Underwater muck diving video on Koh Tao
Posted Jul 19th, 2021 by Elisabeth
Muck diving is not the first thing you think of when you hear about Koh Tao, right? Koh Tao is more known for Whalesharks sightings certain months of the year and easy reef diving. Other than whalesharks, you can spot many turtles, Green and Hawksbills, when you go snorkeling in one of our shallow bays like Tanote and Shark Bay. Also once a year the coast of Koh Tao becomes a shark nursery and you can snorkel with the baby blacktips in water as shallow as 1m!
When it comes to muck diving, Koh Tao is not very known. But what is muck diving exactly? Well, I guess it can be defined diving certain “sites” with sandy or silty bottoms in search of small, tiny marine life or muck critters as they are called. Muck diving is especially popular with underwater photographers and videographers looking for the “special” stuff! Seasoned underwater macro videographers will know that mucky environments are the best place to film images of rare critters. You can capture stunning footage of what may seem to be a barren area underwater…The appeal of muck diving for underwater videographers is that we can find rare macro critters hidden in the muck, rubble, sand and trash. Many of the coolest macro critters can’t be found elsewhere.
So how does this “muck diving” works?
Well, we explore the sandy, barren areas where most of the bottom is muddy and silty. Oftentimes you will find dead coral, lots of rubble (great for nudibranchs!) and trash (seahorses), like beer bottles (check for octopus and mantis shrimps). On Koh Tao we have a few great places to go. Tao Thong and Shark Bay are definitely my personal favorites.
Where to Muck Dive?
There are a few well known macro destinations around Southeast Asia. Lembeh Strait in Indonesia has to be the most famous one. But there are definitely some other great locations like Tulamben, Ambon and Bali in Indonesia and Anilao in the Philippines. We recently started to explore our muck areas around Koh Tao more and found it interesting enough to go out a few times a week! We are happy with our finds, especially since now we can’t travel due to Covid restrictions.
What video equipment is good for Muck Diving?
Since the main subjects are macro critters, a 55-60mm lens for crop sensor cameras or a 90-100-105mm lens for full frames are a must. Or if you are shooting close-focus wide-angle with a fisheye lens can produce some amazing results, as well. Some additional equipment you might want to bring are wet macro lenses. These diopters are especially useful when you are shooting with longer focal length lenses. The diopter can reduce the working distance to your subject significantly. You will need some video lights too. Since you will be close to your subjects your lights don’t need to be 12000 lumens! Starting from 2500 lumens is great for muck video. Also consider adding a snoot light to your camera rig. This will help lighting up the critter and leaving the surroundings dark.
What are some favorite muck video subjects?
The subjects that we find on a muck dive are not like the ones we find on a reef. The amount and selection of macro subjects also depends on the location of the dive site. It is impossible to name all of the amazing critters you may find on a muck dive. Even doing 2 dives at the same location might be 2 completely different dives with different critters. Some of our favorites on Koh Tao are Mantis shrimps and the, recently seen again, rare Tiger Shrimp, soft coral crabs, candy crabs, coconut octopus, blue ring octopus, seahorses, flabellinas and Trinchesia nudibranchs, Costasiellas (sheep nudi) and the rare Melibe Engeli…
Some shooting techniques for better footage?
Set the camera on the sand or use a tripod to be as stable as possible. Get a low angle so you can blur out the background and get a more inetersting view of the macro critter. Avoid stirring up the sand. Still remember to shoot wide macro, medium and close up shots, even when filming small critters. It will be easier to edit in a story afterwards. Move around your subject using the 180 degree rule. Make sure you catch the behaviour as much as possible, because that s what makes the video interesting. And spend time with your subject. Let it get used to you and your camera. After a few minutes it will just behave as if you weren’t there and that’s when you get the good shots! Make use of a shallow DOF (depth of field) or bokeh as they call it. Blur out uninteresting backgrounds, or use a video light with snoot.
Tips for better muck video?
Taking decent muck video is not that hard. Most of the critters sit quite still. Make sure you check old fishing ropes for nudis, glass bottles for shrimps and octopus and soft corals for crabs and shrimps. Once you dive a certain area more, you tend to learn where to look for critters. Research what they feed on and what their habitat is and you’ll find it easier to find them again. Make sure you don’t stir up the silt or you will get only cloudy footage and the next photographer or videographer won’t be very thankful. Try to be neutrally buoyant as much as you can.
Hopefully you will get a chance to try this. It’s quite addictive to be honest and very thrilling to find something special.
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Koh Tao News FAQs
We try to go 1 or 2 times a week at the moment, weather depending. We have been super lucky with our finds. Couple of blue ring octopus, lots of different nudibranchs and crabs and shrimps. Plenty to film!
I use the Sony a7RII in a Nauticam housing with the G-lens 90mm and I always bring my Nauticam SMC macro wet lens and 2 SUPE (Scubalamp) 12000 lumens (but I set it to 50% or less for muck diving).
We have blue ring octopus, long arm octopus, coconut octopus, mantis shrimps, costasiella seaslugs, phyllodesmium magnum nudibranchs, trinchesia, jonulus, arminas, squat lobster and lots more…
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