Asian Diver (English) - - Man & Sea -

Recre­ational divers have made a huge con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cov­ery of new marine species over the past cou­ple of decades. By trav­el­ling to places that most sci­en­tists can only dream of vis­it­ing, divers have recorded a wealth of new species that had pre­vi­ously resided in ob­scu­rity. Be­ing one of the first to pho­to­graph an an­i­mal in its nat­u­ral habi­tat car­ries quite a re­spon­si­bil­ity, so here I share some tips on what and how to shoot for the best im­age.


Sci­ence pho­tog­ra­phy strad­dles an un­usual ground be­tween func­tion­al­ity and aes­thet­ics. It ob­vi­ously de­pends on what you want to do with your im­age, but of­ten a spe­cial­ist will be able to iden­tify a known species from a fairly poor im­age so it’s worth shoot­ing what you can.

A species’ description is the for­mal process by which a newly dis­cov­ered species is iden­ti­fied. Un­til sur­pris­ingly re­cently, colour pho­to­graphs of liv­ing spec­i­mens in their nat­u­ral habi­tat were rarely in­cluded in these de­scrip­tions: Black and white plates of dead spec­i­mens were much more com­mon. Only un­der ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances can a new species be de­scribed from an im­age alone, but get­ting to this stage of­ten re­quires that sci­en­tists have seen good enough im­ages to con­firm in their own mind that it is worth pur­su­ing and col­lect­ing a spec­i­men.

For a new fish species, a clear side shot with fins wide open is prefer­able. How­ever, don’t start col­lect­ing spec­i­mens with­out hav­ing the go-ahead from a sci­en­tist first.

Given that the sci­en­tist who writes the sci­en­tific description may never see the an­i­mal alive, it is valu­able to col­lect other im­ages and in­for­ma­tion, too. Pho­tos of sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als will be use­ful, since spec­i­mens pre­served in for­ma­lin so­lu­tion very quickly lose their lus­tre. Any in­ter­est­ing be­hav­iours you ob­serve should also be cap­tured and recorded, but these needn’t be of es­pe­cially high qual­ity. A wide-an­gle shot of the an­i­mal’s habi­tat may also help a sci­en­tist to gauge its eco­log­i­cal pref­er­ences.

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