Underwater photographer Marco Gargiulo discusses his incredible shot of a seahorse taken at Santa Caterina Beach in Naples

This image of a maned seahorse was taken at Santa Caterina Beach in Sant’Agnello in Naples, Italy. Specifically, it was a photograph that was taken during an early morning dive with my friend Domenico Roscigno, another underwater photographer. It was 2 January 2014 and we set out to revel in the first dive of a brand-new year.

We decided to go to this particular location in search of seahorses, which can often be found drifting around in the warm ocean under a brilliant sun. As soon as I entered the water I set myself up by a rock and checked my underwater camera to ensure that the strobes were operating correctly. As soon as I put my eye up to the viewfinder I saw a seahorse hovering around the red algae on the ocean floor. Immediately, the little fish started to move from the bottom and started to swim forward to another position. I swam a little forward to get in close with my camera. As soon as I was comfortably in position I started to shoot off several images of the seahorse swimming through the frame, with the sun’s rays penetrating the ocean’s surface and spilling into the background. It was such a simple shot and over so quickly. But it really was a magical situation and a signal of a good and lucky year to come!

The image was taken using a Nikon D800E inside an Isotecnic Isotta camera housing. Isotecnic is an Italian company that produces housing and strobes for underwater photography. It has been around for many years, since 1980 in fact, and offers lots of products, many of which I’ve used throughout my photographic life. That morning I was using a Tokina 10-17mm lens at 17mm to obtain a full frame image on my FX camera using a DX lens. I also had a dome port with me, just a little one at 4.5in. It’s called a Mini Dome and is used to shoot macro images that require a wide angle, as you can see in this image of the seahorse.

I’ve used a variety of equipment during my time as a photographer. My main kit tends to consist of a Nikon D800E, a Nikon D7200, an Isotta housing, two Inon Z-240 strobes and two Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes.

In terms of camera settings for this shot, the camera was set to 1/320sec at f/16 and ISO 100. The lighting in the image was created using my two Inon Z-240 strobes, which were fibre-optically wired but set to manual mode. This allowed me to get maximum power from them to light the details of the seahorse and ocean foliage, as well as having the sun behind it, which is crucial to the overall feeling of the shot.

It’s not a surprise that I turned to underwater photography. I was born in Naples in 1968 to Henry and Maria Rosaria, who are both accomplished and world-renowned underwater photographers. I started diving with an aqualung in the summer of 1974, swimming around the Mediterranean and exploring the secret life and habitat of the creatures that swam in the water and crawled along the seabed. In fact, not only was this dive with the seahorse the first of the year, it was also the 40th anniversary of my first dive.

In 1979 I started taking the idea of underwater photography seriously. I was 11 years old and I’d go diving with my brother. My first shots were taken with a Nikonos II 35mm SLR, an underwater camera made by Nikon between 1968 and 1975. It was a camera that could be taken to depths of around 50m, so was more than adequate for my needs. For the next few years I entered various little competitions here and there with varying degrees of success. I also collaborated with a number of magazines by publishing articles about marine biology and travel photography. I’m very proud to say that I’m a member of the Italian Underwater Photography Society, and I also act as the webmaster, editor and moderator of their website (www.iups.it).

Born in 1968, Marco Gargiulo is a hobbyist underwater photographer and a marine biologist. He has been diving since he was six years old and started taking pictures in 1979. Visit his website www.marcogargiulo.com