Frogfish Photo Tips

Frogfish or anglerfish are popular macro subjects for underwater photographers. So, what’s in the name? Technically, they are anglerfish. Most of the world calls them frogfish, but here in Australia we have a different fish we call a frogfish. For convenience, I will refer to anglerfish as frogfish.

Frogfish live in tropical and sub-tropical (temperate) waters. They can live in the water column (like the sargassum frogfish, which clings to sargassum seaweed and floats around) or on the sea bottom. I shall ignore deep sea anglerfishes, it is unlikely an underwater macro photographer will come across one of these! 

Frogfish species include:

• Tropical and temperate species:

   o Painted frogfish (Antennarius pictus)

   o Clown frogfish (Antennarius maculatus, sometimes difficult to tell from painted)

   o Striated or striped frogfish (Antennarius striatus)

   o Sargassum frogfish (Histrio histrio)

• Tropical species:

   o Psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica)

   o Giant frogfish (Antennarius commerson)

• Temperate species:

   o Tasselled anglerfish (Rhycherus filamentosus)

   o Sydney/Bare Island anglerfish (Antennariidae gen.)

   o Nelson Bay anglerfish (Histiophryne sp.)

The problem with frogfish is finding them. Size can vary from a few centimetres to approximately 40cm or larger. Frogfish are masters of disguise. Their appearance can include spots, stripes, bumps and filaments. They often resemble sponges, coral, sponges and plants. This camouflage is used to hide from predators and to ambush prey. Their colour and appearance is highly variable (even within a species), which can make identification very difficult. Their size and camouflage make spotting them hard. I really can’t offer any advice, except to say hire a dive guide and once you’ve seen frogfish once, it “can” make spotting the same species again a little easier.....

Frogfish are very effective predators. The name “anglerfish” derives from the rod with lure (illicium) attached above their mouths. Frogfish use this lure to attract a potential meal to come close to their mouths. They can strike incredibly fast (approximately 6 milliseconds) and their mouth and stomach can expand to swallow a meal twice their size.

Now that you have found your frogfish, how do you photograph it? Here are some suggestions, I am sure you can find better ways to photograph froggies! Frogfish can be quite small; you may need to use a close-up wet lens (dioptre). I think the challenge is to bring out the skin texture (and the hair or filaments for the striated frogfish) and I think this is easier when you use only one strobe. I would suggest positioning the strobe at the side to create shadows and textures. You might even try being creative and use backlighting. You could try side or front face profiles for close-ups or try moving further away to photograph the frogfish in its environment. You will want the face and lure sharp, so try using a large f-stop (f8 on a compact or f18 and above on a DSLR). I am not so sure shallow depth of field will work as well with frogfish, but feel free to prove me wrong!

The holy grail of frogfish photographs is the yawn. A warning sign to watch out for is the frogfish moving its lips together. When you see this, you need to be ready to shoot fast! Bear in mind that this might be a sign of anxiety, so be careful to treat your little froggie with respect.

I usually don’t bother photographing black frogfish. They are too dark and you will need to be prepared to overexpose the background (and maybe foreground) to pick up any details on the black frogfishes. One thing worth mentioning – please don’t be tempted to move two frogfish together for the sake of a photograph. Frogfish can be cannibalistic, so you might suddenly find you have only one frogfish!

Resources for identification:


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