Bioluminescent wave captured by NZ photographer Grant Birley

Grant Birley (Ch@sing_HorizoNZ), an Auckland-based photographer is one of the few lucky ones who managed to capture mother nature's amazing bio-luminescent waves on camera. As Wikipedia tells us, bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. From marine plankton and fungus to glow worms and even crabs, bio-luminescence is a chemical reaction and, in essence, is one of the most fascinating things to observe if you happen to be in the right place at the right time.


Charles Darwin noticed bioluminescence in the sea, describing it in his journal as follows:

“While sailing in these latitudes on one very dark night, the sea presented a wonderful and most beautiful spectacle. There was a fresh breeze, and every part of the surface, which during the day is seen as foam, now glowed with a pale light. The vessel drove before her bows two billows of liquid phosphorus, and in her wake she was followed by a milky train. As far as the eye reached, the crest of every wave was bright, and the sky above the horizon, from the reflected glare of these livid flames, was not so utterly obscure, as over the rest of the heavens.”


Excio photo community member Grant Birley managed to get an amazing photo of a bio-luminescent wave but there is so much more than just luck for a photographer to achieve the shot.


Biolumiescence by Grant Birley (Ch@sing_HorizoNZ)


Captured at Arkles Bay at 02:07 on the morning of 17th January 2020

Camera: Canon 80D Lens: Tokina AT-X 11-20mm F2.8 PRO DX Focal Length: 16mm Exposure: 5 seconds at f/2.8 ISO: 1600


Grant tells us about his experience capturing this unique phenomenon...


“I was in bed when I noticed a post on our local FB page that a bit of bio-luminescence had been spotted in our area so I jumped out of bed, woke our 8 year old and went out hunting for it - this was at midnight!! We found a little and after about an hour or so the little guy was tired so we decided to call it a night. Once home and climbing back into bed, I noticed another post from earlier saying someone saw bio-luminescence at another beach so, me being me, I jumped out of bed again and this time headed out on my own – by now it was 01:30 in the morning! When I first got to the beach I noticed a little directly in front of me but as Murphy would have it, as soon as I set up my camera it started fading and disappeared completely. I decided to call it a night and started walking back to the car. As I was virtually at the car, out of the corner of my eye I saw a blue flicker up against the cliffs so I decided to head across for one more look! It was so bright I could see it going off but only on certain waves. I had to get pretty wet, wading in knee-deep water in the pitch dark, to try to reach the spot at high tide but I was going to try and capture this no matter what!! It was very sporadic and trying to capture it proved very difficult - for me anyway! Capturing the bio-luminescence has been a big highlight in my short photographic career and I suspect a once in a lifetime opportunity. In all the time I was there the bio-luminescence only went off a handful of times. The colour was all generated by mother nature - I did not have to disturb the water in any way myself to "activate" the amazing colour!! The lack of sleep was well worth it!"



The photo was featured in Issue 28 of NZPhotographer Magazine Readers' Submissions, view it here.


This photo shows a great example of #PhotographyForGood where the historical and science-important moment was captured thanks to the effort of a keen photographer who we at Excio are very proud to have as a member. Note, as part of creating photography we always care about keeping our environment safe which Grant talks about – no special influence or disturbance of mother nature occurred as a result of taking this photo. It is also worth remembering the potential danger that the night sea throws at us including the poorly-lit surroundings in most cases and high tides to name a few, so please always bear in mind your own safety first and foremost while taking photos.


Explore Grant’s other collections on Excio here.

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