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City & Travel

Raja Ampat - the Kingdom of the Four Kings. One of the most remote regions of Indonesia and at the same time one of the most species-rich diving areas in the world. Hotspot for divers and funfair for underwater photographers. Stage for strange creatures, freaky critters and colourful coral gardens. Tourists and individual travellers from all over the world have long since arrived at underwater photography and have discovered this magical place for themselves. Always in search of the perfect subject, the perfect photo. We too dive down into the endless depths of the unique island archipelago in the middle of the coral triangle, the area with the highest biodiversity in the sea of all. Raja Ampat provides us with the big stage, Olympus the compact and light camera technology.

Every year from October to May, an exorbitant population of manta rays is found in Raja Ampat, attracting tourists and underwater photographers with an affinity for diving. In 2006 the Kingdom of the Four Kings was officially declared a Marine Reserve to protect the majestic creatures of the local waters. Raja Ampat is one of the few places in the world where both types of manta ray can be sighted. Divers and snorkelers have the opportunity to dive and snorkel with both reef manta rays up to three meters in size and oceanic manta rays, whose wingspan can exceed six meters.

The fact that divespots with guaranteed manta ray high- speed drifts are not always easy to dive poses an essential problem for many experienced underwater photographers. Currents, which the elegant gliders manage effortlessly, seem to be an insurmountable obstacle even for experienced divers.

So how do you achieve perfect images of reef or oceanic manta rays, especially against the sun? The most important thing of all is good buoyancy control and an even better knowledge of your own camera equipment. Those who fight against a current at the bottom of the sea and try desperately to find out the best adjustment of their camera have actually already lost.

For pictures of large marine animals such as manta rays, sharks or even humpback whales, a lens with an appropriate focal length is essential. The fisheye lens, M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm F1.8 PRO is the first choice on our OM-D E-M1 Mark II, but it means that you have to get relatively close to the subject. Ergo: a good shot needs an appropriate time frame. Hidden behind a colourful pinnacle we wait for our chance. The settings on the camera have already been made, the aperture relatively wide closed and the two flashes manually set to 75 percent of full power. Majestically a black reef manta glides majestically over our heads. Out of the shadow of the current we follow the animal a few flipper strokes until we are directly under it and can complete our photo in the back light of the sun. A few breaths later and a second manta ray crosses the deep blue and glides gracefully past us with a few flaps of its wings, turns and turns its laps over a cleaning station. We buy the ticket to an incomparable underwater show.

Two black tip reef sharks patrol the reef edge, an eagle ray comes out of the depth and disappears just as fast. There they are, the first wow moments and perfect shots. The moments that make a trip to the island kingdom of Raja Ampat and the underwater photos associated with it unforgettable.

Our trip leads us from the south of Raja Ampat, from Misool, further directly into the endless soft coral gardens of the Dampier Strait, the epicentre of biodiversity. Endless gardens of brightly coloured soft corals are the focus of our underwater cameras. Like endless carpets, the colourful animal colonies, which consist of countless individual polyps, stretch across the bottom of the sun-drenched ocean.

Rays of sunshine make the iridescent underground shine in a pop colourful way. Tree corals shine with red sea whips and huge fan gorgonians. Closely clinging to its gorgonian, the tiny and equally rare Pontohi pygmy seahorse swings gently back and forth in the current. The flaming splendid sepia poses next to the tiny leafy sheep snail and the curious Coconut Octopus in the light of the diving lamps. With the aperture wide open to underline the effect of the image with the appropriate bouquet, we fall under a real critter spell on sandy ground and shade the army of darkness in the dark night. Underwater macro photography captured with the 60 mm macro lens. Just the right thing for macro enthusiasts. Little current, most bizarre life forms - the stage is set for the perfect underwater photo.

Author & Photographer: Melanie and David Benz

All images shot with the following equipment