Joshua Lambus: Hawaiian Blackwater

by Kirsten Belloni


A few weeks ago I ran in to a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time.  As we talked I mentioned that I had been seeing a lot of pictures on social media of he and his wife in Hawaii.  “It looks like you guys spend a lot of time in Hawaii these days,” I commented.  “Yes, we have a condo there,” he said.  “Would you like to use it?  No charge.”  What!?  A free place to stay in Hawaii!?  I weighed the pros and cons of being away from home and having to manage schoolwork for about 10 seconds before I said, “Yes!”  I can work just as well from the dining room table in Hawaii as I can from my desk in Alaska, right?  Right.  I love on-line education!

Time in the islands understandably has my mind on the ocean and as I began to look at the various faces of photography in Hawaii, one artist stood out above the rest. 

Joshua Lambus is a fine art photographer, based on the Big Island, who has turned his camera toward a very unique subject - and one that is wildly difficult to photograph as well:  Pelagic Inverts.  These invertebrate creatures get their name primarily from the conditions in which they live, the wide open ocean.  Now, before I venture off into the scientific realm, a place where my brain does not comfortably go, I will point out that this creature’s natural habitat is not a place easily photographed.

Pelagic inverts like darkness.  During the day they live very deep in the ocean, in places where humans cannot go due to the depth.  At night they come up closer to the surface.  This is when Lambus is able to set his camera on these unique subjects, in a setting and process called Blackwater diving.  Which, by all accounts, sounds like an impossible experience, even if photography were not involved.  In an interview with Underwater Photography Guide, Lambus explained the challenges of making images in this setting:

“The very nature of this dive is so different from others. Taking photographs during the dive is also about as different as it gets. The only way to practice for this dive is by doing this dive. Though I often say if you take a piece of aluminum foil and a piece of plastic wrap into your closet, turn out the lights and are able to photograph them together, in focus and both well exposed, you should be able to photograph blackwater. For the dive we head straight out a few miles, get over water that is thousands of feet deep, and jump in. It is a drift dive, in the open ocean, with tethers, at night. Keeping track of your buoyancy, while trying to stay righted in the current, and staying clear of tangling in the tethers, while trying to maintain your composure and fight off the vertigo, can be very difficult for some people. After doing this dive almost 400 times it still throws me for a loop from time to time. Not to mention the BIG animals we see out there. We've had Oceanics, Blues, Galapagos, Makos, Threshers and even big Marlin give us a spike in heart rate. Trying to track 3 Oceanic white-tips posturing at night with a focus light can be a bit disconcerting to say the least.  Ok, so that's just the diving. The next thing to consider is...focus. Does your camera focus well in low light? If not are you good at manual focus? Which is better? Next is lighting. Best positions for strobes? How do you light up your subject without lighting up the rest of the plankton around it?  Do you expose for the reflective part of your subject or the transparent part? How do you do both? How comfortable are you with knowing where the controls are on your camera? Because at night you can't see what you're doing, and you better have a good hold on that camera because if you drop it you don't get it back.” 


And I thought night photography on land was tough!  Perspective adjusted.

Next time you visit the islands you might want to check out Lambus work in person.  He recently opened a gallery, MAKA Fine art.  If a trip to the tropics isn’t on your radar any time soon, you can see more of his work at .  You can get a glimpse at Joshua’s life, gallery, and process in a short video at  The six minute video is well worth the watch, providing a looking into a place and process that is anything but common.