misool in raja ampat is a dream location for corals and reef life, but the more I think about it, it is also my favourite place to photograph reef manta rays.
There are lots of locations around the world where you can see majestic mantas, but Misool offers something special.
First, there are lots of mantas and their numbers are going up and up; in the first six years of the reserve, both shark and manta ray numbers rose 2000%.
Second, the area has multiple cleaning stations for divers to visit, and diver numbers are strictly controlled so that only one boat can visit a site at a time, which means that there is no wall of bubbles between you and the action.
I love shooting mantas there because the reefs are rich and flourishing. Reef mantas are great subjects on their own, but it is even better to tell their story by including some attractive scenery in the shot.
Compositionally, this means keeping a cool head and seeing the whole picture, not just “bullseyeing” the manta and clipping out the reef.
Lighting these shots is a challenge, and I typically position my strobes in the 10 and 2 o’clock positions to produce a more even spread of light on both the reef and manta.
Now I just need the manta to come close, and the trick is to stay still and stay low – nobody ever got a good manta photo by chasing one.
I try a look for an attractive coral outcrop, and duck in behind it with my back to any current.
Mantas usually approach a cleaning station upcurrent and the outcrop conceals me as they approach, and then provides me with a foreground when I shoot the action with my wide-angle lens.