The longnose hawkfish of the Red Sea
A difficult fish to photograph
Every diver who has wet his fins in the Red Sea has heard of the famous longnose hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus. It is one of 35 species of hawkfish, the best known of which is the freckled hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri. Many divers have seen pictures of these fish in books, but very few have seen one for real. longnose hawkfish are a little like the holy grails of the Red Sea. Everyone knows about them, many seek for them eagerly, but only a few have actually seen one.
The main difficulty is finding a place where they live. longnose hawkfish can grow to 4 inches long, and they live at depths of anywhere from 10 to 70 yards. However, we usually find them at depths greater than 30 yards in an area where gorgonians and black corals grow. These fish like to wait on a branch of coral and watch for their prey. They feed on benthic and planktonic crustaceans. The first difficulty with finding a place which meets these conditions is that many divers cannot or will not go this deep. The second is that gorgonians and black corals are fairly rare. They need very special conditions to grow. Because of this, few divers have had the opportunity to see a longnose hawkfish.
During one trip in the Red Sea, our scuba diving guide told us that at Sha'ab Maksour in the Fury Shoals, there was a gorgonian 30 yards down that housed four hawkfish. That was great news because I had been in the Red Sea for two weeks, and I still had not photographed one. I set up my camera with a 105 mm macro lens. I usually pick 2 or 3 things to photograph on each dive. This time it would be easier. I was only looking for one thing: a hawkfish on the gorgonian. I would spend as much time as I needed to, but I would return with the photo I wanted.
Once the boat was moored to the reef, the 20 divers on board jumped out into the water.
We all met at the gorgonian, 30 yards down. That was the beginning of the quest for the Grail. It was a real washing machine, with bubbles and fins flying everywhere. I wondered how I would be able to take my photographs in all the commotion. I decided to move back a little bit until the thirsty mob sought another victim a bit further on. After 5 minutes, as always, the divers got tired. One by one they left the gorgonian in search of something more interesting. They had not seen the hawkfish. For them, it would remain a dream or a beautiful picture in a book. Finally, I found myself alone with my buddy. We approached the huge gorgonian, which was divided into two parts. There was nothing there. The hawkfish were hiding. We waited for ten minutes. Then, suddenly, we saw a little fish, about 2 inches long. Luck had not failed us. We would return with the photos we had coveted We took three pictures each, then we saw another, slightly larger fish. We spent all our diving time on the gorgonian. We each took 20 beautiful photos. We began our ascent with huge smiles. As we rose upwards, we could see the swarm of divers wandering over the other parts of the reef. We hoped that they would photograph other treasures. We did not envy them. We had done exactly what we wanted to do.
This dive reminded me of a very important principle for taking good pictures: choose 2 or 3 objectives per dive, and stick to them. It can be summed up in two words: stay focused.