Photo of the Week | Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Close-up

Every Friday I will be posting a Photo of the Week. Here I’ll be sharing the details on how I got the shot, where I was, and the backstory that went into it. I hope you find this enjoyable, and helpful in your own photography.


Camera: iPhone 6s
Lens: N/A
ISO: 25 4.25mm f/2.2 1/329

Turns out, it’s actually not that difficult to get a shot like this. That is, if everything lines up perfectly. So, I guess, maybe this shot is difficult to achieve. Let me explain.

Back in May, I was on the Big Island of Hawaii. With few expectations of things I wanted to see (because I knew I was going to be blown away by the place), I knew I wanted to at least see one turtle. Or Honu as the locals say. Turns out, it’s pretty common. We saw 2 turtles sunbathing on the beach within the first hour of being there, but none were in the water!

It wasn’t until halfway through our trip, when hopes were all but lost, we caught our first break. On a spontaneous afternoon trip back to this lagoon like beach, called Carlsmith Beach. My girlfriend had just opened some beers for us and we were sitting on some lava rocks by the water relaxing. And thats when the first turtle appeared. As fast as I could, I ran back to our rental car to grab the snorkel, goggles, fins, and camera gear.

By the time I ran back, it was gone! I jumped back into the water in hopes I’d be able to swim fast enough to find the turtle again. But no luck. I thought I had blown my only chance. Defeated, and kinda bummed. Another dark object approached our rock, swimming through the aqua blue waters. There it was! Another turtle! I jumped back into the water, keeping my distance, and just started firing away on my camera. The stoke levels were insanely high. But, that’s not where this picture came from.

A few minutes later, after climbing out of the water because the turtles were getting too close to me, I grabbed my iPhone and had an idea. It’s recommend to stay at least 6ft away from turtles for various reasons. So I dunked my iPhone into the water, with it’s LifeProof Case on, and took this portrait. As soon as I removed my phone from the water to check the photos, I knew I had it.

I’d be lying if I said I purposely framed this Honu perfectly in the center of the frame. But sometimes that’s it. You just need to get your camera into the right position and have the right timing. Did I know his head would be crystal clear in focus and have the shell, fins, and background perfectly blurred out? No. But that’s how it ended up. And the detail being so unbelievably crisp, still gets me excited just writing this. You can see the algae building up on its head as well as the jet black pupil in his eye.

Next time, to get a better shot and have less of a disturbing impact on these Honus, I should have sunk my GoPro 4 onto the rocks and used the WiFi function to take remote pictures. Then I could have timed the photo perfectly as the turtles passed by and wouldn’t have disturbed them while they explored and fed.

Overall, I love this picture. And looking back at it, it makes me excited to get back to Hawaii one day. That is exactly what a good photo should do, evoke some type of action or feeing. For me, I want to jump into a body of water and swim with some wildlife right now. Unfortunately, it’s winter, and I live in a landlocked state.

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