Nature photographer Justin Gilligan explains recalls an unusual photo shoot with a remarkably inquisitive Australian cuttlefish.

The giant Australian cuttlefish is the most charismatic of Australian cephalopods and one of the most enjoyable to photograph. Growing to over a metre in length and weighing up to 10 kilograms, the large size of these creatures combines perfectly with their inquisitive nature to make for a thrilling underwater encounter, which actually leaves you wondering, just who is watching whom?  
Each winter thousands of cuttlefish gather to breed in the cool, shallow waters of the Spencer Gulf in South Australia. Disproportionate numbers of males crowd around lone females to squabble with and compete for their chance to win the prize to mate.

Their displays are made up of a pulsating variation of colour, tone and texture, which from a distance looks like a moving rainbow suspended over an algae-covered seafloor. Up close however, the interactions are captivating, and certainly one of the most intriguing wildlife spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. There are a couple of key known locations to enter the water, however one cloudless morning I decided to try my luck in a rarely explored bay near the Point Lowly Lighthouse for a different perspective. Shortly after wandering from the rust-coloured heathland desert into the sea, a lone inquisitive cuttlefish jetted towards me from the shadowy reef. Its bright red and pink display contrasted perfectly with the moody aquamarine surroundings.

Realising the spectacular conditions of the day, I decided to attempt a few half above, half below images, with the aim to include the Point Lowly Lighthouse as an additional element in the image to convey a sense of place. This image reminds me that to achieve something different it‘s really worth putting in some extra effort – whether it’s putting on a cold wetsuit, or driving just around the corner to scout for a new location. Quite often those few extra yards can result in great rewards.

Nikon D800, Sigma 15mm lens, 1/200s @ f/11, ISO 100. Ikelite underwater housing and twin strobes.

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