Bringing out the Colors of Fiji: “Soft Coral Capital of the World”

Bringing out the Colors of Fiji: “Soft Coral Capital of the World”

By Douglas Klug
All photos © 2024 Douglas Klug

As a diving destination for the underwater photographer, Fiji has something for just about everyone. The South Pacific Ocean that separates the islands of Vitu Levu and Vanua Levu is referred to as “The Bligh Waters” and is perhaps one of the most “untouched” areas a diver can visit. The currents here can be formidable and much of the diving is “drift” style, but those currents feed an ecosystem that opens up a world of underwater photography opportunities. 

Soft Coral  Copyright Douglas Klug Ikelite Underwater Housings

When the current opens up, the soft corals unfold into blooms of color across the reefs.

Cloud of Anthias copyright Douglas Klug Ikelite Underwater Housings

Clouds of Anthias hover over the reef, adding a vibrant accent of color for photographers.

The area is affectionately known as the “soft coral capital of the world,” and it doesn’t take many dives here to understand how it earned that title. When the currents wash across the pinnacles or “bommies” as the Fijian’s call them, the lava rock reefs transform into an explosion of colors. The soft corals are the “base layer” of color against the reef, accented by clouds of Anthias, tiny schooling fish that hover just above the soft corals grabbing bits of food carried by in the current.

Fusiliers School Copyright Douglas Klug Ikelite Underwater Housings

A school of fusiliers drift over the top of the reef, pushing many of the smaller reef fish lower into the reef to avoid the predators.

Of course, Fiji also has anemones with colonies of anemone fish, a favorite subject for every underwater camera venturing into the south pacific.

The reefs here are full of crevices, canyons, and tunnels. Soft corals aren’t dependent on sunlight and get their nutrients from the currents, so strobes can light up dark passages to bring out the color

Pink Anemone copyright Douglas Klug Ikelite Underwater Housings

Who can resist a colony of Pink Anemone fish in their resident anemone? 

Soft Coral Explosion copyright Douglas Klug Ikelite Underwater Housings

Where the current flows through canyons and tunnels, the soft corals explode, providing an incredible view through a reef of colors and out into the blue.

Even when diving in a big group, there are so many canyons, tunnels and crevices that an underwater photographer can find their own space to work on the reef and capture the colors.


Camera Settings for Photographing Soft Corals

To capture this color, duals strobes and a wide-angle lens work best. Most of the shooting is “close focus wide angle” style allowing the strobes to blanket everything in the foreground with even lighting and bring out their colors.

Since this type of shooting doesn’t involve large animals moving quickly, the shots can be done at slower speeds like 1/80 or 1/100 of a second. This allows some of the natural light in the background, where the strobes aren’t reaching, to filter into the image. Shooting at a higher aperture, like f/10 or f/13 will allow a broader swath of the reef to stay in focus. The strobes will freeze most motion at these speeds and you’ll end up with crisp, in-focus subjects in the foreground of your image.

Canyon copyright Douglas Klug Ikelite Underwater Housings

Good buoyancy control allows the photographer to drop down into canyons like these to really capture Fiji’s underwater colors. Of course, sometimes having a diver nearby can actually improve the image! 


Additional reading

Diving Fiji by Liveaboard | Brilliant Bligh Water

Divers on the Reef Underwater Camera Settings and Technique

Choosing Strobes for Ikelite TTL Systems

Anemone Underwater Camera Settings and Technique

Why You Need Strobes Underwater


Douglas Klug Profile Photo

Douglas Klug has been diving California’s Channel Islands for over 30 years as a SCUBA diving instructor and underwater photographer in Santa Barbara, CA. Doug specializes in underwater photography within the kelp forest environment. His photo-essays have been published in print world-wide, including articles in California Diving News, DAN Alert Diver, and Dive Training. Doug’s images have been used in many publications and by the US National Park Service, US National Marine Sanctuary, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Google, and Microsoft. Doug even does live talks on underwater photography for dive clubs and museums in Southern California. See more...


Reading next

Split Shot Editing // Balancing Exposure Underwater and Above in the Lightroom [VIDEO]