Lets be honest, if you are an underwater photographer, I can pretty much safely assume that you, like I, have a love and very much hate relationship with Ghost Pipe Fish.
I once told a fellow photographer, after a dive where we found three Ornates on one piece of soft coral, that I was forever done with attempting to take photos of them. I think the quote is something like,
I hate f$%king Ornates, never again
In fact I don’t know of any (No it’s not a fish, it’s a Syngnathiforme) critter that can make photographers cry and swear under the water when trying to get a photo. In fact even when taking the photo above I was yelling through my reg at the thing to stop being such a bastard.
So what is it that causes an Ornate and other Ghost Pipe Fish to be such PITA’s for underwater photography.
Well firstly, they are Syngnathiformes, like Sea Horses and Pipe Fish, they are very sensitive to light, shying away from it at all possible opportunities.
When you shine light on them or even after the first strobe or two, they will instinctively turn their tail toward you, which makes for a very boring shot of the ass end of a fish that looks just like coral.
Interesting shots happens at the front, or the sides, faces and features, no one wants to look at and Ornates bum, but no matter how you twist and turn your camera or position they will keep that bum pointed firmly at you, they are the moon fish, taunting you and basically giving you the middle finger.
Spend to much time trying to get a photo of one, and it will almost certainly hide under or in something that looks just like it. Again your shot is less interesting because there is less contrast of the subject, or potentially just too much going on in the image now, as you have a photo of coral and not the Ornate.
What else, oh their camouflage can make it really hard to get super macro shots to focus correctly. If you look at the Ornate closely you will see all the spikes and appendages that stick out of them, if you camera has only a few auto focus points it will really struggle with getting these guys in focus correctly if you are on Auto.
In the end though, because they are so darn rare these days, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to photograph one. The main photo was taken on a night dive at Kata Beach in Phuket, we actually found two together, this is the larger mummy we assume as the second much faster one was nearly transparent and likely not had a chance to change it’s colour to the surrounding environment.
What do I like about the photo above, why did I bother posting it? I thought it was an interesting perspective that filled the frame on the photo with some insane bokeh in the background, I probably had a very low aperture set to get more light into the shot.