Serenity by Justin Bruhn - Pure Underwater Imaging

Capturing Underwater Photography at Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island holds a special place in my heart, not only because of the stunning array of marine life that calls this island home.

But because Lady Elliot Island invites the opportunity for quiet and calm introspection unlike any other. It is a place where I can connect with nature on a deeply profound level, whilst documenting my thoughts and feelings in the water through my photography.

If you’re unfamiliar with this island, Lady Elliot Island is located in the Coral Sea, 46 nautical miles north-east of Bundaberg and covers approximately 45 hectares. Thousands of baby turtles hatch along its coastline from February to April, whilst the seabird nesting season typically begins in September here. 

Lady Elliot Island was even voted #2 in a list of ‘The 7 best beaches for snorkelling around the world’ by Lonely Planet. So you can begin to understand the appeal for an underwater photographer, right?


Visiting Lady Elliot Island as an underwater photographer

Every year, around July and August, I make sure to block out time in my diary for a trip to Lady Elliot Island. My hope is to photograph manta rays and green turtles during my time at the island, like these past examples of my Lady Elliot Island photography

And although manta rays are known to frequent Lady Elliot Island year round, their numbers are usually larger in these months.

As you can imagine, it makes my job of locating them that bit easier. In fact, May to August is considered ‘peak manta season’, and it’s thought that mantas visit Lady Elliot in such large numbers during winter because of the ‘cleaning stations’ here - as well as due to their migration patterns.

“Lady Elliot accounts for roughly 70% of the sightings on the East coast of Australia” -  Jacinta Shackleton


Flying Dream
Flying Dream


But Lady Elliot Island isn’t only an ideal location for encountering manta rays and green turtles. There’s also a chance to encounter humpback whales at this time of year too. 

I’ll never forget the experience of free diving and the amazing sensation of hearing a humpback whale’s song underwater. Because although they can be hundreds of metres away, due to the way sound travels underwater it’s almost like they’re singing right next to you.  At this time of year, it’s quite common to hear humpbacks - in fact I heard them on almost every dive.

It’s both a mesmerising and humbling experience, to be a witness to such gentle majesty.   



An underwater photographer’s typical day at Lady Elliot Island

For me, a typical day of capturing photography at Lady Elliot Island involves:

  • Rising with the sun – why would I want to miss out on such spectacular views, after all?
  • Meditating on the beach – finding stillness and gratitude, surrounded by stunning nature
  • Having a light breakfast – as I don’t want to weigh myself down too much! 
  • Heading over to the lighthouse, to freedive at the Lighthouse Bommie – a place where manta rays often frequent 



Planning an underwater photography shoot at Lady Elliot Island

As a photographer, I may have a certain idea of what I want to capture on any given day. However, as anyone who works with nature or wildlife can attest, the best laid plans can often be swept away by a number of factors.

Depending on the tides and weather conditions, I’ll either drift along from the lighthouse to the coral gardens. Or if that doesn’t prove any marine life encounters, I’ll head back over to the other side of the island to photograph green turtles in the lagoon.

Some days, I have a particular image composition in my mind’s eye that I intend to capture. Other times I’m happy to ‘go with the flow’ and let my artistic inspiration emerge from my underwater encounters.




When weather conditions aren’t suitable for snorkelling or diving, I’ll do some free dive training and CO2 drills at a local pool instead. Check out this video from my YouTube channel to see an example of one of these drills. 



Editing underwater photography at Lady Elliot Island

Once I’m back on dry land and in the editing suite, then comes the challenge of deciding which images to keep for my collections. It’s seriously one of the most challenging aspects of being an artist!

Personally, I try to choose the images that have the best composition with background light and evoke the emotion of being underwater. For me, the best Lady Elliot Island images capture a certain degree of movement and feeling, and also have a story-like quality to them. 

For example, my print of an abandoned anchor – Shipwreck – is infused with a stunning depth of history and mystery. Or Enchanting, that I captured on the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island, featuring a beautiful green turtle angled playfully towards my lens with a knowing sparkle in her eye. 

Pretty much every image I’ve captured at Lady Elliot Island offers unique insight into the wonderful marine life of this island. Yet it’s the memories and meaning that the viewer infuses each image with that makes it truly special. 




For anyone who is considering a trip to Lady Elliot Island, this is an incredibly beautiful and atmospheric place that I consider an honour to explore. 

Whether you wish to visit Lady Elliot Island for the manta rays, the diving or snorkelling opportunities, the proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, or to simply relax at the eco resort, there’s no shortage of phenomenal experiences here.  

And if you have visited Lady Elliot Island and are interested in stunning underwater photography to commemorate the experience, why not take a look at my Lady Elliot Island photography. Or if you can’t decide which artwork will best suit your space, feel free to book in for a complimentary consultation where I can offer you my personal recommendations. 

Ethereal by Justin Bruhn - Pure Underwater Imaging

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