Richest Reefs' Photographic Epilogue - Michael AW


When I was young, I always wanted to be a lawyer. I applied and was accepted into law school at Manchester. But being the only child in a Chinese family, my mother thought it was a bad idea and wanted me to be a doctor instead. I would have been a bad one, possibly just prescribing Panadol for every illness on earth. I lost my argument (my mother has the tongue of snake which lashes faster than the speed of light) and finished off doing Economics and Marketing instead. After 13 years in advertising I retired to be an underwater photographer. I have no formal training in photography, and I bought my first camera in 1985; a Nikonos V – it came without a manual. I guess what I am trying to say is, I do not know much about the science of photography and I taught myself the hard way, through many trials, errors and flooded cameras.

 Like an artist, I use lenses, cameras, film, the sun and artificial lights as paints to make my pictures. Experimenting with shutter speed, aperture and various sources of light, my work has improved through the years. Richest Reefs is a chronicle of my art, skill and labour of love for the last 15 years.

In the 1980s my tool was a Nikonos V with 35mm and 20mm lenses. In the early 1990s I was using a Nikon 801 in an Ikelite housing and a Nikonos V with a 15mm lens. The strobes I used were little giants – the Ikelite 150. Through the 1990s I progressed with the Tussey, Subal and Nexus housings; upgrading my camera from the Nikon F90 to the F4 and finally the F100.

 Today I house three Nikon F100s in SEACAM housing. The Ikelite S200 is my strobes of choice – I bring along five or six of them on each expedition. Believe me, once you have tried the SEACAM with the S45 viewfinder, you won’t settle for anything less. The digital age is amazing – no film, no processing and I can edit my images on site. The D100 and D1X are now essential parts of my equipment. More than 50 per cent of the images from Raja Ampat, the last section of this book, were shot digitally.

I have been asked many times how to shoot good pictures? My reply has always been simple – shoot a lot and shoot from your heart. By shooting a lot, you get to know your equipment better, you become more acquainted with marine animals, and you get to see the light better. Shooting with your heart is shooting with passion. You must have the passion, the dedication and commitment to be successful. It is that simple. The sea has given me immense happiness and filled my life with love and wonder. No two dives are ever the same – once I put my head beneath the surface I am in awe of the web of life, the intermingling, intertwining and interdependency of one creature with another.

 Fishes are more intelligent than we often give them credit for and I have many stories to tell, one of which is from a recent Bunaken trip. A Saddle pufferfish confronted my attention by swimming back and forth in front of my lens as I was shooting a pair of mating nudibranchs. For more than five minutes the fish simply would not leave me alone. I finished my film on the nudibranch and snarled at the fish for giving me a headache! In his fishy language it seemed like he was beckoning me to follow and I did. Twenty metres away I found his partner swimming frantically in a small fish trap. I cut the net and released the fish and they swam away happily, one after another. Well that was another Kodak moment that I missed, I was out of film.

 Of late I have taken up Roger Steene’s challenge to earn my manhood by shooting Flasher wrasse showing off their fins, fully erect, in their courtship ritual. These elegant twits are incredibly fast and any amount of bad language doesn’t help either. Believe me, I have tried. But blennies remain my all time favourite subject – we are talking about a 15-year love-hate relationship. Recently, at Wageo passage, I spent almost one hour playing with a group of Yellow-eyed combtooths. I think I caught one by surprise. In fact he is looking at you right now.

 With Richest Reefs I hope that I have, in a way, shared with you the joy and fun I have experienced in the most amazing coral reefs of Indonesia. Please do write to me and share your experiences from these beautiful places.