• Travel2Sea

Underwater Photo Competition in Ambon

So it has been an interesting week. Indonesia is well known for its amazing diving all around its 17.000 islands and therefor it has a large local diving community. One of the favourite things for many divers is taking pictures and there are lot of great photographers in Indonesia. This week was the annual underwater photo competition in Ambon and I (Niels) flew to this beautiful island to participate.


It was my second time to join such a competition (my first was in Maumere 2016) but I was excited and a little nervous to participate knowing some of the best Indonesian photographers would be joining. It was my first time in Ambon but I heard great things about the underwater world in this part of the Moluccas in east Indonesia.


Dutch Ichthyologist Peter Bleaker (who btw had the first hipster haircut!) was probably the first to demonstrate that diving in Ambon would be something very special when in 1863 he discovered 783 species of fish, just in Ambon Bay alone!


Ambon is particularly famous for its macro diving and has several endemic species. Lembeh straight is celebrated as the top muck diving destination in the world for nearly two decades, but with the recent discovery of a new anglerfish species (aka the psychedelic frogfish) in Ambon Bay, some would argue that diving in Ambon is equally deserving of the world-class title. The psychedelic frogfish was sighted 6 weeks before the competition but then disappeared. Which was probably a wise decision by the little creature...


By Holthuis collection, Naturalis

(Edited by Travel2Sea)


The competition involved 2 days of diving with a total 4 dives, where each of the 32 participants needed to select 10 of their best shots to be submitted to the jury. Out of the 4 categories available (wide angle / macro, DSLR vs compact) I was joining the category for “Macro” with my SONY A7III. It was a tough category as some of the competitors are the best dive guides / spotters in Indonesia and have been taking under water photos for decades. With less than a year of experience with macro photography I did not have the illusion that I would win any price but my main goal was to meet, watch and learn from the best.



But to do macro photography you need to find the little creatures first !!

So you spend your time floating over a sandy or rocky bottom where the little aliens are supposed to reside. It could be deep or shallow and on our first dive we encountered strong currents which made searching and taking photos even more difficult.


On the first dive I watched one of the participants turning over a rock and surprisingly a little bumble bee shrimp (Gnathophyllum Americanum) jumped up and showed its little claws to the diver. So in the spirit of let’s give it a try, I turned over a rock, but there was no bumble bee shrimp... Just another rock ! With time on the clock ticking, I turned over many rocks but with little luck and after the first day of diving I had less than 10 pictures on my memory card. I decided that turning rocks will not get me far in the Ambon competition. The first two dives had been a disappointment and there were only two dives left in the competition.



So I asked the diver how he had found the little bumble bee. And explained me that they always live close to a certain species of sea cucumber and they hide under rocks that have a bit of algae on them. So I learned that there was a good reason behind my failure of turning over random rocks.


For some reason I woke up the second competition day feeling hopeful. I learned a lot the previous day by listening to the participants and comparing photos. I decided I would focus on the easier-to-find critters which I feel comfortable with.


During the whole dive I was able to find lots of beautiful little creatures. Not the rare stuff that take the skill of a highly trained spotter but I found some of the larger and easier-to-spot critters like nudibranchs, shrimps & crabs, little cuttlefishes and the famous Rhinopias. The Rhinopias is one of the most searched fish in the world and this rare species is described as one of the ‘Holy Grails’ of underwater photography and tops the list of weird and strange creatures. So I got very excited when I saw two of the little creatures walking around the sandy bottom at 28 meters but quickly realised they were to big for my 90mm macro lens and I would waste my precious bottom time. I took a close up shot of its impressive head, imprinted the encounter in my mind and moved on.



I didn’t have to go far because there where many Variable Fire Urchins crawling the bottom close by and usually they have the pretty Zebra crab or Coleman shrimps (Periclimenes colemani) on them. The Shrimps grow to about 2 cm in size and can easily by identified by their large brown-red spot pattern on a yellow background. They mostly live in couples and cut the spines of the urchin on a small area on which they live an feed.



So it turned out to be a day with two great dives and I had about 160 shots on my camera! My hopes were up and I selected the 10 photos for the jury. Except for minor cropping, no editing was allowed and the jury would judge only the RAW shots. So it’s up to the skill of the photographer to take a great photo with the right lighting, color balance, no backscatter, composition and x-factor all in one shot!



In the evening of 14 March the official closing ceremony was held at the Ambon airforce base and the participants, local press and politicians gathered in front of a large screen. For each category the jury voted three winners among 10 selected pictures. First the winners of the compact where announced and then it was time for the macro DSLR category and ten of the best photos appeared on the big screen. To my surprise two of my pictures were selected for the final ten!

Then the count-down voting began...which is a nerve-racking experience...

and my shot of a “Pink hairy squat lobster (Lauriea siagiani)” won third price !!



Wow,...unexpected but very pleased that the jury selected my shot amongst so many. It was a great week and I look forward to be back next year !


Like our winning shot in Instagram ! [instagram link]


A big thanks to all the participants and the organisation for this great experience. Follow us on Instagram and find more diving pictures from Ambon !





By Travel2Sea.com (March 16th, 2021)


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