Hippocampus pygmy Denise. Weda Bay, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.

Pygmy seahorses don't like pictures

  Indonesia: Weda [Halmahera] + Bangka [Sulawesi] - March 2013

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

Nothing more annoying to photograph than a seahorse-pygmy. Too small. Too well camouflaged. Too shy. But its delicate plastic is well worth some efforts.

Half-naked asses!

After the background imagesLet's go to macro photography ! In the waters of Weda Bay, at HalmaheraIn Indonesia, where I was in March 2013, I am lucky to have some choice models: the pygmy seahorses.

Seahorse-Pygmy Bargibanti. Weda Bay, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.

But photographing them is not easy. A real challenge, even...

First concern, with these miniature sea horses: they are more than "pygmy", they are downright half-naked! To be able to observe them, some divers even take a magnifying glass under water with them. That is to say...

With their size of about one centimeter (sometimes less), pygmy-hyppocampuses are really difficult to spot. They can be found by patiently scanning the branches of the huge gorgonians of Weda Bay.

Gorgon. Weda Bay, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.

Seahorse-Pygmy Bargibanti. Weda Bay, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.

The quest is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, sometimes... But you get there. The proof.

Hippocampus pygmy Denise. Weda Bay, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.Fortunately, I am helped by the eagle eye of my Indonesian guide, Radyal.

It helps me to see them, in the huge coral fans, and then, above all, to find them again, when, with my mask stuck to the viewfinder of my tank, I moved a few centimeters and lost sight of the branch where the little sea horse on which I had set my heart on is hiding. Patience and calm are needed to succeed in photographing pygmy seahorses.

We met two species during our dives at Weda.

The one that has pink or orange bumps, which serve as camouflage in the gorgonians of identical color, is a seahorse bargibanti. The little yellow with a bald head answers to the sweet name of Denise.

Shy people

Second concern: the little seahorses do not like to be photographed at all.

Every time I point my macro lens at them, I get the same acrobatic act around the gorgonian branch. Here they are, slowly swiveling on their coiled tail, until they pass on the other side, ostensibly turning their back to me...

Seahorse-Pygmy Bargibanti. Weda Bay, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.

I take a deep breath, walk around the gorgon, take up my position, readjust the angle of my flash and the opening of the camera. And zut! I missed again.

The development is very delicate to succeed, on such small creatures, it is played to the millimeter. But their shyness adds to the difficulty.

Seahorse-Pygmy Bargibanti. Weda Bay, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.And I really feel like they're taunting me... Hop! I turn my back on you again, I don't like pictures.


The repetition of this subtle camouflage maneuver - once, twice, three times - it gets very annoying!

But, by dint of perseverance, I still manage to draw the portrait.

My photo equipment : the Eos 7D and the lens Canon 60mm f / 2.8 EF-S Macro.

And I am the stubborn type, I must say... Able to stay stuck in front of a gorgon for long minutes, under the benevolent eye of my guide, who patiently spins out his string of bubbles.

He waits for me to finish, to lead me to another coral fan, a few meters away. He even made a small round trip, to check that the gorgonian is still inhabited, since his last visit, while I am complaining in my regulator about the lack of cooperation of my tiny model.

Hippocampus pygmy Denise. Weda Bay, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.

On one of the gorgonians we visited, we found a small family of sea horses. But here, I don't try anymore. Impossible to have everybody on the picture.

I just took a few shots, for memory, with two seahorses in the frame. It's not that common to capture more than one at a time!

When it's time to sort out the images, in the evening, on my MacBook Air, I eliminate a lot of them, without any qualms. But I have come a long way since my very first images of a seahorse-pygmy with a compact camera, in 2008 (see right here and the)…

I do a lot less "macro" since I have my new toy, the fisheye lens Tokina 10-17This is a great place for underwater pictures. But in Weda, the tiny sea horses gave me back the taste of "small".


Travel to Indonesia: Veda and Bangka - March 2013

  Indonesia: Weda [Halmahera] + Bangka [Sulawesi] - March 2013

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  1. @Corinne : j’aime bien ces petites bêtes, mais je n’en ai encore jamais vues !! 🙁
    Faut dire aussi que ma vue n’est pas terrible, et que malgré mon masque avec verres correcteurs (eh oui ! indispensable pour les bigleux comme moi ! 8) je ne suis pas près d’en voir ! 😥

    1. @Didier : fais comme tant d’autres plongeurs, descends avec une loupe dans ta stab ! C’est génial pour observer les petits trucs vraiment trop petits, et pas seulement les hippocampes-pygmées…

    1. @Manta : oui, vraiment mimis, hein ?… 🙂
      Many thanks, but what a galley to get to get nice pictures !!!

  2. too cute these pygmies!
    je confirme c’est assez énervant à photographier, surtout quand on aimerai prendre tout son temps mais que d’autres photographes attendent aussi ce moment rare….
    Anyway well done !!

    1. @Laurence : Weda, c’était idéal pour la photo, je dois dire… Dans ma palanquée, juste le guide et un plongeur hollandais qui avait noyé son appareil quelques jours plus tôt, donc j’étais la seule photographe !!! 🙂
      Pas besoin d’attendre son tour près de la gorgone…

      The other photographers were dispatched to the other palanquées. Long dives, very quiet, no-one around ... Ideal !!!

  3. Superbes photos, Corinne. Mieux qu’avec ton compact en 2008 (Avec mon petit APN Lumix, j’ai fait de mon mieux, quand sur 2 sites sauvages de l’île de Samal -Philippines- nous avons découvert plusieurs couples de Bargibanti) 😉
    Tu exprimes si bien-avec humour- la difficulté de les photographier; oui, ils ont l’art de nous faire une pirouette sous l’objectif et de passer sur l’autre face de la gorgone !
    A magnifying glass, yes, it can help to observe ...
    Good bubbles

    1. @Siratus : merci ! 🙂 Je suis devenue plus habile par la suite, avec mon petit APN compact, mais quand on passe au reflex avec un bon objectif, la différence est incomparable… Quant à ces satanés hippocampes, oui, il y a de quoi devenir chèvre, à vouloir leur tirer le portrait !

  4. j’étais tellement concentrée sur tes hippo que je n’avais pas remarqué la présence de toutes les crevettes 😛 ……

    1. @Laurence : tu vas rire, moi aussi, au moment où je prenais les photos sous l’eau, j’étais tellement concentrée sur le Denise, à tenter de le capter dans la bonne position, à m’appliquer sur ma mise au point, l’éclairage, etc. etc. que je n’avais pas remarqué les mignonnes crevettes autour, qui ajoutent d’ailleurs beaucoup d’intérêt à la photo…

      Ce n’est qu’après, en découvrant mes images sur l’écran de l’ordi, que je les ai enfin vues !!!

  5. MAGNIFICENT your pygmies, really!
    Et qu’est-ce que j’apprends ? tu n’as pas de loupe quand tu plonges 😉 Indispensable pour un vieux comme moi si je veux voir ces adorables créatures…

    1. @Pit : mille mercis, de ta part, le compliment me touche 🙂
      Well no, not (yet) magnifying glass. But that's one of the little accessories that I'm thinking of taking with me for the next few times ...

  6. Le p’tit Denise jaune il a son garde manger à porter de petites nageoires, les crevettes sont nombreuses à avoir élues domicile au sein de cette gorgone. Est-ce bien vrai que le pygmee se nourrit des crevettes, plus grosse que lui ? Sinon quoi ?

    1. @Lisemet : je ne sais pas du tout quel est le régime alimentaire de l’hippocampe-pygmée… Je vais chercher ça, tiens… 😉

  7. Hello Corinne and congratulations for these images that make me wait! I will try to bring back some pictures of these pygmies !! Lilliputiens !!