Photographer Matt Smith's Pacific Ocean playground: photos

Photographing bluebottles naturally comes with its own particular hazards.

But for Stanwell Park photographer Matt Smith, that’s a small price to pay for his labour of love.

He is familiar with the sting of the bluebottle, having had many wrap themselves around his camera and arms.

‘‘You can show them for how fantastic they are,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve had people say: ‘I hate bluebottles, that reminds me of being stung as a kid.’

‘‘Then the same people say: ‘I want that picture on my wall’.’’

Smith, 38, has been working on ‘‘over-underwater’’ photographs, using a waterproof lens dome he made himself, and trying to perfect lighting techniques – with some dramatic results.

His recent subjects, all on the Illawarra coast, include bluebottles, violet snails (which feed on bluebottles) and the blue dragon, a type of nudibranch. The blue dragon – or Glaucus marginatus – is fascinating.  The size of a thumbnail, it feeds on bluebottles, even incorporating its prey’s toxins to strengthen its own sting.

Smith grew up in Newark, Nottinghamshire, which is a decent drive from the coast of England. So it was when he was on holiday overseas that he properly came to enjoy the beauty of the underwater world.

‘‘I have always had an attraction to the water and the tricks it plays on light for as long as I can remember,’’ he said.

‘‘Some of my earliest memories are of my brother and I snorkelling on family holidays to France and the Mediterranean Sea.

‘‘I can clearly remember my first experience of watching shafts of sunlight weave and dance down into the deep blue, carved by the rippling ocean surface.’’

Luckily for him, he moved to Australia and settled in Stanwell Park which, as Smith puts it, meant he had the whole of the Pacific Ocean as his playground.

He had been working as a mechanical design draftsman until he was made redundant from Southern Engineering Services, which shut down recently.

In the extra time and with the dramatic diversity of life under the sea, he has an almost unlimited supply of subjects, and of late, it has been bluebottles that have caught his eye.

‘‘I think it’s escapism – when you’re out there concentrating on what you’re doing, on your own.

‘‘I put a lot of planning into my photography, scouting locations, going away to think it through.

‘‘I like to go out of my way to show [the creatures] to people, and show them that it’s worth taking care of the ocean. It makes people look closer.’’

To see more of Smith’s work, visit mattysmithphoto.com.