NIWA’s underwater photo magician

Crispin Middleton is a marine ecologist and national dive manager for NIWA, looking after the safety of 45 NIWA divers.

Based at Bream Bay, Whangarei, Crispin is also an acclaimed underwater photographer and the recipient of numerous photography awards.

His work regularly appears in New Zealand Geographic, dive magazines, scientific journals and conservation/ government documents. Following is a brief interview with Crispin.

What first got you interested in underwater photography?

I always had a passion for photography and combining it with my passion for the marine environment was a natural progression.

Reduced visibility: A huge shoal of fish at the Blue Maomao Arch, Poor Knights Marine Reserve.

What is that attracts you to the ocean?

It’s what I study and admire. We are able to find something unusual or unique on almost every trip out… there aren’t many environments out there where you can do that!

Blue moves: John Dory at the Poor Knights Marine Reserve.

What sort of equipment do you use in your photography?

Well, while travelling around California recently, we got absolutely every last bit of camera gear stolen from our vehicle. It was a disaster… so I am currently in the process of replacing this very expensive gear! My new gear will be a Nikon D850 in a Nauticam housing with twin Inon strobes. My main macro lenses are the 60mm and 105mm micro and for wide, I use the 15mm Sigma fish eye. This set up is a beautiful bit of kit and widely regarded as the best available for underwater photography. It doesn’t come cheap though!

What is the most difficult photography project you’ve undertaken? And the most rewarding?

It’s probably one and the same thing. Chasing paper nautilus was our first New Zealand Geographic project and it was a toughie! Paper Nautilus are almost never seen alive in New Zealand so we had to think outside the box to get the images. It involved novel diving methods as well as lots of late/ all night adventures off the Northland coast.

Flying fish: A rare shot of a juvenile flying fish, finally captured after years of trying.

Where’s your favourite spot?

Definitely the Poor Knights marine reserve. It’s such a stunning place and we can find rarities or species new to New Zealand on almost every trip. There is a real chance of photographing something no one has ever seen here before.

Formidable defences.

Where’s your next big underwater photography adventure taking you?

We have several projects on the go in New Zealand. The 2000 year-old sunken forest in Lake Waikaremoana, ocean flotsam and plastics, seagrass meadows and dune lakes. So plenty to keep us busy. Overseas, we have our eye on Lord Howe Island and British Columbia.

What would you most like to photograph that so far eluded you?

There are so many… at the moment, we are focusing on the open ocean, so species like Oarfish, Leatherback, tripod fish are all high up our list.

Jewel anemone: The jewel anemone spawns once a year with the event lasting between 10 and 20 minutes. This was shot on the wreck of the Canterbury in Deep Water Cove, Bay of Islands.

Any tips for budding beginners?

Get out there… so many of the cool things we find are purely because of time on the water. If you’re not out there, you won’t see it!

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