Life on the Reef

Behind the underwater camera lens



A Nassau Grouper shows off for me.

Jamie Walker

As I attempt to stare through the reflections bouncing off the blue water surrounding our dive boat, I wonder what I will find when I take a giant stride off the stern. My turn comes, and I descend to the bottom while turning on my camera and adjusting my strobes into their proper positions. Every dive reveals a different cast of characters. Life on the reef is an amazing conglomeration of hard and soft corals, blennies, striped grunts, stingrays, turtles … the list is seemingly endless. 

For the better part of an hour, I focus my lens and fire strobes on the inhabitants of this reef, all the while hoping that I caught the decisive moment that will reveal some of the character and personality of my subjects. In some cases, very small fish act like I am conducting a home invasion, and, when you think about it, I am. Inch-long juvenile fish mightily defend their piece of the rock. With apologies for invading their privacy, I move on. 

A few minutes later, a grouper decides to pose for me while hanging out at a cleaning station. I look for sharks, a prime indicator of the health of a marine environment. With patience on my part and a bit of caution on theirs, the subjects of my photographic curiosity come into view. Some reefs have more life than others, but they are all a forest in the ocean with a tantalizing variety of shapes, sizes, colors and textures. It is my desire as a photographer to capture a convergence of light and time, and, in the process, reveal something interesting or unusual about the subject. 

I want to photograph every fish or piece of coral, but my air runs low, and I must head back up to 15 feet for my three-minute safety stop to release some of the dissolved nitrogen that has been swirling around in my blood and tissues during the past 50 minutes. I wish I had gills to extract dissolved oxygen from the water and camera batteries that never needed recharging! A school of jacks swims around me as I hang on the mooring line in the slight current. Back above the surface, the dive master says that this is a regular routine for them. Next dive I’ll save some air and shoot some photos of them. Life on the reef will always hold a special interest for me. A healthy reef is a healthy ecosystem. The ocean gives us life. 

Jamie Walker, who grew up in Columbia, has had a lifelong obsession with salt water and the many animals that inhabit its shallows, offshore depths and ride the air currents above. As a photographer, fisherman and sailor, Jamie has had many interactions with these animals and their beautiful surroundings. Over the past several years Jamie has spent many days at sea working on The Billfish Research Project which involves deploying pop-up satellite tracking tags into sailfish and using the collected data to understand the migration of these amazing fish. Base camp for Jamie is still in Columbia, where he lives with Jenny, his wife, and a bunch of black labs.