lasted no more than fifteen seconds. 

Examining my results, I was most impressed with the final image of the sequence before they separated. I think the symmetry of the cuttlefish in front of the pier leg, combined with the avenue of pier legs leading away from the main subject, and the fantastic eye contact with the mating pair makes this image special. For me, this shot in the peak of the action shot represents the kind of images that I am always striving to capture.

I was so pleased with the final image that it became on the cover of our “Diving Dreams 2011” calendar!




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