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Fishing For a Photo

From the Underwater Lens: Steve Simonsen
Fishing For a Photo

Steve Simonsen’s infatuation with fish, photography and SCUBA is undeniable. While some end up at dead-end desk jobs, Steve has spent the past 20 years living his dream in the Virgin Islands, combining his passions for photography and the sea. The Michigan native discovered his desire first for SCUBA and, shortly after college, began traveling the world and teaching diving with Club Med. He was introduced to the early world of underwater film photography in 1980, and picked up the craft quickly. He soon spent his life savings on a Nikonos underwater camera, a 15 mm lens and strobes, and followed a desire to become a full-time photographer. Today, Steve prefers to shoot with his Canon 5D Mark II and favours his 15 mm fisheye and 100 mm macro lenses. His photography portfolio extends to scenic, architectural and portrait. Since moving to the VI, his images have graced the covers of numerous magazines, including Caribbean Travel + Life, SCUBA Diving and Sport Diver.


Fairy Basslet
Don’t tilt your head—this photo is not inverted. The fairy basslet, with its striking combination of hues Steve would describe as “disco colours,” is often an upside-down swimmer. It lives in holes and on the undersides of ledges, and orients its belly to the substrate in its vicinity. The fish’s unique design includes a black highlight with a spot on its dorsal fin; a trail of black runs a natural streak of eyeliner across its optics. This image was lit using two strobes at different power settings and with side lighting to add depth to the image. Since the fairy basslet reside in the shade underneath ledges, Steve explained that the skittish swimmers are quite tricky to photograph. “They customarily don’t let you get that close to them before they dart for the protection of their lair—which is their hole in the reef,” he said.


Queen Angelfish
The queen angelfish is “by far” Steve’s favourite sea subject because of it’s striking colours and patterns and behavior. Its bright colour scheme is even featured in Steve’s company logo and business cards. Since the queen is very “secretive and relatively shy” when approached, Steve said he’s careful not to move too quickly toward his subject or look it directly in the eyes when approaching. “It’s a special day when you encounter a member o the species that will allow you to photograph them,” he said. Steve’s especially fond of this photo because he found the fish in front of a striking contrast of coloured reef and mastered great use of negative space.

Steve’s been catching these strange specimens chewing with their mouths open for years. The yellow-headed jawfish burrow into the sand and excavate their homes with their mouth, spitting out their scoop as they pop up. They do everything with their mouth, including incubating and protecting their eggs before they hatch. Also a very timid fish, the jawfish are a difficult specimen to catch in the act. “It takes great patience to move closer ever so slowly and let them regain confidence in your position knowing that you will not attack them,” he said. It took Steve more than 10 years to capture this mouth brooder, “until that special day had come,” he said. “I spent the entire dive in front of this pair of jawfish, shooting frame after frame hoping for just the right one.”



Caribbean Reef Squid
Technically, this fascinating specimen is not a fish but a mollusk. Squid have the ability to morph instantly as they squirm through the water, and forge complex colour changes with the pigments in their skin. When interacting with other squid, they can change the colour and pattern laterally on each side of their body. They can relay one colour pattern to a squid on their right side and another colour pattern to a squid on their left side to display what might be a defense message to male on one side and a mating pattern to a female on the other side. Steve specifically chose a night dive for this shot. “While you can create a black background during the day by using a fast shutter speed combined with a very stopped down aperture, it’s easier to do at night … and the squid can be sometimes easier to approach,” he explained, adding that “night diving reveals fish and creatures doing very different behavior than that of the day.”

Queen Triggerfish
The queen triggerfish—or oldwife—has incredibly tough skin and a very strong beak that can tear apart sea urchins. It’s the vibrant colour pattern that attracts Steve most to these queens, which are relatives of the Picasso triggerfish, named Picasso because of its zany patterns and colours. “With two fins on the top of its body and its elongated tail fin, the fish is shaped roughly like a flattened football,” Steve said. Perhaps that’s why the versed photographer finds the queen triggerfish “irresistible to photograph.”

All of these photos were shot with a 105 mm macro lens.
Steve’s photography collection can be viewed at www.stevesimonsen.com

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