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Pacific Harbour Lagoon at dawn

Pacific Harbour Lagoon at dawn

Pacific harbour Lagoon, Viti Levu, Fiji. The story behind one of my favourite images and a link to buy fine art prints and wall art of this image at colinmunroimages.com

Some of the photographs I am most pleased with come completely unexpectedly. I found myself in the tiny settlement of Pacific Harbour, on the south coast of Viti levu, Fiji’s largest island, not to take landscape photographs but to try and capture images of bull and tiger sharks with the nearby diving operation, Beqa Adventure Divers. The dives went ahead, and were very successful, the dive operation was extremely professional and I gained some excellent shots. But that story is not what this blog is about. This is about the shot below, and how it came be.

Sunrise over Pacific Harbour Lagoon, Viti Levu, Fiji. Fine art print for sale.
Sunrise over the Pacific Harbour Lagoon, Viti Levu, Fiji

After dinner the previous evening I had retired to my room to begin preparing my camera equipment. For every professional photographer this is a ritualistic affair, and especially so for underwater photographers where one un-noticed hair across an ‘o’ ring seal, or one grain of sand lurking in the shadows of a machined seal groove can not only result in you gaining no images whatsoever, it is also likely to spell the death of your very expensive camera and lens, rendering irretreivably seizing delicate mechanisms and shorting multiple electronic circuits. By the same token, the camera is controlled by a series of sealed buttons, levers and gears, all precisely aligned to facilitate operation through the metal housing. A millimetre misalignment in setup, and one can find oneself frantically operating a control at a crucial moment … with nothing happening and no way to resolve the problem underwater. So cleaning, assembling and checking camera systems becomes a quasi-religious ritual. Once finally satisfied with my endevours, I retired for an early night. Adrenaline was coursing in my veins however, so despite the previous days long road journey I woke early. Through the glass doors of my room I could see it was still dark, with just a slight reddish tinge low in the sky. But I was wide awake and the pre-dawn was filled with sound; frogs, insects and birds I did not recognise croaked, chirped and called, irresistibly beconing me out. So I dressed quickly, grabbed my land camera, my first digital SLR (my underwater camera was still a film camera back then, the iconic Nikon F4). I checked the settings and battery power and headed out. Padding across the dew laden grass I arrived at the edge of the lagoon in only a couple of minutes. I could see mudskippers perched on the roots of mangroves, plopping into the water below as soon as I approached. At that point I had no clear idea what I wanted to photograph. As this was planned as purely a diving trip I did not have a suitable lens for capturing small mudskippers or any shy wildlife with me. It was more about enjoying the early morning and having a camera with me, just in case. As I stood at the water’s edge, watching mudskippers and fiddler crabs feeding on the soft mud, I could also see the sky change. The sky above me lightened to a deep cyan, while just above the silhoutted mangroves and palms it turned deep burned orange while whispy clouds stood out deep gunmetal blue. And all this was reflected in the still lagoon waters. I took shot after shot. Every minute the sky would look quite different from the previous. Back then digital SLRs did not have the electronics to to produce noise free images at high ISOs, so I was shooting at ISO 125 to keep the images clean and faithful. To compensate in the low light I was shooting with the lens wide open at a 50th of a second, stabilising myself against a tree. I remained there for what seemed like an hour but was in fact no more than 20 minutes; the sun comes up fast in the tropics. As the sun cleared the trees I headed back to my room and the breakfast.

The rest of the day was a frenzy of activity. The shark dives can wait for another blog, except to say that I did indeed flood the housing of my underwater video (but not my stills camera) through some carelessly missed specs of grit in the seal. Only the third time in my life I have done that after around a thousand dives. So my video camera became a beautifully machine piece of Sony engineering reduced to scrap metal and glass. It was almost a week later I was finally able to download and start to go through the images I took at dawn. Although many were extraordinarly beautiful, the one shown here, for me, was the stand out. I photograph dawns and sunsets rather a lot, and often in quite remote and magnificent locations, but I have never since observed a dawn quite like that morning.

Fine Art Prints and Wall Art

If you like the image of Pacific harbour Dawn, it is available to purchase in a wide range of media and sizes directly from my website. These include as traditional giclée prints, stretched and flat mounted canvas, metal prints (dye directly infused on sheet aluminium) and acrylic, from 8 inches up to 48 inches across. My prints are produced by Bay Photo Labs in Santa Cruz, California. I choose bay Photo Labs for the excellence of their quality, with over 40 years providing printing services to professional photographers, their constant innovation, combining the latest technology and innovation with the finest traditional techniques, and their committment to the highest environmental standards using green technology. You can buy my prints directly here at www.colinmunroimages.com. If you are outside of North America, and would prefer a printer in your region, please contact me directly. I will be adding printers in Europe and S.E. Asia soon.

And the shark dive? Okay, here’s one image.

Tiger shark, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji.

Sharks of Beqa lagoon part 1: Tiger sharks

Sharks of Beqa lagoon part 1: Tiger sharks

Large female tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, known locally as Scarface, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000479.

Large female tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, known locally as Scarface, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000479.

Large female tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, known locally as Scarface, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000479. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.
Beqa Lagoon is often described as the World’s best shark diving location and I, for one, would not dispute that. I dived here with Rusi, Papa, Andrew and the team from Beqa Action Divers. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend these guys, I couldn’t have asked for a more conservation-orientated team with a great laid back attitide. At the same time the whole operation was extremely professional, making the diving run as smooth as clockwork. Above water the location is simply stunning; lush forest and magrove bordering the Navua River which empties into the sheltered lagoon. These are not, however,the crystal clear waters of , say, the Bahamas. In Fiji it rains a lot. A lot! River waters pour in to the lagoon; rarely seriously reducing visibility but just enough to reduce light levels and create slightly gloomy effect at depth. In my opinion this rather adds to the atmosphere of the place; a big tiger or bull shark appearing out of the gloom is somehow more impressive than one cruising across a bright sunlight seabed. The key location for bull sharks and tigers is near the outer edge of the lagoon, where it meets the open ocean, dropping into very deep water indeed. This has the advantage that you are furthest from the freshwater inputs, so the water is much clearer. Bulls and Tigers patrol the lower part of the reef slope, rising up to the ledge at about 30 metres (100 feet) at which the deepest part of the dive is conducted. I was generously allowed to position myself directly behind Tubee, who had the unenviable task of hand-feeding feeding the sharks with large chunks of tuna. I thus had a perfect view as they cruised in, then swept past overhead (sometimes requiring a slight nudge to help them clear me).
Close up of a large female Tiger Shark  known as;Scarface; swimming at around 30 metres depth, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji.  Image MBI000474.

Close up of a large female Tiger Shark known as 'Scarface' swimming at around 30 metres depth, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000474.

Close up of a large female Tiger Shark known as Scarface; swimming at around 30 metres depth, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000474. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.
The tiger shark in these photographs is a lady known as scarface, due to the long scar running down from the right side of her jaw (the result of a fish hook). She is probably about 4-4.5 metres long (14-15 feet), so is a pretty big fish. She has been returning to the lagoon for several years, so is well known to the divers there. The first sign of her imminent appearance was the moving away of the bulls as they became aware of her presence; she then glided in to view, making a couple of circles to inspect the scene before deciding to head for the food. Although she has an impressive sense of smell her eyesight is not great; so provided you don’t move too much like food, or smell like food (slightly tricky when the water is full of tuna flakes) then you’re pretty much okay.
Large tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, swimming towards diver, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000486.

Large tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, swimming towards diver, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000486.

Large tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, swimming towards diver, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000486. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.
Large female Tiger Shark, Scarface, swimming at around 30 metres depth, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000476.

Large female Tiger Shark 'Scarface' swimming at around 30 metres depth, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000476.

Large female Tiger Shark, Scarface, swimming at around 30 metres depth, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000476. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.
I took these shots on film, my last serious trip underwater with a film camera. The plus side is they produced huge images (20+megapixel images). The down side was I only had 100iso film and so was really struggling with light; even with a fast, wide prime lens (20mm) I was still down at 15th of a second shutter speed thus had to be pretty steady to get useable shots. Just to add to my problems, the auto-manual focus switch on my housing stopped working, leaving me stuck in autofocus. In such low light, low contrast conditions the autofocus was hunting like crazy. After losing a couple of perfect shots due to the camera failing to focus in time I resorted to the technique of waiting until a shark was approaching, deciding on the distance I was going to take the pic, then turning and pointing the camera at some coral rubble by my side that was about the same distance, locking focus, then with shutter half depressed turning and shooting once the shark was close enough. Needless to say this drew some curious looks from my Fijian friends; why on earth was I staring at a lump of rock to the side of me when a big shark was heading straight towards me, but hey! It worked.
A large female tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, cruising near the seabed, beqa lagoon, Fiji. Image No. MBI000484

A large female tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, cruising near the seabed, beqa lagoon, Fiji. Image No. MBI000484


I plan to follow this up with a couple more blogs on other shark species found at Beqa. Watch this space.