Vivid Oceans

Underwater Photography

Supported by Olympus

Secret Seas

Exposure Gallery - exhibition catalogue

The Vivid Oceans collection is worldwide including tropical and sub-tropical animals but also East Anglia, illustrating a little of the diversity which the world's waters support. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has many projects which support marine wildlife and its habitats - see how you could help at - locally the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Unit runs Adopt a Beach and Beachwatch groups which will expand to include Shoresearch beach surveys next year

The Secret Seas collection is a result of our work on the Seasearch project, diving in home waters to survey our own wildlife. This collection is entirely composed of species which can be seen in Britain, and more particularly in the North Sea around the North Norfolk coast. Seasearch is a project for divers run by the MCS, we coordinate activities in East Anglia. See our website for more pictures and information.

This exhibition brings images of creatures from the depths to mix with us on the surface. Out of their natural habitat they present extreme forms, especially when many of them can be seen vastly larger than life size. It takes a combination of skills to find the rarest animals; research and a keen eye to find the smallest along with patience, months of preparation and pure luck to be ready for the one perfect moment. Our emphasis is on capturing the best, most natural, image in the first place.  As well as marine photography Dawn and Rob also photograph fauna and flora on land and are preparing a collection of light paintings.

The framed thumbnail pictures are a simulation of wall appearance. The actual framing compliments the proportions of the photographs much better

Vivid Oceans
White Short Tailed Stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata) 1.5m long (with tail)
IMG_4349cyan.jpg This ghostly female stingray is a very, very rare albino and her arrival in New Zealand’s Poor Knight Islands was quite a talking point. These rays gather in summer to court and breed. They stack like waiting aircraft in underwater arches, which are the remains of a volcanic crater. The numbers gathering have fallen in recently with the arrival of large sharks which have disturbed their mating congregations. They are peaceful shellfish specialists and carry their large barb only for protection.

It was hard to capture the subtleties of the ray’s perfect pale skin and being position for the perfect head shot needed some luck! We dive to cause the least disturbance possible and if an animal shows signs of stress then we leave it alone. This is the largest species of stingray and the same one which Steve Irwin was filming at the time of his death.

Yellow Ribbon Sweetlips  (Plectorhinchus polytaenia) Around 45cm long, height of eye 2.5cm
Sweetlips are named for their sexy full pout and like to shoal close to the reef to shelter from current during the day. These beautiful fish allowed me close as they huddled sleepily and I was able to pick out one face in the crowd as they dozed through the day in their pyjamas.

In the Raja Ampat (Four Kings) region of Indonesia a break from the current is a bright idea as the sea can tear even fish from the reef. Once we were caught in a sudden current that carried us 23m (75ft) down just as we were about to surface. In a maelstrom of our own bubbles, we couldn't tell up from down. After a frantic etenity the current subsided and the relieved faces of the Papuan boat crew told us that we'd had a very narrow escape.


Psychedelic Slug (Chromodoris kuniei)  3cm long
PB215049.jpg Whilst some of the largest animals are shy and retiring others are much more brazen. Nudibranches are sea slugs which often take a very relaxed attitude to camouflage, in fact they advertise their presence and happily march around (if you can march on one foot) searching out their prey. As befits a very slow predator their quarry is usually slow or static, stinging, toxic and not in great demand! This one is one of the most spectacular, its complex colouring looks as though it must have been airbrushed on and provides very few sharp details to focus on!

Mediterranean Chrome - Horse Mackerel around 20cm each
We adore diving around the Island of Gozo, it’s a magically quiet place – even more so underwater. Fish gather in small flocks in the shallow bays to take a breather after being split from larger shoals by storms or hunting barracuda.

 These herring are as reflective as chrome to fool daytime predators hunting from below who will see nothing more than the glinting underside of the waters surface. By night the shoals are invisible until caught in torch light when their mirror finish ‘camouflage’ picks them out in dramatic contrast, not normally a problem as hunting fish rarely carry torches.


Brown Blubber jellyfish (Catostylus mosaicus) 4cm high (Featured EDP 16rd April)
PB256354a.jpg This golden jellyfish was drifting just below the surface of the Andaman Sea as we came up from a dive amongst Thailand's Similan Islands. They drift with the currents but can swim by pulsing their bell, guiding themselves using light sensitive 'eyes' around the edge. This makes them surprisingly difficult to photograph as they tend swirl around your head. This one was only about 4cm high, lit from behind to enhance its translucence and enjoyed until we'd used our spare air for the best chance of a good picture! They can grow to more than 30cm high, losing their delicate charm but much easier to photograph.

Juvenile Sponge Filefish (Brachaluteres ulvarum) 2cm long
We have treasured this picture ever since we took it in Indonesia. This little filefish has such an air of innocent discovery as he rounds his local coral it seems that he could be any schoolboy on the way home. A cartoonish expression won’t help him out with the big fish on the reef, but his boxlike skeleton and toxic skin may. This species of filefish never grows up, well not to more than 5cm. PA221634clean.jpg

Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus) 2cm high (the yellow bits)
PB091775.jpg Many experienced tropical divers never see these close up as movement makes them retract, instantly. From a distance they are dots of colour on the surface of hard corals, as though handfuls of sweets have been thrown down. These worms live in tubes which advance as the coral grows and stick their twin spiral radioles into the passing water to feed, breathe and even collect sand for building. They occur in many colours, but we favour the yellow and blue ones.

Ornate or Harlequin Ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) around 10cm long
Related to seahorses, and similarly strange, ghost pipefish float motionless, head down beside coral, feather stars or vertical debris. They blend with the cover in their very limited chosen territory, where they will stay allowing you to return to observe them day after day.

Orange cup coral (Tubastrea coccinea) 3cm across

PC013207.jpg Some corals live in large, collective colonies building up vast reefs. The cup corals plough their own furrow, and are often confused with anemones – which is understandable.  They feed in the same way catching passing stuff with their stinging, sticky arms and passing them into their mouths which sadly have to serve another purpose too as their back ends are stuck to a rock. Despite looking delicate they choose to live in the shallows on the underside of rocky overhangs where the surge is at its most intense – a charming location which makes taking pictures difficult and a short cut to a nasty head injury.

Southwold slug – no common name (Coryphella lineata) 2.5cm long
In the cold water of the North sea slugs are often a little more demure than their tropical cousins but all the more elegant and sophisticated for their glassy subtlety. This one is poisonous and can be seen here harvesting venom from its favourite food, the stinging hydroid Tubularia indivisa, rather like a little anemone on a stick. This image is the marine equivalent of a cheetah bringing down a gazelle on the African Savannah but at a pace which suits a photographer in the dark waters 30m down off Southwold. P6190092clean.jpg

Gozo V for victory slug- no common name (Cratena pergrina) 3cm long
P5301812.jpg The volcanic rock of Gozo, Malta’s much smaller neighbour, is riddled with holes from ancient gas pockets and underwater this provides a gorgonzola landscape. Sedentary marine animals enjoy current as it brings the food to them, but it always appears that every life no matter how small needs a little fun… if you don’t have a car you have to improvise.

Pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti Whitley, 1970) about 1cm high

The pygmy seahorse is the current holy grail of diving photography. There are a growing number of known species but this type is the ‘biggest’. They live only on Muricella gorgonian corals where their perfect camouflage makes them almost invisible. They were only discovered when a seahorse ‘infested’ seafan was harvested for environmental study and its fronds were seen moving. These tiny animals cling on stoically with their minute tails in even the strongest current but it is only with the still water between tides and expert guidance that divers can observe them.


Head on slug – no common name (probably Risbecia pulchella) 10cm long
PC012918cleaned.jpg Most sea slugs are more correctly called nudibranchs (meaning naked gills) and occur throughout the oceans, those in the far East are renowned for their exotic colouring. This one is out and about on the black volcanic sand of the Lembeh Straits in Indonesia, I think he (and she) may be mouthing something quite rude, look like it's forgotten to put its teeth in.

Ghost Spearer Mantis Shrimp (Lysiosquillina maculata) 5cm across

Mantis shrimps have been making an appearance and news around the Solent. They are normally warm water creatures and have a fearsome reputation, explained by the names of the two types; smashers and spearers. This one is a spearer and hunts fish. Often growing up to 38cm long these ‘shrimps’ normally live in double ended tunnels, exposing only their eyes and waiting to ambush the next meal. Occasionally they will scurry around the reef which really puts the wind up the other residents.


Picasso pair (Rhinecanthus aculeatus, Linnaeus, 1758) 15 and 12cm
PB160180softfocus2xepsmooth.jpg On the last day of a trip to Egypt we snorkelled in the shallow waters off the beach and were amazed at the fish that were darting between the splashing legs of the tourists. Triggerfish have box-like skeletons and beak-like teeth but it is the over the top make-up which won this species its common name. Taken in only 2-3 feet of water with a small compact camera this was the best photo of the holiday.

Once voted the State Fish of Hawaii it remains so today in an unofficial capacity with the local name of Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apu'a.

Mauve Stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) 10-15cm
Common in the mediteranean and becoming more frequent around the UK this jellyfish was photographed off Gozo after a weather event which drove thousands inshore. Jellyfish are hard to photograph as they  pulse around unpredictably – at least to humans since they have no front or back!

Secret Seas
Facelina auriculata on the Rosalie at Weybourne 2.5cm long
P7080207curvecleancrop.jpg Weybourne on the North Norfolk coast is an unassuming diving hotspot. Within yards of the beach there are two distinct marine habitats which summer bathers never suspect. The inshore is shallow chalky gullies, marked by lines of lobster pots. Further up the beach the torpedoed Rosalie ran ashore during the Great War and still lies where she came to rest. Spreading 50m wide and 150m long she reaches into the shallows and concentrates wildlife. The North Sea isn't renowned for colour but its sea slugs are like glassy ornaments. This one is cresting a rise beside a flask sponge. You have to be close to see how ornate they are but in shallow, summer waters they are the highlights of a ramble below the surface.

Long spined sea scorpion and Sea scorpion - Old Man of the sea (Taurulus bubalis) 15cm long
P5040784cleaned.jpgSometimes just called Scorpionfish or as the latin name suggests Bullheads, these appear throughout the world. Related to the spectacular Lion fish of the tropics they are also ambush hunters protected by poisonous spines. They are popular photographic subjects underwater as they remain motionless until you are very, very close. Often only their sudden departure will alert you that they were there!

They aren't too small to spot, if you can defeat their camouflage against their surroundings. The fish become coloured to fool their underwater neighbours but aren't sensitive to the scene as we are which can occasionally result in fish standing out like a sore thumb amongst brick red undergrowth, or vice versa. (Featured in the EDP 23rd April)

Violet Sea Slug (Flabellina pedata) 1.5cm long
This little mollusc is one of Britains most distinctively coloured sea slugs. It's relatively common here but properly regarded as exotic in warmer seas. The tentacles on its back help it breath and also store stinging cells from its spicy diet of tiny anemone like hydroids. flabellina.jpg

Crystal Sea Slug on the Vera at Cley (Janolus cristatus2cm long
janolus.jpgIn summer these are the most numerous sea slugs in Norfolk's shallows,  although they are extravagantly decorated they can wander freely as their toxic diet means no other animals will touch them. 

Common lobster (Homarus gammarus60cm long
Lobsters can be very long lived, living as long as humans if they are left in their natural habitiat. They are one of the top predators on the seabed, their crushing and cutting claws allow them to eat a wide range of fish, molluscs and other crustaceans. lobster.jpg

Edible crab (Cancer pagurus) 30cm across
ediblecrab.jpgAlthough they are heavily armoured these crabs are often nervous, and always look surprised, they are picked on by lobsters and try to stay out of their way. This one has recently shed its old shell so that it can grow, which is why it looks so smart.

Common prawn (Palemon serratus) 7cm long
Little crustaceans are no less complicated than the big ones. This armoured animal is like a glass ornament, each transparent joint and body part is impossibly fine and detailed.

Nigella Lawson thinks they look primeval, perhaps she should look at them in their natural habitat 

Lightbulb sea squirts (Clavelina lepadiformis) each 2cm high
lightbulbs.jpgThis colony of aptly named lightbulb sea squirts explodes from the wreckage surrounded by red algae with a splash of encrusting orange sponge behind. Also known as ascidians or tunicates these sea squirts are very simple animals but in  their juvenile planktonic stage, before they settle, they have a rudimentary spine... so they are closer relatives than you think!

Elegant anemone (Sargatia elegans) 6cm across
This firework like anemone is called elegant because of its perfect proportions, if you tickle one you can see that they have a stylich spotted base. They catch their food with their sticky, stinging arms which pass it into their central mouth. elegantanemone.jpg

Peacock fanworm (Sabella pavonina) 2cm across
Most of the worm is hiding in the drinking straw like tube, the only part you can see is it's feeding fan. The fan attached to its head catches food floating past in the current and can be drawn back in for feeding or it is startled by divers or hungry predators.

Snake pipefish (Entelurus aequoreus) 40cm long
Last year these appeared in huge numbers on the East coast, confusing the bass and birds which caught but couldn't digest these tough, bony fish. This year they are gone... Sometimes these boom and bust immigrants arrive due to climate sometimes by chance - ongoing monitoring is the only way to see which.  snakepipefish.jpg

Triptychs - Mini collections to add a little marine colour to your home or office. Obviously you can mix and match, this trio of triples are just examples.

invitetrip.jpg Invitations – Awe Blenny, Chromodoris Kuniei Slug, Sunset Cup Coral

For some eye catching invitations we used a selection of the most striking creatures. You’ve already been introduced to the slug and the coral but the fish, a fang Blenny, is worthy of note too. Although he looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth he lies in wait down abandoned Christmas tree worm holes and nips out to bite passing fish when they aren’t looking. They grow to about 10cm long and 1cm high.

Indonesian Trio - ‘Speedy’ (Chromodoris Koi), ‘blue’ (Hypselodoris bullocki), Dougal(Chromodoris Kuniei)

Indonesia is the epicentre of a growing ‘muck diving’ movement where divers seek out weird and wonderful things in relatively grotty surroundings. One of the best places to go is the Lembeh Strait beside North Sulawesi where reasonable visibility and black volcanic sand make it easy to find exotic animals – which makes you wonder why they don’t move somewhere else! 


shaggytrip.jpg Shaggy slugs

Again you have seen some of these earlier in the catalogue. Two of them are from the Mediterranean and the other is from Norfolk, however we often see the purple Flabellina pedata (left) off Norfolk too. This family of slugs occur worldwide and never fail to impress whether they are crawling near Cromer or living it up in the Celebes Sea.

Media:      All exhibits are professionally photochemical printed on lustre Fuji Crystal Archive DP II paper and will last as well as the best photographic print. It is difficult to produce this lightfast quality and dynamic range using giclee (inkjet) prints but like any artwork they should kept out of strong sunlight. Prints are available in sizes up to the limit of their original quality - we won’t recommend massive prints where they would be compromised. Most can be printed at 30x20”, ideal for a statement piece. Single frame collections can be compiled for small spaces. If you don’t see something which is quite perfect please ask as we have more to choose from.

Price guide:     
Prints can be collected or dispatched worldwide (sorry that’s extra). Whilst they have been made uniform for the exhibition other complementary frame materials can be requested and safety glazing, alternative hanging methods and mounts can all be specified. Contact us for different versions and with any enquiries.



Print size*

Frame size















7x5” (Three)

23x12” triptych



*The mount aperture will be slightly smaller than this

Rob Spray and Dawn Watson


1 Town Houses Yoxford Rd

IP17 2LX

Telephone: 01728 660 598
E-mail: hello at