Snells Beach photographer Richard Robinson normally travels around the South Pacific capturing images of exotic and endangered sea creatures, but recently has been grounded by lockdown.
Unable to go on any far-flung adventures, he has turned his lens to the “amazing little ecosystem” of Snells Beach and found a wondrous world in its tidal rock pools.
He says that on closer inspection, the ordinary became extraordinary.
“If you look into a tidal pool on any local beach you will notice small fish that dart and hide – they are sand gobies,” he says.
“They are among the most common fish, and may not look like much because they are just 15 millimetres long and purposefully blend in, but as soon as you put them under a studio flash they absolutely light up with colours and patterns.”
Likewise, the common coastal crab may look mundane in the sand, but they have radiant iridescent blue markings.
After a life of taking photos, Richard’s eyesight is not what it used to be, but fortunately his daughters Eva, 7 and Nina, 5, have keen eyes. They would accompany him to the beach each day to collect creatures in buckets to photograph and then return them.
On a previous assignment, Richard had searched for mantis shrimp at Snells Beach but didn’t find any. It turned out he just needed to slow down, and lockdown created the perfect opportunity.
“The girls and I wouldn’t get far in a single sitting. Over a couple of hours we might only
search five metres.”
For the project, Richard had to pull together a makeshift studio in his garage and place the sea creatures in a tank.
He used a white piece of paper against the tank for a plain background and three strobe flashes for light. But Richard says the real challenge was to get the seawater clear enough.
“Seawater is filled with lots of little particles and they all show up when under light.”
Richard used a jug and some filters made from objects in his kitchen to strain the water over and over until the water quality was clear enough to work with.
The resulting photographs were recently published in New Zealand Geographic magazine under the title “the animals next door”. Ordinarily, Richard spends his time as a photo journalist. He recently travelled to the sub-Antarctic to photograph whales and was due to be in the Kermadec Islands before lockdown hit.