This week we interview Mike Bartick, a small animal expert that frequently leads groups of photographers into Asia to seek out special critters. Raised in sunny Southern California just a short distance from the shores of the Pacific Ocean, Mike is an avid diver and marine wildlife enthusiast. He turned to photography to capture and share some of his diving experiences with others. Mike’s first underwater camera was borrowed from a buddy to take on one of the frequent family trips to Hawaii. Needless to say he has never returned that camera and from that trip forward he was hooked. His obsession for photographing critters has taken him all over the world and while he admits to loving the warm waters of the tropics his first love will always be the frigid Californian ocean. Mike’s work is featured in magazines, text books, calendars and more and can be found worldwide.

Ocellata - I love to photograph fish. It's not an easy task and requires a lot of concentration. I find the juvenile emperor angel fish to be as beautiful as any thing i could ever imagine.

Ocellata – I love to photograph fish. It’s not an easy task and requires a lot of concentration. I find the juvenile emperor angel fish to be as beautiful as any thing i could ever imagine.

What made you want to become an underwater photographer?

I love photography first off and I love the ocean. My first experiences were in my youth while snorkelling around the Hawaiian Islands. I permanently “borrowed” a friends Minolta Sport to shoot photos one summer and was hooked. Problem was, my photos didn’t quite match the images in National Geographic that had inspired my spirit and caused my mind to swirl.

Your first underwater shot?

My first underwater shot was on 110 film. I can’t actually remember the subject intended, but I’m certain that a fishes’ butt is what I got… with loads of backscatter.

The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?

My most memorable photo is not about the subject as it is about the guide that found the subject. Late one evening on a night dive, my guide and longtime friend swam across the divesite to find me. I felt a hard tug on my fin and I knew he must have found something good, so I turned and followed. We swam fast for at least five minutes as he continually shined his light into the open ocean. Then he stopped at one point, and shined his light up and down and then took off again. Finally he stopped and shined his light into the black night water, and as my eyes finally fixed on the subject I realised he did indeed find something very special, a “Settling Wunderpuss”.

Yes, I spent a few minutes shooting and managed a few images but he actually found it in mid water twice and without his assistance the shot would have never been possible.

Pelagic octopus (1 of 1)

Where is your favourite dive destination?

My favourite dive destination became my home, Anilao, Philippines. The density and diversity of subject matter here is greater then anywhere else in the world that I have ever travelled. I dive approximately 80 times a month and each dive I discover some kind of new critter or observe a new behaviour, it’s a fascinating experience.

The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?

The Boiler, Socorro Island

The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?

Carnivorous sea anemones and bobbit worms are pretty bizarre…

Black Bearded Goby with eggs- Living its entire life in the corals that they are found in, these super cute gobies can often be photographed with their eggs. Patience and setting up properly for the image is all it takes.

Black Bearded Goby with eggs- Living its entire life in the corals that they are found in, these super cute gobies can often be photographed with their eggs. Patience and setting up properly for the image is all it takes.

What camera equipment are you currently using?

This surprises everyone but I’m currently shooting: 

  • Nikon D7100
  • Sea and Sea Housing
  • Sea and Sea YSD2 Strobes or INON Z240 strobes
  • Retra Ultimate light shaper
  • Nauticam SMC and Multiplier for supermacro
  • I also use INON mega float and INON telescoping arms
  • Modelling lights: INON LF800-N for lighting effects and SOLA video light for hunting subjects.

My gear changes frequently day to day depending on what the primary target is for the day or dive.

What is the highlight of your career?

Seeing and photographing spawning frogfish was pretty good! Also mating blue ring octopuses and observing hatching eggs of a coconut octopus. Oh, and spotting my first Melibe colemani.

Rhinopias-backlight-special. Subjects require special attention, backlighting helped to make this image so special.

Rhinopias-backlight-special. Subjects require special attention, backlighting helped to make this image so special.

…And the lowpoint?

Seeing fisherman and collectors on the divesites that I love so much. Looking up on a dive and seeing a huge net being dragged along just above the reef, capturing everything, It’s heart breaking…

Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?

I want to capture a jawfish with the eggs hatching. I’ve tried on several occasions but came away with nothing but brooding images, not to say it was a total waste as I did learn more for next time.

Hilton Nudibranch from California are colourful and can be very dramatic when using a snoot. Often found in the surgiest part of the reef, timing is crucial to get the rhinophores and cerata standing straight up.

Hilton Nudibranch from California are colourful and can be very dramatic when using a snoot. Often found in the surgiest part of the reef, timing is crucial to get the rhinophores and cerata standing straight up.