The photographic duo who dive by night

When the forecast is just right, Irene and Crispin Middleton wake up in the middle of the night and put to sea.

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They steam past the Poor Knights Islands to the East Auckland current beyond, where the water is deeper than 150 metres. That’s where they’re most likely to find something interesting—something they haven’t seen before.

“We’re a little bit spoiled—we’ve got our own boat, and we’ve got the Poor Knights right on our doorstep,” says Irene Middleton. “We’re always looking for something a little bit new and unique to photograph.”

They started diving by night after a couple of decades’ diving by day, fuelled by a growing interest in photographing what they encountered. Perhaps nocturnal species would furnish something different to their camera lenses, they thought.

On their first blackwater dive, at the Poor Knights, a group of about 50 female argonauts surfaced around them, their pale shells bobbing in the darkness—an encounter they’ve never had again.

“There’s been heaps of cool interactions,” says Irene. “Crispin and I will be discussing things we really want to see, such as oarfish—and then that night we’ll find an oarfish.”

The pair—who went diving in the Kermadecs for their honeymoon—have separate interests when it comes to their underwater missions.

“Crispin is really into the photography side of things—that’s his real passion,” says Irene. “I’m into the discovery side of things. I get a buzz from just seeing something new, and then I sometimes forget to photograph it, because I’m so excited about what I’m seeing.”

Every dive is a roll of the dice.

“We’ve had many dives that were awful. Too much wind, or current, or nothing came up all night. You wake up at 1am, get home at 7am and go to work at 8am, and if you don’t get anything good that night, you think, ‘Uh, I don’t know if this is worth it’.”

She laughs, but it’s clear that the inconsistency of their encounters is what keeps them coming back—the feeling that the next species they’re keen to spot will turn up next time, or the one after.

They haven’t finished with expeditions by day, though. They’re looking forward to a trip to Pārengarenga Harbour next summer, where they hope to document some of the changes that have happened to the area.

“It’s so stunning, but it’s had a lot of pressures on it over the last ten years—a lot of forestry and nutrients introduced, and the seagrass beds have begun to degrade. We’re worried there’s a shifting baseline and people are getting used to it.”

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