Behind the lens: A graceful dance
Jellyfish are many things to many people.
To fishermen, they can be a costly impact on business. To swimmers, they can be a source of fear and pain. To entrepreneurs, they can be a surprising source of income. To the curious, they are hypnotic and fascinating. To photographers, they challenge and inspire.
As an underwater photographer, I find them completely intriguing, and recognise that the challenge in photographing them lies in capturing the decisive moment that portrays them in all their grace and beauty, as opposed to a gelatinous blob. They move with the psychedelic ebb and flow of a lava lamp, their luminous body mass akin to the embryo stage of a life cycle, not quite fully formed into the final creature.
The final stage in their life cycle is what most of us think of jellyfish, with their buoyant bell and trailing tentacles. Yet, they start off life as free-swimming plankton before settling on the seafloor and growing into stalked polyps that bear more resemblance to coral than adult jellyfish. The polyp feeds by catching passing plankton, and can reproduce asexually by simply budding off, which then develops into the adult jellyfish.
Sea nettle jellyfish, such as the two pictured here, are suitably named due to their potent sting. While painful, the sting of this species is not usually dangerous to humans. This family is widely distributed, with a few species found in Australian waters. They mostly drift passively but can actively swim against ocean currents using jet propulsion and occasionally pick up tiny hitchhiking crab larvae.
To photograph this species, I used a single strobe to the right of the final frame. The strobe provided fill flash to the jellyfish as they moved into a complimentary position. Countless hours can be spent trying to capture an image that represents the weightless and graceful dance of the jellyfish.
About the author: Justin Gilligan combines his scientific background and artistic flare to create images that draw attention to the beauty of the natural world. His freelance images and feature articles have been published globally, and he has won awards in the BBC Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year, the Australian Geographic ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year, and the Australian Professional Photography Awards. See more of his work at justingilligan.com.