Cristina Mittermeier | Johnston Jellies

Liquid Capture

Creating images from imagination in the Johnston Strait

by Cristina Mittermeier

For six weeks we roamed the remote fjords and channels of the Great Bear Sea, the interior waters of coastal British Columbia that are home to large groups of humpback whales, schools of herring, runs of salmon and the occasional octopus.  For the adventurous diver, the cold, rich waters of coastal B.C. offer an underwater spectacle that rivals any marine environment. Several species of jellyfish are seen often undulating in the current. Moon jellies—by far the most abundant—gather in the mouths of streams alongside spawning salmon. Perhaps they come to feast on the carcasses of the fish that don’t make it?

Like ghostly apparitions, other mysterious “jellies” seem to come out of the deep and disappear just as inexplicably.  I imagined this image long before I took it. During our summer explorations, I took every opportunity to swim with jellies. I experimented with lighting, depth of field and shutter speed. Over six weeks, however, our greatest challenge was having too many subjects to photograph.  It is hard to focus on jellies when vast beds of colorful anemones coat the ocean floor, or sea lions dance through the water around you.

On the last day of our expedition, I reminded my partner Paul Nicklen that he had promised me we would look for jellies. He wanted to seek humpbacks in the subdued light of sunset.
We spotted a large egg yolk jellyfish just as the sun dipped behind the canopy of the Great Bear Rainforest. The ebbing afternoon tide picked up speed as it flowed between two islands and pulled the jellyfish with it. I jumped in the water and shared a moment with it as two insignificant creatures in a vast, living planktonic broth.

To capture some sharpness in the trees that framed the channel, I needed an aperture of at least f16. Given the alabaster nature of this jelly, I powered the strobes down to ¼ strength.  Straining to keep up with the current and hoping that the jelly wouldn’t sink, I waited for the lacy tail of the jelly fish to extend fully as we drifted along the surface.  I swiped the bubbles from the camera’s domed surface, pulled the trigger, and immortalized the photo I had first imagined months before.

About Cristina

Photographer, writer and conservationist Cristina Mittermeier uses her camera to document the intersection of wild nature and humans. She has published and edited 24 coffee table books on conservation issues and her work has been published in prestigious publications including Science and Nature. Cristina is a Sony Artisan of Imagery, and was recently recognized as one of the World’s top 40 Most Influential Outdoor Photographers by Outdoor Magazine, is a past recipient of the Nature’s Best/Smithsonian Conservation Photographer of the Year award and the North American Nature Photographer’s Association Mission Award. Cristina is the founder and former President of the prestigious International League of Conservation Photographers, a consortium of some of the best photographers on the planet who are actively working for conservation. Today, Cristina is the co-founder and Executive Director of SeaLegacy.