Creature Feature


Pacific viperfish (Chauliodus macouni). Specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.

What is one of the biggest benefits of being a photographer that works in and around our world’s oceans?  It’s easy to take and share perfect Halloween photos. The oceans have no shortage of strange and creepy things.

A few years ago I teamed up with Moss Landing Marine Labs and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to peer into their eerie labs, museums, and research.  I use these adjectives, of course, because of the time of the year, but also because they aptly describe these collections of some of the strangest animals on the planet.  A lot of the animals found in deep ocean habitats truly look like they are something right out of a monster movie.

The concept for the project was to provide a view into a rarely seen habitat.  The Monterey Submarine Canyon is a unique place, and one of the largest underwater canyons in the world.  Consequently, it’s geography and biodiversity fuels a rich ecosystem that is one of the world’s most productive biological hotspots–the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  Unfortunately, for us nature shooters, the submarine canyon is more than two miles deep – well beyond the reach of our Nikon and Canon cameras.  What a treat it was to work with these institutions and provide an artist’s perspective into this strange and alien world.

Most of the animals I photographed were exhumed from the tombs of their preservation jars, but about a third of them were live specimens.  Whether alive or dead, they were all photographed in a standard fish aquarium bought at a local pet store.  I used one to two studio strobes with no soft boxes or reflectors, and I alternated between white and black backdrops with each animal.  Sometimes I used one strobe and edge-lit a subject, and sometimes I used two and back- and front-lit a subject.  It all depended on what I was shooting.  For a final look and feel, I processed the images monochromatically and cool-toned all the subjects with black backgrounds, and warm-toned all the subjects with white backgrounds.  I did this for no reason other than I thought it looked cool.

Anyway, enjoy their strangeness, enjoy their creepiness, and have a happy and safe Halloween.


MARI’s ROV, The Ventana. This tethered, mechanical sub-sea drone, explores deep ocean habitats.


A deep-sea skate, species unknown. Specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.

















Pacific viperfish (Chauliodus macouni). Specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.

A deep-sea brittle star from Moss Landing Marine Lab's Collection

Deep-sea brittle star (Class: Ophiuroidea). Specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.


The fangtooth (Anoplogaster cornuta). Specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.

















Longfin dragonfish (Tactostoma macropus). Specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.


Pacific black dragonfish (Idiacanthus antrostomus). Specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.


Larval snipe eel, a juvenile specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.
















A live specimen of a deep-ocean lamprey. Specimen courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Labs.


Jason Bradley has a unique set of skills. He specializes in nature and wildlife photography both underwater and above; he’s the owner and operator of Bradley Photographic Print Services, a fine art print lab; he leads photographic expeditions around the world, and is the author of the book Creative Workflow in Lightroom, published by Focal Press. Visit to see more of his work and find info on his upcoming workshops and expeditions, and to learn about his fine art printing services.