Nudibranch, Placida kevinleei, named after Kevin Lee, Watamu, Kenya, Africa.

Some explorers have had mountains named after them. Some planets. Southern California-based underwater photographer Kevin Lee can boast of getting a sea slug, Placida kevinleei, bear his identify. And he’s no much less proud than his fellow adventurers. Whereas Lee’s journeys have taken him to greater than 40 international locations, together with a number of treks to Mt. Everest Base Camp and atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, it is the world under sea stage that has turn out to be his photographic focus. Although aesthetics are an necessary side of his explorations photographing marine biology, he strives to seize distinctive views which can be of use to marine biologists and different scientists who examine the ocean’s smallest creatures.

Outside Photographer: Your underwater images focuses on sea life that almost all of us have by no means heard of or are even capable of pronounce. What are a number of the most uncommon species you’ve come throughout photographing marine biology?

Kevin Lee: ​It is tough to pick out any explicit animal as probably the most uncommon, as so many categorical odd behaviors and show attention-grabbing types. For instance, the windmill worm erects a round lattice wheel and deposits a sticky substance between the spokes which catches meals particles. Pelagic drifters appear to be alien life types. The polychaete worm, which might develop as much as 10 toes lengthy, is an ambush predator. At night time it turns into lively and patiently waits on the high of its burrow, jaws open to sense passing prey, which it swiftly snares with sharp, serrated jaws, yanking the hapless sufferer into its burrow for consumption. Photographing the worm is a hit-or-miss endeavor because it shortly retreats when approached by divers.

Photographing marine biology, Flabellina falklandica
Flabellina falklandica, South Georgia Island, Antarctica.

OP: Do you’ve gotten a favourite species you prefer to get in entrance of your lens?

KL: My favourite photographic topics are the nudibranchs, or sea slugs, which are available in a mess of colours, sizes and shapes. I’ve discovered them within the waters off of each continent, together with Antarctica. Consider them as snails which have developed to lose their heavy, cumbersome shells, thereby gaining mobility and freedom to hunt for meals and mates. Rather than their shells, they’ve developed multifarious defensive mechanisms, from excessive camouflage mimicking the colour and morphology of their meals supply to incorporating stinging nematocysts or poisonous metabolites into their our bodies.

OP: What’s your typical digicam arrange for photographing marine biology?

KL: I am taking pictures with a Nikon D800 in a Sea & Sea housing. Water absorbs daylight, so past about 10 toes colours start to fade, beginning with the nice and cozy colours, so I exploit two Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes triggered by fiber optic cords to breed “true” colours. Some underwater photographers tote a number of digicam rigs with completely different lenses, however that’s too cumbersome for me. The macro world fascinates me, so I hardly ever have interaction in wide-angle work. For each first rate wide-angle picture, I can shoot 100 attention-grabbing macro topics. I exploit a 60mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. Exterior the housing, I’ve a 10x moist diopter that flips over my lens port and magnifies tiny creatures, practically invisible to the bare eye. Although TTL convertors can be found, I shoot full handbook. Underwater there may be no use to regulate shutter velocity for macro work.

Photographing marine biology: Cyerce nigricans
Cyerce nigricans, Watamu, Kenya.

OP: Do you’ve gotten a go-to shutter velocity, aperture and ISO when working with strobes?

KL: Shutter velocity is normally 1/250 of a second, and I hardly ever change that besides if background publicity is desired. I seldom change my ISO setting until I am exposing for a distant object past the attain of my strobe lighting, wherein case it is not macro taking pictures, although I could also be taking pictures by means of a macro lens. Usually I exploit ISO 200 for macro work. Provided that a topic is past strobe vary will I bump up the ISO to compensate, however it hardly ever exceeds 1,000 for the reason that picture high quality degrades. I shoot full handbook as a result of it provides the best management and finesse to optimally illuminate topics and produce out dimensional character, better definition and texture.

For macro topics, modifications to aperture is the most typical adjustment, significantly for depth of area. Subsequent, I modify the sunshine depth, with a fast flip of a knob on the strobes themselves, and/or transfer the place of the strobes for the actual lighting impact I would like. Strobes emit a cone of sunshine and I’ve discovered that the very best lighting is achieved by utilizing photons from the sting of that cone, not the tough, flattening mild of the middle. Usually, a single strobe gives probably the most attention-grabbing lighting impact because it mimics the single-source lighting of the solar. Thankfully, the digital world permits us practically limitless trial-and-error possibilities to make and proper taking pictures errors, with fast suggestions. This provides me a good better appreciation of the masters of movie images.

Photographing marine biology, Chestnut cowry
Chestnut cowry, Redondo Seashore, California.

OP: One of many extra uncommon locations you’ve dived lately was near house, however a world away due to geopolitical points.

KL: Diving within the Jardines de la Reina, “The Gardens of the Queen” in Cuba’s territorial waters, concerned numerous documentation, together with a particular visa, an affidavit of accredited exercise—in our case, beneath the class “schooling alternate” to check marine life—and a proof of medical insurance coverage. Thankfully, I used to be guided by means of the labyrinth of laws by famous photographer Richard Salas, as he frequently organizes and leads dive teams to the pristine waters of the Gardens of the Queen and different scuba locations worldwide. It took two and half hours to clear customs, and the ordeal made the mojito style all of the extra soothing.

To get there we took a five-hour bus trip to the port city of Jucaro, the place we transited to a ship, which chugged the ocean for an additional 5 hours to the Tortuga, a floating resort firmly anchored within the Jardines del la Reina archipelago, 50 miles away.

Photographing marine biology: goby
A goby on a sea pen, Anilao, Philippines.

OP: What kind of marine life did you encounter?

KL: Turtles, crocodiles and a big selection of colourful fish. The reefs of the Jardines del la Reina are interspersed by cays and mangroves all thriving with life. Sea followers, large sponges and an abundance of corals may be seen on each dive. I discovered solely three species of nudibranchs; the Caribbean just isn’t famous for them basically.

The spotlight for many divers had been aggregations of sharks, predominantly Caribbean Reef and Silky. The water visibility was fairly good, averaging a clear 80 to 100 toes. Fidel Castro was a diver-hunter and was instrumental in establishing the area as a marine reserve after a convincing dialog with Jacques Cousteau.

OP: Inform us about probably the most intense dives you’ve ever executed.

​KL: Essentially the most difficult dives have been within the polar areas. Even clad in a dry go well with with dry gloves, the physique’s extremities chill quickly. Fingers are the primary to succumb to the biting chilly, and numbing ache will increase with every passing minute, making it tough and cumbersome to work digicam tools. Then the toes begin rebelling on the discomfort of being immersed in freezing chilly water.

Hermit crab, Lembeh, Indonesia.

One dive within the Arctic, method above Norway, is probably the most memorable. My buddy Jeff and I had been engrossed in accumulating echinoderms for the Pure Historical past Museum of Los Angeles, we had the requisite Norwegian permits and had been coated with a thick carpet of kelp. As I breathed down my tank to 500 psi, I made a decision to move for extra shallow water and indicated my intention to Jeff, who gave me the OK signal. I adopted the steep contour of the rocky slope as much as 15 toes, all of the whereas nonetheless looking for echinoderms and opisthobranchs.

With my security cease accomplished, I regarded round to discover a appropriate place to floor however was surprised to see an enormous sheet of ice, 25 toes deep and lengthening so far as I might see in each instructions, transferring towards me. With my air reserve depleted to 200 psi, it was not an inviting choice to duck beneath the ice to try to swim out from beneath the large ice floe and danger operating out of air. Nevertheless it was perilous to remain put because the monstrous ice would crush me in opposition to the vertical rocky wall. I made a decision to floor and will see Henrick, our divemaster, alone in our Zodiac, about 100 yards down present, frantically attempting to push the ice away with the craft, although it made no impression in opposition to the inertia of the soccer field-sized ice sheet. Simply then, the ice hit an outcropping of rocks, sending chunks of ice showering upward. This momentarily arrested the motion of the ice and gave me a tiny window to fin like hell and scramble onto the Zodiac, which zipped away simply in time to keep away from the crushing ice. Fortunately, Jeff appeared on the other, secure aspect of the ice floe, and we picked him up.

OP: How did you initially get into diving, and what’s the important thing to changing into a profitable photographer working under sea stage?

KL: Whereas working as a marketing consultant within the meals business, an affiliate, an ice cream formulation skilled who was additionally a licensed NAUI scuba teacher, requested if I might prefer to discover ways to scuba dive. I had informed him about my love of out of doors actions. I used to be too busy to take part in a gaggle lesson, so he supplied non-public classes at my very own tempo and schedule. After passing the written check and executing some pool periods, we headed to the ocean for my first seaside dive, off Laguna Seashore.

An octopus with eggs, Redondo Seashore, California.

The expertise was thrilling, akin to visiting a brand new world, with so many uncommon marine creatures. As a beginner, because of the pleasure and stresses of being underwater, my backside time was restricted to about 20 minutes. Now, after spending practically 2,000 hours underwater all around the world, I can breathe underwater for about two hours utilizing the identical air tank. So, the important thing to being a great underwater photographer is to first be a proficient scuba diver.

Then it is advisable to modify to a watery world the place visibility may be low, pesky surge can transfer you and your topic from side to side—particularly once they’re as small as those I give attention to—and particulates within the water may cause ugly backscatter in an in any other case good picture. However assembly the challenges, particularly when attempting to find and doc tiny creatures, is a part of this large journey.

See extra of Kevin Lee’s work at

By Mark Edward Harris / Pictures By Kevin Lee –>

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