Small Fish tales

By Sunday, July 1, 2012grafphoto

In continuing some posts about my recent trip to Little Cayman, I thought I would share a few shots of small fish from the reefs I visited.   Small fish can be quite interesting characters.   I view them as being from one of two groups as far as their personalities – either really shy, or really “spunky” (in that they will aggressively defend their territory).   Some quite easy to spot, others definitely use the complexity of a reef to blend in to hide from predators.   All of these were photographed with a Nikon 105 f2.8 AF VR macro lens.

Sailfin Blenny

Sailfin Blenny in burrow, Little Cayman Island

Sailfin Blenny in burrow, Little Cayman Island

This little guy was no bigger diameter than about half of my pinky finger.   Given how small they are, I can see why they are somewhat hard to find.   It was my first time seeing one.   The males have a large sail fin, but they only display it after coming out of their holes a bit, which can involve a long wait.   I would classify this one as being in the spunky group.   I placed my finger just outside of his burrow only to find him come out and nip at it.   Pretty gutsy attacking something about a gazillion times his size.   Look at the photo, the fish kinda looks like a 1/2 inch sized bad-ass.



Shortstripe Goby


Shortstripe Goby, Little Cayman island

Shortstripe Goby inside yellow tube sponge, Little Cayman island

I am not 100% certain on the ID of this guy since there are a few similar gobies.  It is the one I am going with since he did not have a yellow stripe on his nose.  These small fish usually hang out inside sponges and fall more towards the shy end.   I usually saw them down inside the sponges, so I was fortunate to find this one on the edge.  One of the reasons I like using a 105 mm is that it allows me to have a pretty good working distance for shy critters.






Slender Filefish

Slender Filefish picture

Slender Filefish in front of a gorgonian sea fan, Little Cayman island

I had a heck of a time trying to photograph this little guy.  He was no bigger than your thumb to the first knuckle and swam unpredictably around this sea fan.  It may seem rather obvious because of the closeup nature of this photo and my slight lightening of the area around the fish, but they are very hard to spot from a distance.  They actually blend in very well and use the gorgonians for cover.  He didn’t seem all that nervous with me around, but would constantly tip from side to side preventing me from getting a good side profile view.     I actually got this shot while I was upside down to avoid my fins being near the reef.



Yellowhead Jawfish

Yellowhead jawfish picture

Yellowhead jawfish at burrow, Little Cayman

These long shaped fish are found burrowing in sandy areas and piles of rubble.  They can be pretty fearless – often raising up out of their holes to stare at you in the face.  They are mouth brooders, so when they have eggs, they collect them and protect them in their mouths and occasionally aerate them.   A dive master on our boat gave us a tip to look for the ones with the black spots on their chins, as this indicated they usually had eggs.   While I did find one with eggs, it popped back into its hole on my approach.   I backed away, waited, waited, and waited a awhile longer to see if he would come out again.   Looking down at my air gauge showed I had just enough air to do my safety stop and make it back to the boat.   Having air overruled getting the shot on this one.  🙂   But I did have another with no eggs.



There is an amazing variety of life that can be found with a macro lens.   These small fish are just a small fraction of what can be found on any particular dive.   It does take going very slow and having a watchful eye.  You never know what may pop out of a hole.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • jennifer D says:

    I love all of your Cayman photos, Mark, but I especially like these little guys. Fascinating look into a world few people ever see.

  • I wish I could go, even if I could never take any photos at all. Yours are superb and obviously take skill. Thanks for the explanations too.

    • Mark says:

      It is truly a unique place David. Thanks for the compliments. However, I more often feel more like I don’t know what I am doing. Occasionally I get some keepers.

  • scuba_suzy says:

    nice shots Mark 🙂 I prefer the 60mm for weight reasons but I think if has any stength in my wrists at all I would use the 105 a lot more. As you found it can be quite tricky to get near to the shy critters with a 105 – image trying with a 60 😐

    I liked to see the sailfin blennies sail fin in your photo! I’ve only seen one of these little guys and he kept his fin down. He was pretty spunky too though, he allowed my buddy and I to be both sides (so I could get my buddy in the photo too) and didnt duck back into his hole. He just eyed us both independantly with one eye on each of us.

    Also, how are you finding TTL? I’ve never used it. I am constantly tinkeriung with the two strobes independantly, do you find it gives you flexibilty or it it just easier for even light?

    You know I love these underwater posts – keep them coming! 🙂


    • Mark says:

      I have been tempted by the 60 as it gives a bit more flexibility with non-macro subjects.

      TTL is certainly easier for even lighting. I was trying to play a bit by using TTL and dialing down either side a little bit. I am thinking I didn’t have the right subjects for that part as I only ended up with some harsh shadows. I struggled a bit using non-TTL for my wide stuff, so going TTL for macro was a bit of a relief to not have to mess with as much. One of these days I am going to take a class on this stuff – perhaps with Alex M!

  • I agree with Earl, macro is difficult enough, let along taking it under water. We know that macro photography will take us to another world and when you take that under water we add to it another world. Wonderful images, Mark, and thankful you share it with us. 🙂

  • Earl says:

    Mark, Like it’s not challenging enough trying to get good micro shots on dry land…Nooooo, you have to do it under water and even upside down in some cases. Show-off! 😉

    And to think to some of the life that exist in these locations even these guys are giants. It’s an amazing and complex place we live.

    • Mark says:

      I wish I had a lot more successes Earl…. at least on dry land I have a tripod, so I guess I could also say handheld and upside-down. 🙂 “Look at the photographer do circus tricks mom….”

  • ken bello says:

    Amazing shots, Mark. For the macro shots, are you able to focus and set exposure manually, or does the camera’s auto features work in the housing?

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Ken. For macro, since the strobes are providing all of the lighting, I can usually use aperture priority and TTL. Autofocus though is hit and miss. I will usually prefocus manually if the auto starts hunting a lot.

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts