Whip, whip away….
Whip gobies are very popular creatures for underwater photographers. They represent a bit of a challenge, are full of character, and have interesting lives.
And prompted by a friend of mine posting a picture recently I decided to write a blog post about how to shoot them.
And also you will see how they can even improve your diving skills and in water control too, read on.

As their name suggests they are to be found usually living upon Whip Corals, and they have a mutually beneficial role. The Cnidarian Whip Coral, provides a home, and occasional food for the Goby, and the Goby in return cleans up any algae hazardous to the coral.
There are normally a pair on each whip, but it’s not that unusual to find a third or even fourth living on the same coral, and they will try and avoid the mating pair, although such is the architecture of their choice of home this isn’t always possible.
They mostly eat plankton, but will sometimes eat a coral polyp from their hosts.

They are a challenge to photographers because you need to be quite close either in the macro or even super macro range to shoot them. Add this to their shyness, and skittish behaviour, and they will test your patience over quite some time to get the shot you want.

The classic shot shows the goby living astride its whip, with the coral receding into the distance, or perhaps a straight side on picture, illuminating the creatures transparent body.

 

Your classic Whip Coral Goby picture, with the creature facing, or it could be side on, with enough light coming from behind to show the transparent body structure.

Your classic Whip Coral Goby picture, with the creature facing, or it could be side on, with enough light coming from behind to show the transparent body structure.

 

 

The goby has a pair of fused pelvic fins which are suction cup shaped and provide an anchor for the goby to stay put in strong currents. In the above fairly standard shot of a goby, I’ve provided a little light from the side to show the transparency of the creature.

Rather than settle for the classic shot, which you can give yourself a pat on the back for,  as you may well have spent most of a dive trying to get, why not mix it up a bit and bring to bear some of the other techniques I’ve mentioned in other blogs.
This way you won’t just get the standard whip coral goby picture, but hopefully a few different ones too.

 

In water control

In the next shot I’ve strongly side lit the fish and instead of using the easier route to focus by choosing the requisite small aperture, I’ve used a much wider aperture, trickier to achieve eye focus, but all the more rewarding for it, and this has rendered a much smoother out of focus background.
To see an earlier post about shallow depth of field please click here
I’ve also framed much closer.This is a real test of your diving skills, as if you are floating free as you should be, and not plonked on the bottom with your fins trashing the surroundings, your buoyancy control will need to be inch perfect.

If your dive skills aren’t up to it, then make sure you are making minimal points of contact, as there is usually marine life living all around even if its not so obvious.
And this is particularly so in those parts of the world famed for muck diving.
I have found that shooting whip coral gobies and forcing myself to only shoot when completely floating free has actually improved my in water control, so why not? Its a win win all round as I see it.

 

A much wider aperture and closer viewpoint has been used here to show more of the character of the fish, and give me a nice smooth background.

A much wider aperture and closer viewpoint has been used here to show more of the character of the fish, and give me a nice smooth background.

 

Double trouble

When the classic shots are in the bag, and you want to take the next step, I suggest that you really spend a bit of time studying a good whip coral. Occasionally the  pair of gobies will be close to one another, allowing you to get a shot of them. Sometimes they are side by side, on top of one another, or as I was lucky enough to see after around half an hour of waiting, opposite one another, and facing in opposite directions.
You may only have a second or so to get the shot, but you might see it potentially happening, so why not prepare your exposure and flash settings and positioning in advance so you don’t fumble when the shot occurs.
I saw these two slowly approaching one another, and decided to backlight them, when they juxtaposed.
To see an earlier blog about backlighting please click here

 

All your own work

I also am not a big fan of those guides in certain parts of the world that will try and corral the marine life for you by coaxing the creatures into place, and whilst being environmentally the wrong thing to do, theres much less of a challenge and you will learn less.

I ended up taking about six shots before they moved into a less photogenic position, and this one the one on the left was spitting something from its mouth.
I’ve since learned that they sometimes swallow sand to aid digestion, similar to what birds do. and this one was simply regurgitating a little.

 

 

A stroke of luck, which I capitalised on. And it took almost a whole dive and very precise dive skills to achieve.

A stroke of luck, which I capitalised on. And it took almost a whole dive and very precise dive skills to achieve.

 

Practising all the skills necessary to get successful Whip Goby shots without harming the reef or its surroundings, is a win win all around, as not only will you get some great shots of an elusive subject, but you’ll also improve your dive skills to boot.

 

Learn these techniques and much more on one of my very popular photo workshops, to the Red Sea and much further afield.
I try and foster an inclusive atmosphere, packaged up in a fun learning experience.
So why not join me on one of my future trips, here is the page for you to check this out.

Regards Duxy