Pygmy Seahorses Challenge Photographers

August 12, 2014

AnnieCrawley_PygmySeaHorse-2964Pygmy Seahorses live in The Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia on gorgonians, soft corals and in algae and sea grasses. They are a favorite subject to find for macro and super macro photographers. The pygmy seahorses you see are images taken on a dusk dive in Raja Ampat, Indonesia are less than one centimeter, smaller than your pinky fingernail.

Creating images of these animals requires patience and understanding of your subject. Their bodies blend into the coral polyps of the gorgonian. If you accidentally touch the seafan and the polyps are feeding, they will all close down and instead of seeing the flower-like polyps you will just see bumps. Before I start shooting any moving animal, I first set up my system on a dead piece of coral the same size as the animal I want to shoot.

AnnieCrawley_PygmySeaHorse-2992If you are not patient, you may end up with images of just pygmy seahorse backs. Look at the one here. They have a prehensile tail like a monkey’s that they wrap it around the coral to stay in one place while feeding or resting. I use a spotting light often when shooting macro to help me with focus. When shooting animals, you must get the eye in focus. I shoot macro with an f-stop such as F22 or F32 and two strobes and my Light & Motion Sola 1200 with a spotting light. I switch to my 1200 red photo light for dusk dives and night dives.


After taking a few frames of this pair, one of the seahorses started dancing, swimming and let go of the gorgonian. When something unexpected and wonderful happens, in filmmaking we call that a golden nugget. Although it’s challenging to keep a free-swimming animal smaller than your pinky fingernail in 50 feet of water in the site of your lens, it can be done when you know your system, your subject, and carry great lights.

Keep Diving Into Your Imagination!

Annie Crawley is an author, speaker, UW photographer and cinematographer. She also contributes photo tips in a weekly column “Ask Annie” on our facebook page.