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Dive Photo Guide


Secretary Blenny
By Joseph Tepper, March 21, 2011 @ 09:00 AM (EST)

By Joseph Tepper

Secretary Blenny

(Acanthemblemaria maria)
Description: The Secretary Blenny (Acanthemblemaria maria) is a small, tube-dwelling blenny (suborder Blennioidei) that is identified by its brownish to green delicate patterns and free moving eyes. Averaging at a size of around one inch in length, Secretary Blennies are difficult to spot when hidden in their burrowed homes.

Location: Although a variety of blenny species are commonly found in shallow reefs around the globe, Secretary Blennies are mostly distributed throughout the Bahamas and other regions of the Eastern Caribbean.

Environment: These blennies are most often found resting inside their tubed dwelling, usually burrowed into pieces of dead coral or reef, with their tiny heads bobbing in and out of the hole.

Depth: 5-25 ft

Behavior: While the Secretary Blenny is most comfortable in the protection of its home, these fish are often seen poking their heads out of the hole –a head approx. the size of a pea- and will rarely venture far unless jumping out for a bite to eat. This species is most recognizable by its sharp skeleton-shaped jaw and eyes that can move independently from each other.

Equipment Tips

Go Small: In general, when photographing blennies is best to stick with the most macro of lenses in your arsenal (100mm/105mm); but the Secretaries are specifically dubious to shoot with anything less than these extreme macro set ups because of their size and shy behavior.

Lots of Light: When shooting Secretaries, you will often want to use the smallest possible aperture settings (f22 or higher) to increase the depth of field and capture all of the ornamental detail of the fish’s brow. In order to shoot at these high apertures, while also keeping a relatively high shutter speed to freeze the action, you will need to add as much artificial light as possible, often shooting two strobes at full power with an additional focus light at f-stops like 32 or 36.

Try a Wet Adaptor: While macro lenses between 55mm and 105mm will be able to capture the subject at a size reasonable enough to “crop up” in post processing, a wet adapter will be able to provide the magnification necessary to fill the frame with the Secretary Blenny’s pea sized head.

Photography Tips

Find the Right Backdrop: Unfortunately, because the majority of Secretary Blennies find their home-sweet-home by burrowing inside dead coral, many otherwise tempting subjects may become lost in overly busy backgrounds. Other than keeping your eyes out for blennies with a pleasing backdrop, using accessories like wet adapters -to fill the frame with the subject- or snoots –to blacken almost everything besides the subject- can help eliminate distracting backgrounds and bring life to your blenny friend.

Hip Hip Bokeh: As discussed just above, the biggest challenged faced when looking for a proper Secretary Blenny subject is finding one with a pleasing background to match. Because the most common habitat for these little blennies is dead coral or other decaying materials, blurring the background with extremely open apertures in a technique called bokeh can eliminate distracting backgrounds and draw the attention to the character in the Blenny’s face.  Trying to place an exact point of focus when practicing bokeh (with such a small depth of field) can be extremely frustrating at times when working with such a small subject that is constantly flitting about, but it is worth it in the end.
Blenny Behavior: Different species of blennies are most often distinguished (and in many cases named) by their observed behaviors- the Sailfin Blenny, for example, is famous for its sail-shaped dorsal fin that pops up when threatened. The Secretary’s most well known behavior is that of its free-moving eyes, which can rotate independently. Although this alien-like behavior is creepy and may even put shivers down your spine at first, it is something that is priceless when captured in a photo. If you time it right, having one rotated eye to the side almost looks as if the blenny is winking at you!
Knowledge is Power: Because Secretary Blennies are mostly sedentary fish, they can be easily found in the same spots of dead reef. The best way to learn about these “top secret locations” is to just ask your Divemaster or other experienced local divers. Sites like The Thunderdome –once an underwater metal, hamster ball for a French reality TV show- in the Turks and Caicos Islands, are known specifically for their healthy populations of Secretary Blennies. If you want to know where the best place to shoot these fun, cute fish, all you have to do is ask!
  • The more macro the better


  • Make sure to have sufficient light, whether shooting bokeh at extremely open apertures or trying to capture every minute detail at high f-stops


  • Wet adaptors and Snoots can be helpful when trying to eliminate distracting dead coral background


  • Once you have mastered the basic techniques of shooting Secretary Blennies, try experimenting with creative techniques like snooting, bokeh, and spend time trying to nail the perfect behavior shot


  • Use the knowledge accumulated by local divers and Divemasters to find the best Secretary Blenny spots in town



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