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Full Article: A Memorable Courting Ray Ballet

A Note From the Editor: Duncan Murrell has wowed the world with his photography for decades. Most recently his graceful photo of three giant devil rays performing a ballet was the Best in Show in the prestigious Ocean Art 2018 Underwater Photography Competition. This image was featured around the world including in the Washington Post, CNET, The Atlantic, South China Morning Post, Gizmodo, Yahoo, Lonely Planet, Sport Diver, Dive Magazine, Smithsonian, and many, many more! Duncan has been kind enough to share the extraodinary circumstances behind this extraodinary shot....


A Search for an Adventure 

There was the usual sense of eager anticipation among the guests as the banca boat motored out to Honda Bay in Palawan, Philippines for another whale shark trip. I’d been going on these trips for ten years but my excitement was undiminished because of my love of whale sharks, the visual feast they can provide for a photographer, and that every trip was different. I was very familiar with the prospect of unexpected encounters and surprises: the icing on the cake was spinner dolphins riding the bow or a manta ray announcing its presence on the surface. Although it usually takes an hour or more to get to the main feeding locations of the whale sharks in Honda Bay from Puerto Princesa, I knew from experience to be ready for action just in case something popped up along the way. But it’s a very early start and snoozing was always welcome. Suddenly I snapped out of my snooze because the boat’s guide had spotted some commotion in the water ahead: there were several fins slicing across the surface……. devil rays!!!…. get your fins on! I had good reason to be so excited from previous encounters with these mercurial flapping fish. I have seen spinetail devil rays quite a few times in Honda Bay, often in the vicinity of the whale sharks, but I only managed to get close to them on one occasion when there was a large school of them feeding on a massive bloom of krill; I was mesmerized as they emerged from the murky darkness below and surrounded me like a squadron of fighter aircraft, and then ascended into the dazzling light above like a flock of angels before ploughing through the krill on the surface. 

A Rare Event

On this occasion there was no apparent feeding behaviour as five of them swirled around us. They seemed to be completely oblivious to us in what looked like an underwater game of tag. The guests couldn’t have had any idea how unusual this kind of behaviour was and how exceptionally lucky they were to witness it; I had waited nearly ten years to have another encounter like this!

It wasn’t until a few weeks later when my photos were noticed on Instagram by the director of the Manta Trust that it was confirmed that what we witnessed was rarely seen or photographed courtship behaviour. On closer examination of my series of photos, one female was identified as being the object of desire of four males by the bite marks inflicted beneath her pectoral fin. It was very evident that they lose any caution when they are engaged in courtship behaviour and intoxicated by their reproductive desire. The guests may not have appreciated the rarity of this event, but I certainly did even if I wasn’t aware at the time exactly what the behaviour was. I had to quickly get into top gear to keep up with this hypnotic underwater dance performance and avoid the ubiquitous selfie sticks to capture some unique photos. I was quickly reminded why I had fallen in love with these beautiful mobulas during that rare feeding event nearly ten years ago when there were also whale sharks, oceanic manta rays, and dolphins feasting on the krill. It was these devil rays with their graceful flight and luminous white cephalic fins, which gave them the title of devil rays, that stole the show for me. 

A Choreographed Game of Tag

I quickly slipped into the high adrenaline zone and joined this electrifying game of tag. The sea conditions and underwater visibility were good, and there was sufficient light to complement the graceful mercurial curves of these submarine bats. It was fortunate that I was just snorkeling because I could never have kept up with the action if I was wearing cumbersome scuba gear. As they effortlessly swirled and swooped up to the surface I just couldn’t get over how oblivious they were to my presence. That unprecedented sensation climaxed when three of them converged just a few metres in front of me and in a split second created a perfectly choreographed yin-yang formation. And if I wasn’t already gobsmacked enough by what I was witnessing at such impossibly close quarters one of the males suddenly flew right at my head and swept downwards while brushing up against my body! I was absolutely stunned by this intimate encounter; such bravado by a normally shy creature that could have stemmed from aggression, curiosity or just sexual arousal. It was as if I was suddenly included in the courtship and caressed by its sexual abandon. It was undoubtedly one of the most arousing close wildlife encounters of my life! I also wondered if it might have been attracted by the reflection in the glass dome port of my housing because it swam right at my face. 

The entire encounter with those courting devil rays lasted more than half an hour and left me with an intoxicating sense of incredulity; WOW! Did that really just happen? When we were all back on the boat I was quick to tell the guests how incredibly lucky they were to witness that. I always told the guests on the whale shark trips that there were occasional bonuses like spinner dolphins, turtles, manta rays and devil rays, but on this occasion they had undoubtedly won the lottery! 

A Future in Doubt

I knew that I had a unique set of photos even if I wasn’t sure of exactly what the behaviour was. I’m first and foremost a conservation photographer going back decades when my photos of humpback whales were used by all of the major conservation organisations for their Save the Whale campaigns. I was infatuated with humpback whales for many years, and the mobulids, including manta rays and devil rays (mobulas), are my new love….. and despair, just as it was when whales were still being slaughtered on an industrial scale. 

I had already seen the corpses of mobulids in Baja, Mexico and Sri Lanka many years ago when it was probably just for human consumption. Now like so many threatened species, especially the likes of rhinos, tigers and pangolins, mobulids have become the target for massive profiteering in the traditional Chinese medicine market for products that have no proven efficacy making their slaughter even more tragic and pointless. And in the case of mobulids it’s even more disturbing because the demand for their gill-rakers, the thin filaments that mobulids use to filter their food, has risen dramatically in the past fifteen years even though they were not historically used for that purpose. They are sold for up to $500 a kilo as an ingredient for a soup locally called pengyu sai, which is purported to boost the immune system by reducing toxins and enhancing blood circulation. Practitioners have even admitted that gill-rakers are not effective and many alternatives are available. Many young traditional Chinese medicine doctors are not even aware of the remedies that they are used for but still the slaughter continues and all mobulids are under serious threat worldwide.

It is inconceivable to me that such mesmerizing creatures as the mobulids are disappearing from the world’s oceans through such human ignorance and greed, and I will do whatever I can do as a conservation photographer, writer and teacher to educate and inform to help to protect these beautiful and highly intelligent creatures that grace the sea like ballet dancers. Cetaceans, whale sharks, and manta rays have been protected in the Philippines since the 90s but devil rays continued to be targeted by local fisheries, especially on the island of Bohol - up until April 2017 when they were protected in response to being listed as endangered on Appendix II by CITES. 


Additional Reading

If you're passionate for ray and whale shark consevation, be sure to check out the Large Marine Vertebrate Research Institute

Full Article: Why the Nikon Z7 is My New Favorite Underwater Camera

My weekend began with the pleasant surprise – there was a Nikon Z7 and Ikelite housing sitting at my doorstep, ready to be taken out diving! As one of the most significant camera releases of the year, I had high hopes for Nikon’s new flagship full-frame mirrorless camera. After the releases of the Canon EOSR and Panasonic S1/S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras, I admit my head is beginning to spin with all the new options, features, and dreams of an increasingly nitpicky community of photographers. With much controversy surrounding the release of the Nikon Z7 – like whether or not its performance could live up to other full-frame mirrorless cameras and the similarly priced Nikon D850 – I was itching to take it underwater. 


Topside Tests

This past weekend in Washington’s beautiful Olympic Peninsula was great for pushing the camera to the limits of its capability. I spent Saturday driving through forests, beaches, rain, hail, and sunshine. First I spent some time testing the Z7’s low light performance and low ISO capability with scenic rainforest waterfalls. Shortly afterward, I was fortunate to get a chance to test the autofocus capability with some elk. From there I went to a sunny sunset at the beach to test the Z7’s dynamic range. 


Underwater Tests

On Sunday I took the Nikon Z7 diving with an Ikelite Z7 Underwater Housing, dual Ikelite DS-161 strobes with a DL1 DS Link Nikon TTL converter, and an Ikelite 45 degree viewfinder. For wide-angle I shot with a Nikkor 8-15mm (circular) fisheye lens and a Ikelite compact dome port. For macro I shot with a Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro lens and a Ikelite macro port. Both lenses are the original Nikon F-mount and not the new Z-mount lenses. Conditions were abysmal with 5-10 ft of snotty visibility and lackluster life in an anoxic Hood Canal…..perfect for testing a camera! Thankfully I forgot my focus light and really got to take the Z7 to the extremes of its lowlight potential. 


My final verdict? The Nikon Z7 might just be my new favorite camera! Here’s why:


What Performed Well


Image Quality

It quickly became clear to me that the image quality on the Z7 is just unstoppable. At first you might think that 45.7 MP is more than enough pixels in one camera. Well, I quickly realized that it was just the amount I needed. When you have these many megapixels on a full-frame sensor, your left with an almost unreasonable ability to crop your photo and produce a large, beautiful image of the most minute details. Take the image below of this black-eyed goby and a 100% crop of the same image. Even the color pigments in the skin are of the highest level of detail. Detail like this will open new world’s for macro photographers. It’s like having a portable microscope. 


I also like the auto white balance on this camera much better than the auto white balance on the Sony A7R III. I know white balance is a secondary thought for many people, but I found that with some of my photos with the A7R III, even post processing didn’t make the difference I desired. The Nikon Z7 produced accurate colors every time. 



The autofocus on the Z7 has been given quite a bad wrap on the internet. I think it’s unwarranted. Overall, I found the autofocus underwater to be better than the Sony A7R III and potentially slightly worse than the D850. And I personally thought that the different between the AF on the Z7 and D850 was so small, it could only make a difference in a 0.5% of the shots I took. What impressed me so much about the Nikon Z7’s autofocus was its performance in lowlight. I was 50 feet deep, with 5 ft of whale snot viz, at sunset, without a focus light, and the AF locked in quickly and easily on every shot. The only thing it struggled with was a small cave (also without a light)!

I do recommend using larger focus point options like the wide-s AF area if you are working with quicker subjects. There are so many autofocus points on the Nikon Z7 that it can take a while to hunt for the right point if you’re using a single AF point. On the flipside, it’s great to have 90% AF focus point coverage on the Z7. 



The most enticing thing about this camera is the build. It’s excellent. The weather sealing seemed tough enough in the variable weather conditions I experienced – no problems there. But the important thing for me was that the Z7 was much smaller and lighter than the D850 (675g vs 1005g). If I’m traveling or diving, the Z7 hands down wins every time. 

My biggest complaint with the Nikon D850 was always that it was just to big underwater. In a sense, my dive would be impeded by the effort of lugging the thing around. But the Nikon Z7 in the Ikelite housing was a breeze to handle, even from shore. I experienced excellent trim with the Ikelite housing as well – something that the company put a lot of thought into. 


Image Stabilization

Built-in 5-axis image stabilization. Who could beat that? The D850 can’t!



Except for the function buttons that are a little hard to access on the forward, right side of the camera, the button placement is very well thought out. I found myself have no issues with finding buttons or functions without reading any manuals. I very much enjoyed the “info” menu button that allowed quick access to a menu with all the quick settings that you might need in the spur of the morning.

Migrating from another Nikon system, I think this camera is very intuitive. In fact, I felt that the Z7 had the quickest learning curve of any camera I’ve picked up to date. But don’t take my word on that, of course. Everyone learns differently.


FTZ Adapter

The FTZ adapter allows for traditional Nikon F-mount lenses to be used with the Z-mount. It makes the set up a fair bit bulkier, but the capability of using a huge assortment of F-mount lenses is a lifesaver. There just aren’t any good Z-mount lenses out yet.


The Z-Mount?  

Theoretically the new Nikon Z-mount should be an improvement to the camera. It’s wider which allows for more light and the possibility of an ultra-fast f/0.95 lens. But this hasn’t happened yet…. As of today there are only three Z-mount lenses out and none of them are super appealing for underwater photography.



I’ve heard the video is better than the Nikon D850. Overall the color rendering seems quite nice, but I really need to test the video function a bit more. The great feature on the Z7’s video is the auto focus full-time function. It outperforms the D850 and most other competing cameras. I had a little bit of trouble with this function in low light underwater, but overall, once you get the camera stable it works quite well. This camera has the potential to replace the Panasonic GH5 as a favorite for underwater video. 


Electronic View Finder (EVF)

I grew to love this piece of equipment. The ability to change settings, watch the resulting changes in exposure, and playback photos without taking your eye off the view finder is a godsend.


What Has Room to Be Improved


Image Quality

Don’t get me wrong, the image quality with the Z7 is amazing. One small complaint I had about the system was the level of noise. There’s definitely more noise than what is desirable, even at low ISOs (without using the NR function). However, this is entirely due to the fact that there are so many megapixels stuffed onto the sensor. Because the grain is so small, the noise is very easily removed in post processing. So this could even be seen as a positive for workability. 


Dynamic Range Performance

For the most part the low light performance with the Z7 was excellent. However, the dynamic range leaves a bit to be desired compared to the D850. In very low light situations, like diving in the Pacific Northwest, underexposed areas can have slight banding. This is due to the phase detection autofocus points. In most topside photography this wouldn’t be a problem. But in underwater photos with large dynamic range, it can be.



Unfortunately, Nikon did not migrate their 3D tracking Auto Focus mode from the D850 to the Z7. This was a great tool for a lot of both wide and macro photography. The Z7’s continuous mode doesn’t perform as well as hoped either. But don’t get me wrong, it’s still great. If I was really into shooting fast moving subjects, such as with a lot of pelagic animals, I might consider the Nikon D850. 


Lens Selection

As I mentioned before, lens selection for Z-mount lenses is limited to three lenses that have little underwater use. I’m optimistic for the future of these lenses, but for now I’m content to use F-mount lenses underwater with the FTZ adapter. 


Flash Sync Speed

The flash sync speed is only 1/200th which can make good sun ball shots a little harder. However, the native ISO is a low 64. So overall, it evens out. 


Battery Life

The battery life isn’t great. With normal usage I think I would be fine using the camera for two dives, and maybe even a third. It’s definitely a good idea to have a spare battery with this camera.


Single Card Slot

I have mixed feelings about a single XQD card slot. XQD cards are expensive, though they are quicker at processing photos. So this is a progressive move, but it would be nice to have an SD card slot as well, like with the D850.


Thoughts on Ikelite’s Z6/Z7 Housing

Overall, I think the Ikelite 200DL housing for the Nikon Z6 and Z7 is a very capable piece of equipment. The dives that I took it on included a small climb down to the site and a long(ish) surface swim. It definitely was less exhausting to walk and swim with than if I had a Nikon D850 with any of the current available housings. But it is still a relatively large and heavy set up, so it can help to have a handle or lanyard to grab on to. 

Underwater, all the controls are there, and I didn’t feel like I had to search for any dial, button, or knob at any time. It was very intuitive to use from set up to the dive to taking it apart. The on-off switch can be a bit difficult to use, but with the Z7 I usually turn it on before I put it into the housing. Then I just leave it on and let it sleep (which really doesn’t seem to waste any battery). It is also important to change the ISO control button or add it to the “info” menu on the camera so that you don’t have to press the iso button and dial at the same time underwater.

Ikelite worked hard to get the trim right on this camera. Underwater, even with strobes, it's nearly neutral and I really didn't feel like I needed floats. On top of this, Ikelite has introduced a trim weight rail that enables the housing to be perfectly neutrally buoyant with their larger dome - a great option for underwater video.


Ikelite DL1 DS Link Nikon TTL Converter

With the Ikelite housing, I used the Ikelite DL1 DS Link TTL converter which was attached to both Ikelite DS-160s and the camera’s hotshoe. I was surprised with how efficient and accurate the TTL really was. Combined with the DS-160s ultra-fast recycle times, I highly recommend using the TTL converter if you’re going to do any burst shooting underwater.


Ikelite Viewfinder with Nikon Z7’s EVF

 I used an Ikelite 45 degree magnified viewfinder that worked with the electronic viewfinder on the Z7. It was an interesting experience changing all my settings and reviewing my photos without taking my eye off the viewfinder. This really makes it possible to do a whole dive with your eye on the viewfinder, shooting photos. In some ways, I’d prefer to enjoy the dive as well every now and then without a viewfinder. But if you’re shooting in a high-pressure situation, the EVF with the 45 degree viewfinder is perfect for making that quick settings change in the heat of the moment. 


Should I invest in the Nikon Z Series?

Overall, I think camera ecosystem is worth the investment. As manufacturers have slowly begun to focus on very high-end mirrorless set ups, full-frame mirrorless systems are where much of the innovation in photography will likely be. With an FTZ adapter, Nikon has introduced a nice way to transition high quality F-mount glass options to the new system of Z-mount glass. With potential for f/0.95 speed lenses, Nikon has set itself up for success, even if it isn’t here yet. If you are an underwater photographer looking for the very best, I don’t think you could go wrong with this camera. If you are a professional underwater photographer looking for a smaller system, this could be it. If you are an amateur looking to upgrade, I think this should be a serious consideration as you will have the best tools at your disposable for a light build. But if you’re on a bit of a budget, I would look at the Nikon Z6 which has a lot of the same specs with a smaller sensor size of 24.5 MP for a much smaller price. Would I switch from the D850 to the Nikon Z7? Probably not – they’re a bit too similar of a camera at a similar price point.



Overall, I was blown away by the performance of this camera – both topside and underwater. It’s smooth ergonomics and usability opens up access to spectacular low light performance, image quality, image stabilization, video, and autofocus. I went into this weekend skeptical of the camera’s performance from the reviews I read online. But I truly believe the Nikon Z7 is the start of a new generation of cameras that will put anything made in the last decade to shame. The images speak for themselves. This is my new favorite camera.    


Full Article: Wolf Eels: A Face Only a Mother Could Love

There are a lot of ugly fish in the sea. Which one is the ugliest? Well, it’s really hard to say. There are a lot. So many, in fact, this is a frequent topic of debate among divers, scientists, and late-night TV hosts. Having scientifically identified thousands upon thousands of fish at sea in the North Pacific, it’s still quite hard for me to pick my top contenders. But without a doubt, wolf eels (Anarrhichthys ocellatus) rank in the top five. To me, wolf eels resemble the face of an old man who spent a little too much time under the sun, died, and then reanimated as a zombie. 

Neither Wolf nor Eel

Found to depths of 740 feet in the North Pacific from Japan to Southern California, wolf eels are neither wolf nor eel. They are fish. But don’t call them wolf fish – that’s something else.  Wolf eels can reach a remarkable length of 7ft 10 inches and 41 pounds. Although they aren’t a true eel, they fill a similar niche. Wolf eels tend to live in caves or cracks between boulders and feed on crustaceans (crab and shrimp), as well as urchins, mussels, clams, and the occasional fish. Their sharp canines are perfect for crushing through shells. 

Identified by their often brilliant orange color, juvenile wolf eels remain pelagic for up to 2 years and slowly settle benthically into nearshore reefs to find a proper den. They have been known to share dens with giant pacific octopus, lingcod, rockfish, and sculpin. But octopus have also been known to eradicate pesky wolf eels. 


Love is blind (clearly)

Despite their frightening appearance, wolf eels just want to be loved. In fact, of all the fish I have ever had the pleasure of diving with, wolf eels are some of the most dedicated lovers. Living for at least 28 years, many wolf eels will mate for life. You can often find them coinhabiting a small cave, day after day, carefully taking care of their eggs and taking turns to venture out to feed. The females will often be smaller and browner in appearance, with males larger and grayer. During casual observation, I have seen large males come halfway out of their den to “fend off” intrusive divers and block their mate and eggs from sight. 


To Feed or Not to Feed

But in reality, wolf eels are quite docile, friendly, and very curious. They are easily habituated to divers. As such there is some controversy over divers feeding them. At some popular dive sites, wolf eels will casually exit their dens and approach a diver to see if they have any food. Some wolf eels will even let a cautious diver pet them. I don’t recommend doing this, as petting fish removes a protective slime coating which keep them safe from disease. While they never attack divers for food, feeding encourages the wolf eels to expect food from divers and not go hunting themselves.

Photographing Wolf Eels

Where to Look

Wolf eels can be a joy to photograph or a big frustration. They each have their own personality, and some are more cautious than others. Much of your success can depend on how many divers frequent the site. Sites where wolf eels don’t often see divers will be more troublesome, as the wolf eels tend to be a little more wary of divers. In Southern California, wolf eels are found at the deeper edges of recreational limits (often deeper than 100 feet) in relatively cold water. In the Pacific Northwest, they are found shallower (starting at about 40 feet), as the water is generally cold enough for them to be happy. The best place to search is at the bottom of medium to large size boulders or inside small crevices on walls. Wolf eels are often found tucked deep into their cave, but they can be coaxed out by their natural curiosity. 


Tips for Lighting

Due to their habitat, lighting wolf eels can be quite tricky. If you are shooting macro, be sure to position your strobe(s) so that it lights the inside of the cave where the wolf eel is hiding. I find that a snoot is often easier and less intrusive to use for lighting small caves. Proper lighting with a macro photo can sometimes elucidate a green and yellow sheen on their eyes – adding some character to the photo.

It is very tricky to light wolf eels with a wide lens. You’ll almost always need them to stick their head out of their den or come completely out. It can be impossible to get close enough to get a good photo when they are in their den. It’s easy to overexpose their light grey bodies with the dark green water around them. I try to pull my strobes back and bring them in close to the camera. Then I turn the strobe power down to keep the greys in the eel properly exposed and further reduce backscatter. If often helps to bump up your ISO so you can keep the aperture small enough to get a good depth of field. I find that having a diver in the background is nice to provide perspective on the wolf eel’s size.  

A few final tips

1. Wolf eels don’t breathe in and out like morays, but they do open their mouths from time to time. Properly timed, you can capture some of those massive canine teeth. 

2. Use a red light to focus. This helps keep wolf eels interested in you and not reeling in from being blinded by white light. 

3. If you are shooting wide, I have found that when wolf eels are habituated to divers, they can be very interested in their reflection in the dome. They’ll try to size themselves up and then back off.

Wolf eels may be ugly, but it’s not just their mothers that love them. Like many dedicated divers in the Pacific Northwest, if you learn to love them, the wolf eels will love you right back.



Additional Reading:

Full Article: Beyond the Resorts: Diving in the Dominican Republic

Situated in the between the rugged Atlantic Ocean and the placid Caribbean Sea, the Dominican Republic is as diverse and history rich as it is famous for mainstream tourism. Normal tourist haunts such as Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, and Boca Chica can make it seem like one big party on the beach with huge cruise ships passing by, and all-inclusive resorts as far the eye can see. But as with all mass tourism, there’s a lot more to be found behind the glitz and glamour. Despite being a tropical Caribbean destination, the Dominican Republic is blessed with deserts, mountains, colonial cities, jungle, caves, and, of course, clear blue water. 



Silver Bank, Dominican Republic Humpback Trip


March 28 - April 4, 2020 - Starting from $3,795



Diving in the Dominican Republic

Although it’s the most touristed destination in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is not well known as a dive destination. Certainly, there are better Caribbean dive destinations such as Bonaire, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Belize, and Honduras. But it would be a huge mistake to rule out the Dominican Republic altogether – especially if you’re going to be there on holiday or attending our Silver Banks Humpback workshop.  I recommend this dive destination to any diver who has multiple passions beyond diving including budget friendly vacations, hiking, caves, history, and amazing beaches. 

It’s important to note that overall, the sea life will be slightly less abundant than more famous dive destinations in the Caribbean. Whether this is due to invasive lion fish, overfishing, or heavy tourism development, it’s hard to say. In the north it seemed to me to be overfishing and in the south, it seemed to be mass tourism.

Diving in the Dominican Republic can be as diverse as the culture and the terrain. The north (Atlantic) side of the island is blessed with dramatic seaside cliffs and steep underwater topography. The south (Caribbean) side of the island is spotted with quaint tropical reefs and a wide of assortment of reef critters. From a diving perspective, the country can be split into northern (Atlantic) and southern (Caribbean) halves as well. 

Diving on the Atlantic Side

Believe it or not, there is still pristine, remote tropical coastline left in the Dominican Republic - most of it borders the Atlantic. Many small towns in the north are hardly touched by tourism, and it can be a more involved and immersive part of the country to experience. Puerto Plata being the exception. If you do make it far from the Southern tourism hubs, be sure to visit the Samana Peninsula which is arguably the most pristine and beautiful part of the country – other than the almost inaccessible Bahia de las Aguilas.

Puerto Plata/Sosua Bay

If you find yourself in the northwest’s Puerto Plata, be sure to check out the excellent reef diving in Sosua Bay. Peuro Plata is also a great location to start trips to the interior or go windsurfing. 

Samaná /Las Galeras

The Samaná Peninsula forms the northeastern corner of the country. It’s remote and wild with secluded beaches, lush rainforests, and dramatic coastline. Although Samaná is the launch point for many trips to the famed Silver Banks to see humpback whales, its many rivers result in limited diving opportunity. The dive capital of Samaná is a small village tucked away edge of the peninsula called Las Galeras. Las Galeras is where the regions single road ends at the beach. Despite the surprisingly high number of French expats in this small town, mass tourism has not reached here in full; Las Galeras Divers are the only shop in the area (and an excellent option). Airbnb can be a great way to find lodging and interact with locals. 

The diving here is certainly unique. The cream of the crop is found off of Cabo Cabron – a rugged peninsula with sheer cliffs slicing straight into the ocean. The topography continues below the water and features beautiful walls and pinacles covered in coral and sponges. It is, however, rather barren with minimal fish life. This is partly due to the rugged Atlantic Ocean and partly due to overfishing. Hurricanes and storms can make for a difficult dive at times. Octopus are a treat for underwater photographers exploring the reefs and for fisherman providing for local cuisine. For the most part, I would have my wide angle lens here to capture the topography.

The real jewels of the region are the secluded and relatively pristine beaches. For some of them, it’s possible to be the only person there – a rare feat in the Dominican Republic. Trips to Playa Fronton, Playa Rincon, and Playa Madama are a must. Be sure to stick with one of the guides from the main beach in Las Galeras as there have been warnings of infrequent bandits. 

Silver Banks

The Silver Banks is renowned for its yearly humpback whale season. From late January to early April whales show up in large numbers in the Silver Banks - far north of the Dominican Republic in the Atlantic. A few boats leave from Samana and take snorkelers and photographers to snorkel with the whales. Click here for our article on Silver Banks.   

Punta Cana

Punta Cana is world famous for its resorts and beaches. For many, it’s what puts the Dominican Republic on the map. However, the town exists solely for the sake of tourism. Because it’s situated at the eastern tip of the country, it lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This makes it less than ideal for diving with currents, rough water, and minimal marine life. Diving is still made available by most resorts as an “activity.” If you are a diver, especially an underwater photographer, be sure to make your way down to Bayahibe for the best diving in the country. Some shops will organize a pick-up service to take you to Bayahibe, but it’s a long drive. Bayahibe also has a good assortment of more laid back resorts as a good alternative to the craziness that is Punta Cana.


Diving on the Caribbean Side

Santo Domingo/Boca Chica

Santo Domingo is the political and cultural capital of the country. It’s where Columbus established his first colony in the new world and features an amazing amalgamation of indigenous (Taino), Spanish, and African tradition. The colonial zone is a UNESCO world heritage site and should certainly be visited it you are near Santo Domingo. The Ozama river empties into Santo Domingo, polluting the Caribbean in front of the city, and therefore, it isn’t recommended to dive there. There have been recent efforts to clean up this area.

However, 30 km east of Santo Domingo is Boca Chica – a popular beach/city attracting many Dominicans from Santo Domingo. Boca Chica offers fairly good diving with wrecks in the La Caleta Underwater National Park. Though there are resorts in the area, Boca Chica isn’t always kid friendly. 

Bayahibe: Best Diving in the Country

Bayahibe is a smaller resort town situated on the south east corner of the country, ten miles from the port of La Romana. It features tranquil Caribbean beaches and the best diving in the country. With a variety of dive operations to choose from, it’s the scuba capital of the Dominican Republic. The diving in Bayahibe is calm and idyllic, with patchy Caribbean reefs lining the coasts.

The marine life featured here is mostly small and macro with eels, shrimp, squid, small reef fish, blennies, and rays. However, there are some sites that are better for wide angle. Caribbean waters around Bayahibe are blessed with an amazing assortment of beautifully shaped, rainbow-colored sponges. Visibility is almost always excellent as the Caribbean Sea is calmer than the Atlantic. 

Isla Catalina

The wall and the aquarium at Catalina Island are widely considered to be the two best sites in the Dominican Republic. They are a little more expensive to get to as you must take a dive boat from Bayahibe for a day trip to the island. It is well worth it. The wall features a little current, massive colorful sponges, and schools of fish. The aquarium is similar to Bayahibe’s other reefs with more abundant and diverse life, as well as better visibility. 


Peñon is situated just south of Bayahibe in a national park. This is probably the best site in the Dominican Republic for macro photography with the opportunity to see Caribbean reef squid, a large variety of reef fish, cleaner shrimp, seahorses, octopus, squat lobster, and the occasional nurse shark. 


Saona Island 

Saona Island is the most famous island destination in the Dominican Republic. It gets a lot of tourist traffic, but there is good diving and can be visited in conjunction with Peñon. 


St. George Wreck

Situated just off the town of Dominicus (Bayahibe), the St. George wreck is my favorite site in the Dominican Republic. The wreck lies in 144ft/44m of water with the top at 50ft/15m, so it is an advanced dive. In fact, many dive operations can be a little gung-ho about depth and penetration on this wreck. If you aren’t certified for wrecks/depth or don’t feel comfortable penetrating the wreck, please don’t (although it is a relatively open and easy penetration). The ship itself was a 240ft merchant ship that was suck in 1999 as an artificial reef. Lots of open deck space and a large hull make for a fun dive!

The highlight of this wreck is the sponges. It’s so encrusted that you can’t even see the original metal in many places. Larger, non-encrusting sponges form a variety of interesting shapes that dot the wreck. Furthermore, large barracudas, schools of reef fish, and large numbers of spiny lobsters frequent the wreck. Unfortunately, invasive lionfish are also prevalent, but the people of Bayahibe are making large efforts to eradicate them and must be commended. 


Cave Diving

There are many caves situated throughout the country. Bayahibe is especially well known by cave divers. Some are accessible, and others are definitely for more serious cave divers. If you are going cave diving, experience and proper certification is an absolute must; it is important to pick the right shop to go with. 

Topside Activities

The Dominican Republic is all about its topside activities from luxurious resorts to hiking to caving to its glorious beaches. These activities are why many people come to the Dominican Republic. If you’d like a party on the beach, go to Punta Cana. If you’d like a relaxed beach with full amenities – Dominicus/Bayahibe is the place for you. If you’d like seclusion and adventure go north to the Samana Peninsula. The best hiking in the country is found in the interior and Puerto Plata makes a good staging point. Puerto Plata is also well known for its kite surfing. The Samana Peninsula is also excellent for hiking. Caves are found throughout the country and are a lot of fun to explore. But bring proper light and don’t go anywhere you shouldn’t. It’s easy to get lost! 

The Best Time of Year to Dive

As with many other Caribbean destinations – the Dominican Republic can usually be dived year-round. However, it’s important to note that there’s always the possibility of a hurricane ripping through from June through October. On the Atlantic side, summer sea conditions are better as winter storms can bring down visibility. On the Caribbean side the winter actually has better sea conditions than the summer. Water temp averages from 76F/24C – 83F/28C with the Atlantic usually being a degree or two colder. June to November is rainy season, but rain is sporadic and not as heavy as other places in the tropics. This is the offseason and the best time to get travel deals.




Compared to other Caribbean destinations, diving and accommodation in the Dominican Republic is somewhat cheap. Generally, the cost is $40 USD per boat dive not including equipment. Equipment is often rented at $10/day. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many shore diving spots in the DR. However, many shops are willing to drop the price slightly if you purchase a dive package with multiple dives. Food is about $20 per day per person if you’re on a budget and more if you aren’t. Accommodation can be about $40 per day with Airbnb if you’re on a budget. A cheap all-inclusive resort starts for about $120 per day. Of course, luxury all-inclusive resorts are prevalent as well.

Getting There

International flights to the Dominican Republic are popular from the Eastern Seaboard, Europe, and Latin America. Major international airports exist in Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, La Romana, Puerto Plata, and Samana. The long-distance bus system is very good, cheap, and relatively efficient. Sometimes rides across the country can take a full day. Taxis are very expensive and often charge flat rates. Motoconchos or motorcycle taxies are inexpensive and great for riding around small towns, but they can be a little dangerous. Guaguas are smaller and cheaper short distance mini-buses. They are often crowded but can serve as the only way to get to some towns without hiring a taxi. It can be a little confusing to travel this way at first, but locals are often very kind about helping people find their way.

In Conclusion

If you are looking for more than a dive resort or liveaboard during your travels, the Dominican Republic is a great place to experience a mix of cultures, natural beauty, and tourist amenities and still get some diving in. In fact, the diving can be absolutely stunning with Caribbean reefs, wrecks, walls, and diverse sea life. Both macro and wide-angle photographers will not be disappointed. However, if you are looking for big pelagic animals and larger reef creatures such as turtles, the Dominican Republic might not be the dive destination for you – unless you go to Silver Banks for the humpback whales. But by Caribbean standards, it is a budget destination with cheap flights, accommodation, and diving. It’s a great spot for younger travelers and retirees to stretch their vacation slightly longer than they could in a place like the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos. So, if you want your first taste of diving and taking photos in the Caribbean, it is certainly not a bad place to start!  




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Full Article: La Paz Through a Mollusk Photographer's Lens

Editor’s Note: Charles Rawlings is a respected mollusk specialist who has published two books with his underwater photography. You can learn more about his latest offering at this link: Living Mollusks. His previous contribution to the guide was an engaging piece about using a TG-5 to supplement his DSLR rig. Charles looks at things from a different angle than much of the mainstream underwater photography community, making for engaging, interesting, and refreshing reading. I hope you enjoy! -Bryan Chu, Editor


La Paz, Mexico – these words, this place, conjures up visions of an arid desert wasteland spilling into a cerulean ocean. The famous or infamous Baja California adjoining the Sea of Cortez; Saguaro cactus meets whale shark. Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez “the world’s aquarium” and the description is especially appropriate for the waters and dive sites around La Paz.

The dive sites around La Paz are well known for big animals – whale sharks, sea lions, dolphins, manta rays, mobula rays, huge schools of tuna and jack; even whales on occasion – Humpback whales, pilot whales, Sperm whales and rarely Blue whales. La Paz, while not really known for sharks, will also provide nurse sharks, bull sharks, white tip sharks and other sharks that draw divers in droves. But, what about the macro aspect of the La Paz diving fauna? Are there little creatures living on La Paz’s reefs and wrecks? I travelled to La Paz to see for myself; and found myself asking - what macro secrets would it reveal?

Crown of Thorns Starfish. Acanthaster planci. Swanee Reef. Nikon D80 with dual strobes, 60mm macro lens. 1/200 sec, f/22, ISO 100.

I am a specialist diver and photographer. I specialize in living mollusks, which include seashells, nudibranchs and cephalopods. Seashells are gastropods and bivalves such as oysters, clams, mussels and scallops. Cephalopods, meaning “head foot”, include nautilus, squid, octopus and cuttlefish; nudibranchs are those colorful “slugs”. The Sea of Cortez is renowned for its rich molluscan fauna, at least according to shell collectors. So, what could I discover and find diving around La Paz?

Diving Arrangements

I made arrangements with James Curtis and the amazing Cortez Club for a private boat and photographer – Nick Polanszky. I soon found out that Nick was a large animal photographer and a darn good one. Nick, however, is not a macro photographer guide, which he himself readily admits. However, his significant other, Natalia Siguerier, is a macro enthusiast. As a result, we all went hunting for mollusks and macro subjects. Our hunt was well rewarded at most dive sites.

I will not go over each day in detail but we ventured and dove each of the iconic La Paz dive sites including Swanee Reef, Isla Ballena, the Fang Ming Wreck, El Bajito and Isla Espiritu Santo. In addition to all the usual, classic dive sites around La Paz, Nick, Natalia, and I dove multiple unnamed coves and spots along the coast of Isla Espiritu Santo. I totally enjoyed the usual La Paz tourist dive sites but to be honest, the exploratory diving along Espiritu Santo was amazing.

Exploring Isla Espiritu Santo

For instance, the second day the weather was perfect – no wind, 80 degrees, flat calm water and perfect dive buddies – Nick and Natalia. Where should we go was the question? The answer, wherever it looked good along the coast of Isla Espiritu Santo. We dove three times that day – in whatever location looked good for macro. So what did we find?

The boat anchored in a cove surrounded by volcanic rocks which continued under the water. The sunshine caused the rays of light to penetrate the water, illuminating it with a moving array of optics, while the stillness of the cove was punctuated only by the cries of birds. A sea lion popped up in the still waters; we back rolled off the boat and were greeted with an amazing cacophony of macro life.

No Common Name. Hypselodoris agassizii. El Bajito, Isla Espiritu Santo. Nikon D80 with dual strobes, 60mm macro lens. 1/200 sec, f/22, ISO 100.

Where to begin? The oysters were scattered haphazardly across the bottom and on the cascading rocks from the cliffs above. The scallops were hidden amidst the rocks and under the coarse volcanic sand. The conchs, the Pacific Conch, one of the largest in the world, were moving along the bottom of the cove in the staccato haphazardly-flipping manner that only conch shells exhibit. In the sand were trails of moving shells and mounds marking the resting place of hidden gastropods that could be identified only after they were excavated. This was a macro photographer’s heaven. 

El Bajito and Isla Ballena

The next day, we visited several of the named dive sites searching for nudibranchs – rare nudibranchs. With Natalia at my side, we were not disappointed. To begin the morning, we dove the Fang Ming wreck to investigate the possibility of a rare nudibranch and an unusual creature growing on several lines inside the wreck. We never found the rare nudibranch; the “unusual creature” turned out to be a very young juvenile oyster attached to a rope gently swaying with the surge inside the wreck. The photograph, while revealing, is not worth publishing. The wreck? The Fang Ming was awesome but macro it was not. So, off to El Bajito and then Isla Ballena; macro subjects abounded at each of these sites.

We pulled up and anchored at Isla Ballena where Natalia told me to keep my eyes open once we hit the bottom. No advice was better given. The site was an island wall that hit the sand around 60 feet and in a few spots several feet deeper. We immediately found several subjects including an unknown turrid and an amazing olive. Natalia has a great eye for macro subjects, and by teaching/showing her how gastropods moved under the sand she became an expert shell hunter – watching for the “sand that moves.” She found the olive while watching for the “sand that moves” while I found the turrid hunting amongst the algae tufts at the base of the rocks. 

Olive face. Oliva spicata melchersi. Isla Ballena. Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 100.


Sea Stars

While discussing the various macro areas, I must emphasize that each dive site contains macro subjects galore; that includes Los Islotes with the sea lions. I was especially fascinated with the various starfish, or sea stars to be accurate. I was definitely not aware that the Crown of Thorn starfish were a problem in La Paz. Evidently they are but whatever their status, they make amazing macro subject material. Other starfish are quite the unique subject as well. 


Panamic Cushion Starfish. Pentaceraster cumingii. Fang Ming Wreck. Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/250 sec, f/3.8, ISO 500.


One Last Day

The last day dawned bright, calm, warm and with promise of macro delights; well I should say the last day of macro photography. I must admit that I saved the last day to photograph sea lions with Nick.

The weather was perfect for cruising around Isla Espiritu Santo looking for sites. As we rounded the southeast corner, the topography changed. The cliffs led directly to the water, sloping gradually down to about 45 feet depth. The clarity was such that the bottom was visible and consisted of small pebbles and rocks interspersed with clumps of algae. Nick took the included photo while I was photographing a unique living cone at the site. The photo demonstrates the bottom as perfect for macro.


Macro Photographer, Photo by Nick Polanszky. Unnamed Cove, Isla Espiritu Santo.


Both Natalia and I scoured the bottom for an hour discovering a multitude of subjects. My favorite, included here, was the Cone proboscis with harpoon.

Cone snails have always fascinated me, both from a photographic aspect and a neurological aspect. Cone snails are some of the most lethal creatures in the ocean. All cone shells are carnivorous, feeding on fish (piscivorous), feeding on worms (vermivorous), or feeding on mollusks (molluscivorous). I know what you’re thinking – wait, can snails really hunt down and kill swimming fish, or even worms? Yes, indeed they can, by utilizing a very potent, extremely fast acting combination of poisons that paralyzes and kills their prey in a matter of seconds. Some cones even have poison that can paralyze a human in less than 5 minutes!


Cone Proboscis and harpoon. Conus tessulatus edaphus. Unnamed Cove, Isla Espiritu Santo. Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/250 sec, f/4.9, ISO 800.


So, what type of compound can do this? A conotoxin, which is a group of neurotoxic peptides (proteins). Each has a very specific action upon an ion channel, synaptic receptor, or even portions of the cell membrane. Whatever the action, conotoxins generally inhibit activity of muscle, physiologically destroying the integrity and coordination of the neural-muscular network, and thereby paralyzing their prey. (Editor’s note: that sounds fun!)

All cones are poisonous, although not all have the capacity to kill a human. The slurry of poisons found in each species in unique to that species only, and the composition of the poisons differs between individuals and varies in time – from day to day and from month to month. When viewing this photo keep in mind that all cones are deadly to some organism, but that their poisons may also hold the key to a multitude of neural diseases in the future, including pain control.

So, back to Isla Espiritu Santo. The site was a mecca for all types of unique macro subjects. We spent two dives there, and I vowed to do a night dive there the next time I visited La Paz. As we rounded the island and were making our way back to the dive shop, we were accompanied by a large pod of dolphins and spotted several blows from a Humpback whale. La Paz was reminding us of its large animal heritage.

La Paz is a magical place with its dive sites filled with wonder. From rocky reefs to sunken wrecks to unnamed coves to the classic sea lions of Los Islotes, La Paz has something for everyone. Although La Paz is best known for its whale sharks, mobulas, mantas and sea lions, it is also a haven for a fascinating array of macro life and photographic subjects. Next time you visit La Paz for the big animals, take a day of diving and search for its macro wonders with Natalia. You will not be disappointed.


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Full Article: Pushing the Limits of Macro with a Compact Camera

I started diving 20 years ago while on holiday in the Dominican Republic, and fell in love with it immediately. Then, I tried my first muck diving, and found I love that too. It was like playing in the mud and reminded me of my childhood! But my big passion for underwater macro photography only started two years ago with a holiday in Lembeh Strait.

By accident I had a compact Canon G16 at home and decided to buy a Fantasea underwater housing for it. It was really fun taking pictures, but soon I realized that for underwater macro photography I needed more than just a housing. So, I bought a strobe (Sea&Sea YS-03) and a +5 macro lens (H2O tools) and took my new rig to Lembeh. I was lucky with the guide I got, who showed me so many critters I had never seen before. Taking pictures of them was really fun, and I quickly became hooked. Since then, my great passion for underwater photography has only grown!

My First Tiger Shrimp. Lembeh, Sulawesi.
Canon G16 with Canon WP-DC52 housing, single Sea & Sea YS-03 strobe, +5 macro lens. 10.39 mm focal length, f/3.2, 1/125 sec, ISO 80.


I Am Shy (Conch Snail). Lembeh, Sulawesi.
Canon G16 with Canon WP-DC52 housing, single Sea & Sea YS-03 strobe, +5 macro lens. 15.91mm focal length, f/3.2, 1/20 sec, ISO 80.


Time to Upgrade (Again)

Soon I realized that for the super tiny underwater critters I wanted to photograph, my setup was not sufficient. So I upgraded again, adding a second strobe (Sea&Sea YS-D2), a focus light (X-Adventurer Nexgen 1300WUL), and a +15 super macro lens (Saga Wet Lens +15 Makro Achromatic). While upgrading and discussing photography with a lot of people, I found that the Canon G16 is especially well-suited for macro photography. Lucky me! (Editor's note: the Canon G16 was released in 2013. For the newest model check out the Canon G7X Mark II)


The Canon G7X Mark II is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Focusing was initially the most challenging aspect of shooting with a diopter. You don’t have a huge depth of field with this setup, especially when zooming in to photograph the super tiny critters. So you have to focus really well.  I remember one occasion during my first dive with this setup.... I was trying to get a picture of one of my favourite critters, a tiny Shaun the Sheep nudibranch. There was quite a surge and it was pushing me back and forth continuously… it was almost impossible to get this tiny critter into focus. My dive guide had a slate with him and wrote onto it ‘RELAX’! I laughed so hard that my mask flooded. I handed over my camera to let him try himself. And he had the same problems…. After the dive he told me that is was so difficult to get the tiny sheep nudibranch into focus because of the surge. But with enough practice I got better and became more relaxed with shooting super tiny critters. Sometimes you just have to be a bit patient! 

Shaun the Sheep (Costasiella nudibranch). Lembeh, Sulawesi.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, Sea & Sea YS-03 & YS-DS2 strobes. +5 and +15 macro lenses stacked. 26.46mm focal length, f/2.8, 1/500 sec, ISO 100.


Wishing on a star (Sea Star Shrimp). Pemuteran, Bali.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes, +5 and +15 macro lenses stacked. 30.5mm focal length, f/8, 1/400sec, ISO 125.  


Getting Up Close and Personal

Nowadays, it sometimes happens where the critter itself is not that photogenic or a bit boring…. either too large, not in a good position, not easily discernible from the background, etc. When this happens, it can be really fun to concentrate on just one feature of this critter with a close-up shot. This is especially great with supermacro photography.

Here are two examples for this. The first one is a close-up shot of the eyes of a Carpet Sole we spotted during a night dive in Lembeh Strait. Carpet soles are well camouflaged and really hard to separate from the background, especially when you are an amateur photographer and not that experienced with strobe positioning and light settings. That may also be the reason why I thought they and other flatfishes are boring and not so good for photos. After trying to get some “whole fish shots” of this one, I decided to go only for the eyes because they are special… really huge compared to the size of the fish, and with a blue tint in them. I loved the result, with all the details clearly visible!

Those Eyes (Carpet Sole). Lembeh, Sulawesi.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes, +5 and +15 macro lenses stacked. 30.5mm focal length, f/8, 1/400sec, ISO 80.


Another example is a close-up shot of only one eye of a huge Conch snail we spotted while diving in Pemuteran, Bali. Many people take good “both eyes shots” of conch snails. However, this Conch snail was so huge that this shot was nearly impossible – even without macro lenses - because the eyes were coming out of the huge shell on different sides. So I concentrated on only one eye of the snail instead. The biggest challenge with this shot was having to be really, really patient. The Conch snail was very cautious and moved its eye out of its shell very slowly. So, I set my focus and strobes up, and then had to wait a bit for the eye to move into the right position. The result was a Conch snail eye reminding me of a telescope, with only the upper part in focus.


Telescope (Conch Snail). Pemuteran, Bali.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes, +5 and +15 macro lenses stacked. 20.37mm focal length, f/8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 160.


Playing with Snoots

Sometimes it can be fun to play around a bit and get experimental in order to make the photo more special. A helpful tool for such shots is a snoot - either in the form of a snoot torch or one you can mount on a strobe. Both work well with a compact camera setup. (Editor’s note: if you want to learn more about snoots, check out our Ultimate Guide to Snoot Photography).

My first snoot dive was in Lembeh. My guide insisted that I try something new, and he brought his Do-It-Yourself snoot which we mounted on one of my strobes. I was totally inexperienced in shooting snoot pictures. However, I soon had a lot of fun with it because you can highlight a critter in a very nice way. This is done by adjusting the strength of the flash of the strobe in conjunction with the camera settings. You can create a “spotlight” effect on the critter, while also getting a dark background. From my experience, it is best to start with the highest f-stop that your camera allows, which is f/8 with the setup I am using. Then you can play around with the shutter speed and/or the ISO to adjust the lighting of the picture. If the picture is too bright you can increase the shutter speed, lower the ISO, or both.

For snoot pictures, I usually want a bright object with a dark background. Depending on the snoot you are using, this works both for macro and super macro critters. On my first diving day with a snoot, I took my favorite snoot photo – A Red Devil Scorpionfish – I called it Darth Vader. Actually, it earned an Honourable Mention in the Through Your Lens photo contest of Scubadiving Magazine in 2018. 

Darth Vader (Red Devil Scorpionfish). Lembeh, Sulawesi.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, YS-D2 with DIY snoot, +5 macro lens. 6.1mm focal length, f/2.8, 1/80 sec, ISO 100.


Grumpy (Baby Clown Frogfish). Lembeh, Sulawesi.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, Minigear snoot torch, +5 and +15 macro lenses stacked. 17.16mm focal length, f/8, 1/100 sec, ISO 100.


Some of my experimental shots also happened accidentally at first, providing me with new ideas for photo composition. I took a shot of a Goniobranchus kuniei with my super macro camera setup, but without zooming in. The pic was taken in Menjangan Island, Bali in a place with quite strong current and I was just too lazy to screw off the 15+ super macro lens. But it turns out that I really liked the “porthole” effect - as some people called it - and I sometimes shoot like this on purpose now. 

Through the Lens (Goniobranchus kuniei nudibranch). Menjangan Island, Bali.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes, +5 and +15 macro lenses stacked. 6.1mm focal length, f/8, 1/100 sec, ISO 100.

My passion is to not only document critters but to impart images with a feeling, a special atmosphere, and to show these animals to the world in order to raise awareness for our oceans. Each of my photos has a title, which mostly expresses my thoughts or feelings when I look at it. Originally, ideas for photo titles mostly occurred to me when checking the photos on my computer. But this is slowly changing and the idea for the photo title is often already in my head when I am shooting a critter. But perhaps the biggest challenge is to transfer the feeling I have in mind to the shot in terms of composition, light, and atmosphere…. but I am still learning a lot and working on it!!!

Under The Volcano (Rounded Sea Star Shrimp). Lembeh, Sulawesi.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes, +5 and +15 macro lenses stacked. 30.5mm focal length, f/8, 1/100 sec, ISO 100.


Struwwelpeter (Phestilla melanobrachia nudibranch). Lembeh, Sulawesi.
Canon G16 with Fantasea FG16 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes, +5 and +15 macro lenses stacked. 12.14mm focal length, f/8, 1/100 sec, ISO 200.


A Big Thank You

Finally, many of my photos would not exist without my guides. And I want to say Thank You to them for always trying to find the critters I love most. The pictures included in this article were taken in two locations, Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi and Pemuteran, Bali. A very big THANK YOU to Yap Katumbal and Gede Karma, and all the people at Bastianos Lembeh Dive Resort and Ocean Dreams Pemuteran!


My Top Tips for Compact Camera Underwater Macro Photography

In conclusion, I wanted to leave you with my top tips for underwater macro photography.

  • Choose the right setup depending on the size of critters you want to photograph.
  • Play around with strobe position and camera adjustments.
  • Experiment and try new things like using a snoot or different picture compositions, for example close-up shots.
  • And most important: Be patient and always keep trying!

Thank you for reading and I hope you find these useful!

Articles on Compact Camera Photography

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Full Article: Panasonic S Series: What Every Underwater Photographer Should Know

This year’s theme in the world of photography is undeniably full-frame mirrorless. Although the idea took half a decade to catch on after Leica and Sony’s initial releases, full-frame mirrorless cameras are now spearheading the evolution of photographic technology. In the past year we’ve seen announcements from Nikon and Canon releasing their first flagship full-frame mirrorless options in an effort to compete with Sony’s ever-evolving alpha cameras. Late last year, Panasonic announced its entry in an increasingly competitive field with the new Panasonic Lumix S Series. And now, the Panasonic S1 and S1R are just around the corner! 


The Panasonic S1 and S1R are available now at Bluewater Photo for pre-order!

The S-series Niche

Mirrorless systems have a history of being the bridge between amateur and professional photographers. A first step into a world of interchangeable lenses for a budding photographer, or a step down to a more compact and portable system for a seasoned professional. The Panasonic S series is different. This is Panasonic’s attempt to introduce a new flagship model of professional camera. One of the first indications of this is the price. The Panasonic S1 body will be retailing for a steep $2,499.99 and the Panasonic S1R body will be $3,699.99. The second indication is Panasonic’s marketing theme for the S-series – “Through the Eyes of Professionals,” featuring many seasoned professionals thrilled over the prospects of the series. But will the promised goods be enough to woo everyone else? And most importantly, will S-series be a worthy competitor in underwater photography? 

Notable S-Series Features

World’s First 4k 60p Full-Frame video!

This is a big deal for Underwater Videographers. The Panasonic GH5 and G9 have long held the titles for best mirrorless cameras for underwater videography. They were made to target people shooting video featuring 4K at 60P and bitrates to 400mb/s. The results are really phenomenal. Click here to see an example. 

Now Panasonic is bringing this video capability to its S-series and pairing it with a full-frame sensor. As the world’s first full-frame systems to shoot 4K at 60p, there is no doubt that the Panasonic S1 and Panasonic S1R cameras will be the best underwater video systems of the year (among compact, mirrorless, and DSLR cameras).


Dual Image Stabilization

The Panasonic S-series will be equipped with dual image stabilization – a combination of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) and lens-based optical stabilization. Again, this is carried over from the G9. Excellent image stabilization will be a real godsend for low light performance by allowing photographers to shoot at lower ISOs with slower shutters. Now that this image stabilization is being combined with a full-frame sensor that already has high performance at high ISOs, the camera is free to be pushed to the limits of low-light capability.


Dual Card Slots

Panasonic is equipping their S-series with one XQD and on SD slot. This is a must for underwater videographers shooting 4K and pelagic photographers shooting in burst. It’s also where Nikon has attracted criticism for only offering a single card slot. 


High Resolution Mode

Like the new Olympus OM-D E-M1X, the S-series is introducing a new multi-shot high resolution mode (presumably hand-held). In this mode, the camera will take eight images with small sensor shifts to be stitched together to create an extremely high-resolution image. This is made possible by its dual image stabilization system and will presumably be possible hand held.


Contrast-based Autofocus

In many ways, Panasonic is sticking to the tried-and-true in their S-series as can be seen in video performance and image stabilization. However, this also holds true for their autofocus which remains a contrast-based autofocus system. Although Panasonic is proud of contrast-based autofocus efficacy in its micro four thirds systems, it remains to be seen if it is enough to stand up to the phase detection autofocus systems spearheaded by competition. Sony is making particularly notable strides with its phase detection autofocus in the Sony A7R III. This could present an issue for many underwater photographers who rely on quick autofocus as the use of manual focus is restricted underwater. Only time will tell if Panasonic can truly keep up with their competitors when it comes to autofocus.  


A Low Resolution and High-Resolution Model

Panasonic is modeling the Nikon Z Series (Z6/Z7), with its release of two flagship models defined by resolution. The Panasonic Lumix S1 is expected to have a 24 megapixel sensor whereas the S1R is expected to have a 47 megapixel sensor. Accordingly, the S1 has a 96 megapixel high res mode and the S1R has a whopping 187 megapixel high res mode. Beyond that, there are relatively few differences. 


The L Mount Lenses: a partnership to topple Sony’s Empire

Sony has the distinct advantage of a variety of lenses available for use (especially underwater) with its full-frame mirrorless system. Though these lenses were slow to develop, they have proved effective underwater with the Sony 16-35mm f/4 and the Sony 90mm f/2.8. Nikon and Canon have been slow to develop good underwater lenses on their full-frame systems which is a real hinderance for underwater photographers.


…..In comes Panasonic's announcement of a groundbreaking partnership with Leika and Sima! 

Instantly introducing many new options for underwater photographers, Panasonic has decided to announce an alliance with Leica and Sigma. The Lumix S Series will incorporate Leica’s previously established L Mount. This will open the Lumix S1 and S1R up to all established Leica SL lenses and ultimately Sigma’s expanding and diverse mirrorless lens line-up.


Three New Panasonic S Series Lenses Released

Panasonic has announced the release of three new S series lenses, along with the release of the S1R and S1 cameras:

  • 50mm f/1.4 prime
  • 25-105mm standard zoom f/4
  • 70-200mm telephoto zoom (aperture not yet released)

These, along with the previously established Leica L Mount series, provide a wide range of focal lengths covering nearly all top-side imagery. With the adaption of the Leica L mount, the S Series will also be compatible with some already established lenses that are great for wide-angle underwater photography, such as the Leica 18mm f/2.8 and the Leica 16-35mm f/3.5-4.5.


Ten New Panasonic S Series Lenses by 2020

Panasonic has also announced that by 2020 they will release eight additional lenses for the Lumix S1R and S1 cameras, bringing the total S Series Panasonic Lens options to ten. The specifications for these lenses have yet to be released but with Sigma’s involvement, they seem quite promising.


Fourteen New Sigma S Series Lenses in 2019

To compete with the multitude of Sony E Mount lenses that were released last year, Sigma has promised 14 new L Mount lenses in 2019 to add to the arsenal of lens options for the Lumix S1R and S1 systems. Furthermore, they will provide lens adapters for the Canon EF and Sigma SA mount lenses. In total, with the release of the new Panasonic lenses, Sigma lenses and the already established Leica lenses, there will soon be an arsenal of glass at your fingertips for the Panasonic S Series shooters.


A video from the L Mount Partnership



Panasonic Lumix S Series for Underwater Photography and Videography

The release of the Panasonic Lumix S series may well put Panasonic at the top of professional grade full-frame mirrorless systems. Certainly, there are already many advantages to the Panasonic over its competitors including lens selection, dual image stabilization, a high res mode, dual card slots, and 4k 60p video. Great image stabilization is a must for underwater photographers who shoot in low light conditions with a lot of movement. If dual image stabilization enables the high res mode to be used in underwater environments, then the high-res mode might have serious implications for the artform. Dual card slots will be a great feature for videographers and pelagic underwater photographers who often shoot in burst modes. The additional space and the ability to shoot high performance cards will be welcomed. The only reservation I have about this series is the continued use of contrast based autofocus. A quick autofocus is imperative for underwater photographers who have restricted use of manual focus, work in low light conditions, and are constantly in a state of 3D movement. Sony, Nikon, and Canon all do well with their innovative phase detection autofocus. Although Panasonic has been confident in its mirrorless autofocus performance in the past, it might be time to rethink their autofocus when switching to full-frame. However, with the S-series not officially out, it is impossible to tell how the autofocus performance truly compares to its competitors. The only thing we can do is wait and see. 

And finally video….. The Panasonic Lumix S Series is a no brainer for underwater videography. It really doesn’t get better than this. The S-series introduces the first 4K 60p video in a full-frame camera. Shooting in 60p is essential in an underwater environment with a lot of 3D movement as it enables the videographer to slow down video in post processing and still retain a fluid image. However, capturing 4k video in 60p requires a ton of processing power. Something that hasn’t been accomplished in a full-frame system until now. I can’t wait to see the amazing results produced from this system. 




The Panasonic S1 and S1R are available now at Bluewater Photo for pre-order!

Full Article: IG Contest: Win a Trip on the Solomons PNG Master!

One lucky diver will win a 7 night trip aboard the Solomons PNG Master!

Trip valued at $3,440!

Compete in our Instagram competition for a chance to win! 

All you need to do is:

- Follow @bluewaterphototravel and @uwphotographyguide

- Post a scuba related photo

- #bwscubadeals in the post

- tag your dive buddies


About the Prize:

Solomons PNG Master (previously known as MV Taka) is a custom designed diving vessel with 12 cabins accommodating up to 20 guests and a crew of 12 including your dive team, skipper, boat crew, and chefs. See more details on the Solomons PNG Master liveaboard.

Solomon Islands is THE destination for the real diving fan looking for a change of scenery, completely off the beaten track. You will also find: wrecks, caverns, wide-angle reefs and large sea fans. PNG dive sites are so pristine and remote that new marine species are still being discovered. Pretty much anything can be spotted here: hammerheads, whale sharks, mantas, dolphins, and pilot whales.


Terms & Conditions:

Drawing will be held June 1st, 2019

The winner must be a certified diver, 18 years of age or older

Full Article: Top Ten Tips for Nice Underwater Bokeh

One of the most frequent questions I hear from new photographers is “how do I get blurry backgrounds in my photos?” Bokeh, the Japanese word for fuzzy or blurry, describes the quality of the blur in the out-of-focus area in an image. To get a nice blurry background is to have nice “bokeh.” 

Getting nice bokeh can be hard enough as it is above water. Getting good bokeh underwater can be even more challenging when considering factors such as backscatter, artificial lighting, moving subjects, and complex substrate/backgrounds. 

Many underwater photographers, especially macro photographers, use bokeh regularly to accentuate different aspects of their subjects. Bokeh is useful for pointing the viewer to the “best” part of the image, creating a dramatic effect, and/or obscuring an unsightly background. Here are ten tips for getting nice underwater bokeh:

1. Open your aperture

An open aperture on your lens increases the amount of light hitting your sensor and decreases the depth of field (amount of in-focus area)* in your image. Therefore, increasing your aperture brightens your image and creates a blurrier background. To do this, shoot at a smaller f-number (e.g., f/2.8, f/5.6, f/6.3). 

*Click here for a description of Depth of Field

2. Get Close

Distance to a subject directly affects the depth of field. The closer you get to a subject, the shallower the depth of field, and a greater part of the image will be out of focus. This roughly translates to better bokeh.

3. Keep the most important part of your image in focus


In images with a lot of bokeh, the viewers eyes gravitate to the in-focus part of the image. This means the most important parts of an image, such as the eyes, face, rhinophores, etc., should be in focus. One of the first rules of shooting portraits is keeping the eyes in focus. This even more true for photos with a small depth of field. To do this, you can move your autofocus point so that it is over the area of the subject you want in focus. You can also lock-in your autofocus to the point you want in focus, and re-adjust your composition before taking the shot. Some photographers like to switch to manual focus and pan in and out with their camera until the correct part of the image is in focus. 

This image of a blue banded goby by Helen Brierley won Bluewater Photo's SoCal Shootout 2017 best of show. IT keeps the important parts of the image in focus - the goby's eyes and yawning mouth. Helen used the Nikon D500 with the Nauticam D500 Housing, flash trigger, Nikon 105mm VR lens, two YS-D1 strobes and the Subsee +5 diopter. Her settings were 1/200th, F18, ISO 200. Check out the story behind the shot.

4. Be wary of your background

Backgrounds are especially important to consider when shooting an image with a lot of bokeh. A wide aperture has a twofold effect on the background of an image. 

1. It becomes harder to isolate the subject with a black background 

2. It becomes easier to isolate your subject using a shallow depth-of-field

When shooting with a wide aperture, you should be wary of how background textures and colors affect your image. How complex is you background? Do your background’s color schemes match or complement your subject? What kind of bokeh are you trying to get – spots, polygons, swirls? Are you trying to get bokeh in the background or foreground?  

5. Get artistic with your lighting

Underwater photographers who shoot with wide apertures for the first time often struggle with their lighting. A wide aperture lets in a lot of ambient light and makes it harder to get good colors with your strobes. It’s important to mix ambient and artificial light to create a seamless color scheme that isn’t blue or washed out. There are a few ways to do this:

1. Bump up your shutter speed. Shooting with a quick shutter speed and wide aperture lets you get more artificial strobe light in the image but a smaller depth of field for good bokeh. 

2. Use a snoot – a snoot is a bundle of fiber optic cables that directs the light from your strobe to a smaller tipped end of the snoot, producing a tiny circle of light. This small circle of light can be used to illuminate your subject and help create contrast in your background, particularly in the form of a “black background image.” Too much of a black background can eliminate your bokeh. But mixing the black background with available bokeh produces an intriguing image. 

3. If you're shooting close focus wide angle with a shallow depth of field (open aperture) - get your strobes as close to the subject as possible without blowing out the image and creating backscatter. Reduce the power on the strobes to make sure they don't blow out the image.

6. Accentuate a pattern

As I mentioned before, bokeh helps define which part of the image is “important” by leaving important parts of an image in-focus. It can be especially hard to differentiate an important section of a pattern-type image. Bokeh makes it a little easier to appreciate a pattern in an image by artificially highlighting different sections of the pattern.

Take the image below, for instance. With a large depth of field, this would just be an image of tentacles. With a shallow depth of field, your brain first processes the in-focus tentacles and then sees the out of focus tentacles. The image leaves you imagining how the reality must look. It’s an image that makes you think.

7. Use a motion blur to produce bokeh

A wide aperture isn’t the only way to produce bokeh. Motion blur can have a similar affect on depth of field with a little more flexibility in the motion of the bokeh. To get a nice motion blurred bokeh underwater, lower the shutter speed (think 1/8th of a second or slower) and compensate for the influx of light by increasing the f-stop (close the aperture). Turn off your image stabilization and keep your strobes on. When you press the shutter, pan the camera steadily in the direction that you wish the blur to follow. The strobe will “flash freeze” the in-focus subject in place and the slow shutter will allow for the background to blur and blend together in a singular direction. 

8. Shoot wide (close-focus wide-angle)

Although popular with macro photographers, bokeh is a quality of all photos. And it’s widely ignored by wide angle photographers (pun intended). However, a good bokeh can be essential when shooting close-focus wide-angle. In order to do this, open the aperture and get close to your subject. Lighting can be difficult, so make sure your strobes are close enough to the camera without producing backscatter. The resulting image will highlight your subject and isolate it from the background. 

9. Bigger is better: shoot a camera with a larger sensor, and a lens with a larger focal length

There are plenty of benefits to shooting with a larger sensor – good bokeh is one of them. Cameras with larger sensors shoot with a shallower depth of field compared to cameras with smaller sensors (equivalent focal lengths and f-numbers). This means that full frame cameras will produce a better bokeh than cropped sensor, four-thirds, or compact cameras. Compact cameras are the most difficult to produce a good bokeh.

A larger focal length will also produce a shallower depth of field. So, shooting a zoom/macro lens (e.g., 105mm) will have a shallower depth of field than shooting with a fisheye (e.g., 8mm).

10. Get Creative! 

Post-processing has opened up a whole new world of bokeh effects. Although it would take another article to go over types of synthetic bokeh, check out our photoshop lesson on Gaussian blur. But synthetic bokeh isn’t found only in the realm of computers. You can also produce your own DIY bokeh with a nail polish and a slate!



* A shallower depth of field roughly equivocal to better bokeh. Depth of field is defined as the distance between the closest and farthest points in an image that are in focus. It helps to know the math behind Depth of Field:

Depth of field ≈(2u2NC)/f2 

C = circle of confusion

f = focal length of the lens

N = f-number

U = distance

As you can see, a shallow depth of field means decreasing the distance to the subject (u), opening the aperture (N), and increasing the focal length of the lens you shoot (f). For more information on depth of field check out our article explaining aperture, f-stops, and depth of field underwater.


Further Reading about Bokeh:

Full Article: What's in Store for 2019: DEMA Highlights

This year the DEMA tradeshow came back to Las Vegas, NV, and featured dive industry (and underwater imaging companies) presenting their latest and greatest products. 

We covered the DEMA news along with Bluewater Photo to give you an inside look at new lights, housing, and other awesome underwater gear coming out this next year!


The Essentials from DEMA 2018

Nikon Z7 Housings

Nikon entered the mirrorless market with their announcement of the new Z-series in Autumn, 2018. It was certainly a long time coming, but it looks like Nikon has delivered with a full-frame sensor, built in 5-axis image stabilization, and a new lens mount supporting apertures as wide as f/0.95! The Nikon Z7 features 45.7 MP and the Nikon Z6 features 25.4 MP and a significantly lower price tag. Although lens options seem a little limited in the early development stages of Z mount lenses, underwater housing manufacturers were especially quick to introduce their products! So far, all housings seem to be compatible with both the Z7 and Z6.


Sea & Sea Nikon Z7 Housing - $3599.95

Known for high-quality housings that can spend a little time in the development stages before release, Sea & Sea was particularly quick to come out with their Z7 housing! The housing features trim colors, luminescent buttons, a smaller size than other Nikon full-fram housings, and a dual lens gear system – one for Nikon Z lenses and another for Nikon F mount lenses with an FTZ adapter. This opens up a wide range of lens options at a time where Z-series lenses are still developing! 



The Sea & Sea Z7 Housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!


Nauticam Nikon Z7 Housing - $3,450

Nauticam, the Ferrari of the Underwater Housing business, has also released its Nikon Z7 housing. The The Nauticam NA-Z7 housing offers full control of the camera and full support with both native Z lenses and F lenses with the FTZ adapter. As with all Nauticam housings, all the camera’s essential controls are within easy reach of the rubberized handles. 


The Nauticam Z7 Housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!


Ikelite Nikon Z7 Housing - $1,695

Ikelite is the king of budget housings. As usual, Ikelite’s Z7 housing is polycarbonate, easy to use, and offers full control of the camera. Two cool features on the Z7 housing include an M16 port for external monitors, and a trim rail to help with buoyancy. 


The Ikelite Z7 Housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!


Aquatica Nikon Z7 Underwater Housing

Aquatica is known for their quality housings machined from a block of aluminum, then anodized and powder coated. Although they have not yet announced their Aquatica Z7 housing, their Sony A7R III and Nikon D850 housings looked excellent! 

The Aquatica A7R III Housing and Aquatica Nikon D850 Housing are available now at Bluewater Photo!


Everything Else Cool, New, and Quirky at DEMA



Although GoPro put on the biggest presence at DEMA of almost any other business, save PADI, Paralenz seems to be the next new thing in portable underwater videography. Paralenz, a small company based in Denmark, has perfected the Parlanez Dive Camera through multiple trial runs with groups of divers to feel for their interests. With a small cylindrical shape, the camera is made to be used almost like a flashlight. A snap record mode allows you to take photos with the press of a button or push and hold to record video – no need to switch between modes and worry that you’ve stopped recording. But perhaps the coolest thing about the Paralenz is that it will correct for white balance in-camera based on the depth that it senses. No more filters!


The Parlanez Dive Camera is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Sea & Sea – Sony A7R III Housing Buoyancy Pocket

Sea & Sea added space for a buoyancy pocket which increases underwater buoyancy, making the housing lighter and easy to use. It can also be used as space for an additional battery pack! This is welcome for the Sony A7R III – a camera with limited battery life.


The Sea & Sea A7R III Housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!



DC2000 firmware update – Sealife introduced a free new firmware update for the DC2000 available on their website! Click here

Sea Dragon 3000F video light ($499.95) – Sealife announced its Sea Dragon 3000F photo-video light! We can expect 3000 lumens throughout its 1 hour burn life, 120 degrees of illumination, flash detect, auto brightness, two red LEDs, and a flex connect system.



New Kraken Wide Angle Dome for Smart Housing – Kraken is announcing an amazing new wide-angle dome port for its universal smart phone housing! It will be officially announced February 2019 and should be available for under $300. 


Snoot Light – Kraken announced a new snoot light with multiple filters. It can be used as a focus light when the tip is removed!

The Kraken Snoot Light is available now at Bluewater Photo!


Light & Motion

This year at DEMA, Light & Motion announced their new push to transition their lights to hybrid underwater/above water usage. This is certainly an exciting development in underwater lighting, especially to underwater photographers who also like to take the occasional photo above water. They’re also offering a new guarantee that lights will not flood for the first 2 years.

Light & Motion are offering two new hybrid lights – the Stella 1000 and the Sola Video Pro 9600. 

Stella 1000 – The Stella 1000 features 1000 lumens of illumination above water with 2-3 minutes burst of 2500 lumens. Underwater the Stella 1000 can perform at 2500 lumens for an hour. 

Sola Video Pro 9600 – Above water, the Video Pro 9600 can produce 5000-8000 lumens and 9600 lumens underwater. 

SolaDome Port Optic – Light & Motion is also introducing a dome port accessory that screws on to the front of your Sola light to increase your degree of illumination from 90 degrees to 110 degrees! 



The SolaDome Port Optic is available now at Bluewater Photo!



Sony RX100 VI Housing – Fantasea is featuring their new Sony RX100 VI housing. 

The Fantasea Sony RX100 VI Housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!


And the coolest, newest, and quirkiest award goes to….Natuicam!

Nauticam introduced their new bugeye macro lens this year at DEMA. It’s a behemoth as you can see in the photo below. However, the lens’s sheer size is necessary to produce amazing macro, fisheye photos that resemble how an image might look to a bug. Basically, close-focus wide angle can now be done on a macro scale! 


Nauticam MWL-1 – Another exciting development was the release of the macro to wide angle wet conversion lens. This lens is designed to allow DSLR and other interchangeable lens shooters the freedom to shoot both macro and wide-angle photos in the same dives. It converts a full frame 60mm macro lens into an ultra-wide 150-degree wide-angle lens! 

The Nauticam MWL-1 is available now at Bluewater Photo!


See You Again Next Year!

We'd like to thank all of our partners for coming out to Las Vegas and speaking with our editors at UWPG. We had a great time and look forward to seeing everyone next year at DEMA 2019!