Papua New Guinea: Adventure of a Lifetime

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For photographers who specialize in shooting in the underwater environment, traveling to the Coral Triangle was the adventure of a lifetime. Named for the approximate shape of the area it covers, the Coral Triangle includes the marine waters of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. It contains the highest level of marine biodiversity in the world, including a multitude of coral species and reef fishes.

Papua New Guinea is in the Coral Triangle.

Getting There

Traveling from New York to Papua New Guinea was no easy task. In terms of flight time, we spent 25 hours in the air, going from New York to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Manila, and then to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. After that, it was another three-hour flight from Port Moresby to Hoskins airport via PNG Air.

Flight duration was only half the challenge. Traveling with all our scuba gear and photo equipment created something of a logistical nightmare. Airlines enforced a strict 15-lb weight limit for carry-on strollers, so all our bags had to be checked. This added extra cost and some serious stress, because we knew that if anything happened to our gear, our PNG adventure would be over before it began.

Traveling from New York to Papua New Guinea is not an easy task.

The Equipment

Documenting our adventure required a ton of gear. For topside shooting, we used Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 cameras. We also used the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II, which offers a great deal of flexibility without changing lenses. The telephoto lenses we used were the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II and the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH. POWER O.I.S.

For underwater shooting, we used the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II in an Aquatica housing. Because water is denser than air and contains more particles, it’s important to have as little water between your lens and subject as possible. To address this, we used wide-angle and fisheye lenses, including the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4-5.6, Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 ASPH. and the Panasonic Lumix G Fisheye 8mm f/3.5. Papua New Guinea waters also contain some of the smallest marine creatures in the world. To capture these creatures, we used the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens, which allowed us to shoot a 1:1 life-size image. To get the subject larger than life size, we added the Aquatica +5 Wet Diopter Close-Up Lens to the housing.

For lighting, we used two Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobes, one on each side of the housing, with a Fantasea Line Radiant 3000F Video LED Dive Light mounted next to the strobe with the Aquatica Delta 3 Triple Ball Joint Clamp.

The Dives

For the dives, we used three different operations: the Walindi Plantation Resort and live-aboard diving boat MV FeBrina, both in Kimbe Bay, as well as the Tufi Resort. The staff at all three locations were fantastic, as were our dive guides, who helped make our dives a success.

The first site we visited was Hanging Garden, named for the many tangles of rope sponges hanging down the face of the cliff. Here, Olga used the Panasonic 7-14mm lens to capture the scene, including a shot of me inside a sponge-draped arch.

Rope sponges at Hanging Garden

One of our favorite dives was at Norman’s Knob, off the coast of FeBrina. Here, we were able to capture large silver tip sharks, which were attracted to the spot after the crew had chummed the waters. I used the Panasonic 8mm fisheye for this dive. At one point, I came face to face with one of the sharks, and captured the encounter from a unique angle.

Silver tip shark and hawksbill turtle on Norman’s Knob

The Arch is a beautiful swim through what is heavily decorated with some of the largest sponges we have ever seen. This was a great dive on which to use the Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens. In the photograph below, I set the camera to ISO 200, shutter speed 1/40th of a second at f/5.6. This was the perfect exposure to show the blue water inside the arch. My two strobes were set on half power, to bring out the color, but not overpower the ambient light.

Large sponge at The Arch

One of the most memorable dives took place at The Crater, a large extinct volcano filled with water. This dive wasn’t particularly pretty to shoot, but it was great for macro photography. Zoomed-in on the volcanic rock, you can find banded ribbon eels, pipefish, nudibranchs, and other colorful creatures that stand out against the dark background.

Ribbon eel at The Crater
Papua New Guinea villagers travel by outrigger canoe.

At Tufi Resort, most dive sites are an hour away from the dock, but one of the best sites is the dock. This wharf area was a PT boat base during WWII, and there is still plenty of debris underwater. This creates the perfect environment for muck diving.

From just below the surface to 32' of water lives a profusion of fascinating creatures. On one dive, we saw a variety of anemonefish, gobies, nudibranchs, and shrimp, as well as many banded pipefish. Finding and photographing two hairy ghost pipefish was very exciting. Another highlight was watching the absurdly comical twin-spot gobies hop along the bottom. These fish travel in pairs and their twin spots look like the eyes of a much larger fish to their predators.

Nudibranch and hairy ghost pipefish at Tufi dock
Twin-spot gobies at Tufi dock

Topside

We took an outrigger canoe voyage to Baga Village for a tour. Members of the local tribe greeted us in warrior dress, as did a trove of dancers in festive attire. After the dancers finished their performance, the villagers demonstrated for us different slices of village life. We saw time-honored methods of cooking, tattooing, instructions on how to make a fishing line, build a thatched roof, and other traditional ways of life. We used the Olympus 14-150mm lens and Olympus FL-600R speedlights to document this event.

Traditional dance at Baga Village
Tattooing a woman's face to indicate her readiness for marriage was mandatory until 1975.

Another attraction we visited was the Port Moresby Nature Park. This combination botanical and zoological park is dedicated solely to PNG's flora and fauna. Its exhibits include thousands of tropical plant species, such as palms, gingers, heliconias, orchids, and native timber tree species. The park is also home to many native animals, including tree-kangaroos, fruit bats, wallabies, snakes, and crocodiles. The walkthrough aviary allowed us to get close to several native bird species, including birds of paradise, hornbills, and a variety of parrots.

Hornbill at Port Moresby Nature Park

More on Papua New Guinea

On February 12, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. EST, we will be making our presentation on Papua New Guinea, at the B&H Photo Event Space. This event will also be streamed live. To see and hear more about our adventure, please join us.

Tell us about your own underwater photographic adventures in the Comments section!

Be sure to check back on B&H Explora for more of Adventure Week: Winter Edition​—and don't forget to follow B&H on Twitter @BHPhotoVideo for up-to-the-minute #adventureweek news.

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