Nature built a place for those who love to play with light, the Blue Water Mangroves of western Misool in the southern region of Indonesia's Raja Ampat.
A series of mangrove “islands” separated by shallow waterways, these islands provide sanctuary for a great many juvenile and adult animals (including some not-very-friendly saltwater crocodiles) as well as anchorage for a variety of multicolored corals on their submerged roots.
Whereas most mangrove areas do not seem overly inviting with murky water and mucky bottoms, this unique environment can feature clear water and numerous photographic opportunities.
Diving in the mangroves is done along the sides of the canals and in the larger lagoons where two or three canals meet.
In addition to the picturesque soft corals and sea grass beds, there are also healthy shallow coral reefs that allow for excellent “over-under” opportunities or reflections.
One of the main attractions of the mangroves is the ability to capture soft corals with cathedral lighting, the light rays piercing the mangrove canopy and playing across soft corals and the white sandy bottoms.
To capture this, higher shutter speeds and higher apertures are necessary, meaning that powerful strobes are a must as well.
Without proper buoyancy, none if this is possible. Navigating into position for the shot requires proper fin movement to avoid stirring up the silty bottom.
Super-wide is the name of the game here. In order to get reflections or overarching mangroves, a good fisheye or super-wide zoom are necessary. For split shots, a graduated neutral density filter is also a good option to help balance the light in and out of the water.
Overweighting is necessary in the mangroves as there can often be a light swell, especially when the dive tenders pass by. A good snorkel is also a good idea to conserve air and minimize surface disruption when near the surface.
Planning Your Trip
- When: Spring and fall generally offer the best conditions
- Subjects: Corals and macro critters
- Equipment: Wide angle, super-wide angle, and macro
A Note about Crocodiles: There has been an incident in this area with a diver being attacked by a saltwater crocodile and as a result some operators are reluctant to visit the area. If you wish to dive the region, make sure you check beforehand with the operator that they include it in their itinerary.
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