A Golden Seahorse

Text by Tom & Therisa Stack • Photo by Tom Stack

    Revered for thousands of years, seahorses have garnered their place in mythology—why, even Poseidon has been depicted as an equestrian in his seahorse-driven chariot! All seahorses belong to the genus Hippocampus, derived from the Greek hippos meaning horse and kampos meaning sea monster.

Because they are so elusive, our search for a prime seahorse photo over the last three decades had remained rather fruitless.

Off St. Thomas, however, during our very last dive of the trip, Therisa spotted one magnificent subject in shallow water with its tail wrapped around the base of a sea whip, posturing its equine-like head perfectly against a blue-water background!

Equipped with a Nikon F-4s with Fuji Velvia film and a Nikkor 105mm Macro lens in an Aquatica housing, and a Nikonos SB-102 strobe, I began shooting at 1/125 sec. at f22 to maximize depth of field. Being cautious not to pressure the subject—which might cause it to retreat—I worked patiently while it constantly swayed and undulated. Suddenly, it dawned on me that with the aperture stopped down to f22, the beautiful blue background would be lost and appear only as a black void on film. I made a quick decision to sacrifice depth of field and redialed the shutter speed to 1/60 sec. and opened up the aperture to f5.6, thus allowing ambient light to register and capturing the natural blue of the water.

I managed to squeeze off two final frames before the little fella maneuvered further within the protective coral. Those two frames have been my best selling images for nearly six years, appearing in numerous books, magazines, calendars and greeting cards, while also gracing at least a dozen covers worldwide.

Each time we enter the ocean we’re reminded of this treasured experience and how privileged we are as divers to witness such a stunning array of life.