Shooting the Brood

Observing animal behavior is a high point of any dive, whether it is watching fish spawning, nudibranchs feeding, or my current personal favorite—egg brooding. Getting good images of the last behavior, however, is quite different from just observing it and will prove to be a challenge to underwater photographers at every level. The first step to success in capturing such images is by becoming a bit more savvy on the intended target, by doing a little research and by knowing what to look for and where to find it.

Contributed by


Mike Bartick is a widely published underwater photographer and dive writer based in Anilao, Philppines.

A small animal expert, he leads groups of photographers into Asia to seek out that special critter.

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For instance, a common pipefish will carry its developing brood in a specially designed flap on its belly, while a female ornate ghost pipefish will carry them in a pouch. What I like most about shooting egg brooding images is that I would always learn something new about the subject.

Of course, many people would say, “Wow, what a lucky shot!” when they see your images. However, I have noticed that the more prepared I am, the “luckier” I become. So, if you are looking to get lucky on your next trip, prepare for it in advance, as you would never know when that chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity might strike.

The best gear for the job is a lens that facilitates shooting at a distance, like a prime 100/105mm macro lens. This allows your subject to relax and behave naturally, thus enabling you to shoot a more candid photo. At the same time, when capturing these nature-related images, remember to take into account the technical details. Setting the bar high is often the best course of action—close attention to strobe power, angle and proper settings will make or break a chance-of-a-lifetime image, so be ready.

Quick tips for shooting behavior

  • Use a longer lens.
  • Use appropriate strobe power and angle.
  • Use a high shutter speed—200 for SLRs and 500 for compact cameras.
  • Use mid-range f-stops (f/14) for best depth of field at 18-24 inches and sharpness.
  • Familiarize yourself with your intended subject's behavior.
  • Test-shoot a photo from an anticipated distance and at an anticipated coloration of your subject so as to set your exposure accordingly.
  • Re-adjust your strobes if you are able to get closer to your subject than originally planned.
  • Keep a super-macro diopter handy for close-up images when possible.
  • Use your focus lock to restrict your lens from hunting at the wrong moment.

Did you know?

Parenting for marine animals requires such specialized skill and strategy that only Mother Nature herself could have designed. The expecting parents of marine animals must deal with extenuating circumstances at all times. In this risky numbers game, the survival rate is extremely low as the constant threat of predators is always present for both parents and their babies.

Several factors come into play to ensure the successful brooding of the eggs. The most important of all will be the parents having to seek nourishment during the incubation period or risk peril from weakness and starvation. Leaving the defenseless eggs alone is never an option, as they are a tasty source of quick protein for predators, and therefore, must be protected by the parents at all times. Moreover, during the incubation period, the eggs must be continuously aerated to ensure the proper flow of fresh water and oxygen, or the eggs will die.

The answer to getting the shots you want will be as different as the animals themselves, so stay alert and keep your head in the game. ■


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