Bigger is not always better. As evidenced by the popularity of macro diving, a large group of divers, mostly underwater photographers and marine biologists, scour the muck and the sand for the opportunity to observe the smallest critters in the sea going about their business. While they may not occupy a position of stature like other, larger marine animals, weird and wonderful macro creatures evoke a fascination bordering on obsession for some divers.
Many, such as the pygmy sea horse or the hairy frogfish, are renown for being ‘cute.’ Some, like the nudibranch, have alien qualities. All of them make for incredible photography subjects.
Underwater photos of macro critters are some of the hardest to take. They require the photographer to have excellent buoyancy, a powerful zoom lens, and the ability to frame photographs of subjects that are almost invisible to the naked eye. While skills with a camera are necessary, it is also essential to be an effective scout, able to locate the hiding places of these hard-to-find creatures concealed throughout reefs, muck and sand. What helps with this is to be looking in the right place.
The best macro diving takes place in shallow waters protected from the dangers posed by large reef predators and the disruption of currents, swells and surf. Increase your chances of finding the coolest macro creatures by diving at one of the five best spots for underwater macro photography.
Indonesia is so well-known for great macro dive sites that any list of the best sites would include several located around the archipelago. In the interest of brevity, we’ve chosen the best: Lembeh. Indonesia is home to some of the world’s most fascinating critters and many of them can be found in Lembeh.
The Lembeh Straits lie near Manado on the island of Sulawesi. Scattered throughout the area are numerous dive sites in shallow water on sloping ridges of black, volcanic sand. Divers who know where to look—or those with a good dive guide—will find themselves with excellent photo opportunities of flamboyant cuttlefish, harlequin shrimp, hairy frogfish, and mimic octopus, just to name a few. Some of the most popular dive sites in Lembeh include Hairball, Police Pier and Nudi Retreat. Resorts are popping up quickly throughout the area, ready to cater to any diver willing to make the long trip through Bali or Singapore.
Anilao offers world-class macro diving, with rich biodiversity, varieties of fish, healthy reefs and an assortment of the most sought-after macro critters scattered throughout its waters. Located three hours south of Manila on the island of Luzon, Anilao diving means warm water temperatures year-round, dive sites close to the resorts, and exotic jungle scenery in between dives.
Anilao is primarily a macro destination, as large pelagic fish are not common here. But if you go searching for macro critters, you will definitely find what you are looking for. Almost every type of macro critter imaginable can be found here: shrimps, crabs, nudibranchs, cuttlefish, seahorses, frogfish and more. Even rhinopias, a rare scorpionfish, have been spotted and photographed here. In addition to the macro and muck critters, Anilao is home to numerous species of hard and soft corals, which are usually teeming with reef fish, making the seascape quite breathtaking.
This Dutch island municipality is located just north of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean. Bonaire has protected its surrounding waters for over 35 years, setting a great example of how marine protection policies can foster a recovery of fragile marine ecosystems and promote immense biodiversity, with over 400 fish species inhabiting the area. There is no shortage of macro critters here and many of the dive sites are accessible from the shore. Because of the accessibility of house reefs, diving on Bonaire offers incredible flexibility for planning your dives, night or day, so that you don’t have to wait for the boat to fill or compete with other photographers for the same shot. Simply strap on your gear and wade into the water where you’ll find pristine reefs and plenty of macro photography subjects.
British Columbia, Canada
The most determined photographers should give the cold and rough waters of British Columbia a try. While a drysuit certification is recommended, it is definitely worth the investment of time and money because the reward is so vast. Diving here reveals a kaleidoscope of different colors and species that are rarely seen anywhere else. While B.C. is best known for opportunities to dive with sea lions and giant octopuses, those with a magnifying glass can find lots of macro critters hidden under rocks and in the sand. Along the seabed are scattered anemones, sponges, barnacles and unique nudis like the translucent hooded nudibranch.
While Utila is the least-well known of the above sites, it can be a macro photographer’s dream destination. Here lies the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Like much of the Caribbean, overfishing has taken its toll on the larger fish and pelagic species. What is left is an abundance of small fish and other critters. You can find banded coral shrimp, longsnout seahorses, secretary blennies and longlure frogfish.
- Ryan Patrick Jones, Contributing Writer