Dive Adventure

Incredible dive adventure articles, dive stories and marine life encounters from oceans around the world.
Insights from the dynamic world of shark photography
By Debbie Wallace

One Shark Diver's Perspective: Caged vs Open Water Shark Diving

Debbie Wallace
Insights from the dynamic world of shark photography

As most people are aware, there are a myriad of current and on-going debates about shark diving in general. Does diving with sharks alter their behavior? Does baiting sharks alter their behavior? Should divers be hand-feeding sharks? As you might expect, there are always two sides to every debate and, certainly, everyone is entitled to an opinion. Depending on which side of the fence (or cage) you find yourself, this article is not intended to change anyone’s opinion on shark diving in general. Rather, the purpose of this article is to illustrate one shark diver’s perspective on some of the thought processes and differences in preparation and execution that an underwater photographer might encounter diving with sharks either inside or outside a shark cage.

I live in South Florida, which means I have the opportunity to dive with sharks any time I want to. This diving is typically done in open water, without cages. I have had encounters with many shark species in these waters, and most of my shark diving experience has been without a cage. However, I have also gone cage diving, as that’s the only good way to get up close and personal with great white sharks in a safe and controlled environment. Fortunately, there happens to be a world-class great white shark location quite close to the US; Guadalupe, Mexico.

Guadalupe Great White Shark Close-up

Inside the Cage

I have been on a few exclusively caged shark diving trips in Guadalupe, Mexico with the Nautilus fleet. When compared to open water shark diving, diving in a shark cage has its own unique set of thought processes and differences in preparation for the dives. First of all, diving in Guadalupe is based upon a hookah system, where divers breathe surface-supplied air. In the cages, divers wear a harness laden with lead, which is supplied by the boat and is crucial to keep them firmly planted on the cage floor. As such, divers are only required to bring their own mask, wetsuit, hood gloves and booties, so packing is much easier with regard to scuba gear.

Packing underwater camera gear, however, can present more of a challenge when preparing for a caged trip. How close will the sharks be? How clear will the water be? Should I use a fisheye or rectilinear lens? Do I bring my 4”, 6” or 8” dome port? How far apart are the bars of the cages? I found that divers tend to bring a lot of camera gear with them but wind up using one lens and dome port. My personal choice for the caged diving I did was a Panasonic 7-14/F 4.0 lens and a Zen 6” glass dome port – large enough to capture the action yet small enough to stay of other photographers' photos. 

Guadalupe Great White Shark

Being submerged in a cage brings its own challenges as well. Most cages hold around 3-4 divers.  While that does not sound like a lot of people, think about 3-4 divers with their respective camera rigs, and everyone trying to move around to jockey for the best photo opportunities. It can get very crowded in the cages and it is best to remember to practice good underwater photographer niceties. The cage bars can also hold some pitfalls, in that you are having to compose your shots either through the bars or, if possible, between the bars. And visibility can sometimes become less-than-stellar, rendering photos nearly impossible.

On the flip side, however, there are some wonderful positives about cage diving with sharks. It is generally much safer diving within the confines of a shark cage rather than in open water. It is a much more closely controlled environment with respect to dive times and depth, and there is usually a dive guide or DM present. With cage diving, there is typically a dive schedule on which you can count, so you can be assured of getting the bottom time you want. You can also choose which depth of cage you want to enter, either surface or 30’-40’, which allows you to plan for more consistent images with respect to depth/water column color.  

Guadalupe Great White Shark

 

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September 11-16, 2018

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Open Water Shark Diving

As I mentioned before, those of us living in South Florida have the opportunity to dive with sharks at any time, primarily in open water and without cages. On a moment’s notice anyone can jump onto a dive boat that heads out to the international waters of the Atlantic, where they can interact with a number of different shark species, depending on the time of year. Common encounters include hammerheads, tigers, lemons, bulls, nurse, reef, duskies, sandbars, silkies, and sometimes we get lucky and an occasional great white, whale shark or oceanic white tip swims by.

A typical day on one of these charters goes something like this: after all your initial preparation for the dive day, you arrive at the boat and get your scuba gear set up and find a spot for your camera rig. Initially there’s lots of controlled chaos where gear is strewn about, but eventually everything finds its own place. Once the dive gear is set, there is usually a very detailed boat briefing by the captain/mate as to the boat, safety, events of the day, etc. Then there is usually a dive briefing as to the dive site and the type of sharks we might expect to see. There is usually a list of “do’s and don’ts” that is reviewed each time with shark diving – no bright colors, no white tanks, no exposed skin, hoods/gloves mandatory, etc. In South Florida, trips to the dive site can be lengthy so there is ample time to tweak your camera and/or scuba gear on the ride out. This also provides time to plan your dive as well as anticipating the images you might like to capture.  

My rig consists of an Olympus OM-D EM-1 MKII, Nauticam housing, Zen 6” glass dome port and dual Inon Z240s. When doing open water shark diving, I vacillate between my Panasonic 7-14mm and Panasonic 8mm fisheye. I sometimes look ahead at the NOAA forecast to see what weather conditions are going to be for that day, then decide if I want to chance using the 8mm. When using the 8mm lens, the sharks have to come in close to get decent images, but when they do come in close, the 8mm far outperforms the 7-14mm, in my opinion. Typically, though, I go with the 7-14mm to be safe. 

Lemon Shark

Factors for Success

There are quite a lot of factors to consider when going on an open water shark dive without a cage. First of all, things like weather, current, visibility, seasickness, buoyancy control, the number/experience level of the divers, the number/experience level of underwater photographers, the number/experience level of underwater videographers, and number and species of sharks can all play a role as to whether or not you have a successful day with images.   

For example, if you are on a dive with divers who do not have a lot of experience diving with sharks, it can be frustrating when you get set up for a gorgeous incoming tiger shark face portrait straight on, and a newer, less experienced diver shoves his/her GoPro in front of your dome port to catch the action (and of course the reverse is true as well.) Another not-so-fun scenario is this: the dive is on a wreck in the sand, and all divers are kneeling in the sand waiting for the sharks to arrive. However, there is a ripping current pushing all the divers everywhere thereby kicking up the sand making photos nearly impossible. Or the worst scenario of all: no sharks show up that day! Each of these factors plays a role in getting the images you want, and some of them are not entirely within your control.

Tiger Shark

…and more challenges...

However, while I think that diving with sharks in open water affords us more leeway and freedoms, it can also present more challenges.  As mentioned earlier, having that tiger shark follow you through the water column to the surface, you have to be cognizant of the need to change camera settings in an instant as you turn 360 degree circles in the water following the movements of the shark(s). Now, for that sunburst shot you have been planning all dive long, the ISO, f/stop and shutter speeds are completely different than that taken for a shot in the blue. Additionally, not only do you need to change the camera settings, but the strobe settings and position as well.   

Therefore, an open water shark diver has to be keen on the ever-changing environment of having one’s head on a proverbial swivel and being able to make the necessary changes in body position/buoyancy, camera settings, strobe settings/position and being mindful of the shark’s position. Another challenge with open water shark diving is that it is so exhilarating diving with sharks that sometimes it is difficult to remember to watch your bottom time and manage your no deco limits with all the nonstop action around you.  There is one thing for sure that every shark diver can agree - it certainly is a dynamic process diving with sharks in open water, and one needs to be skillful at a multitude of tasks.

Hammerhead Shark

The Verdict

To summarize, I am definitely a shark diving advocate, both in open water and in a cage. There are pitfalls and positives for both, as most divers will attest, and one is not better than the other – they are just different. There are different underwater photo opportunities to be gleaned from diving in open water with sharks than in cages, but this also brings more inherent risks. Diving with sharks either inside or outside of a cage takes differing degrees of preparation, both topside and at depth.  

Every diver knows that when we enter the underwater realm, we are in an environment in which we are a visitor. We take chances simply by breathing underwater and when diving with sharks, we compound that risk significantly. Sharks are one of the underwater apex predators and deserve our respect and admiration. They also deserve our help in presenting them in a much softer light in our underwater images and videos, which will help to dispel the evil media-driven myths about sharks. 

Upcoming Trips with Exciting Shark Photo Opportunities

Additional Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbie Wallace is an avid diver, underwater photographer and photojournalist.  She has been diving for decades and finally took up underwater photography in 2013.  Initially, macro photography was her main objective, but in 2016 she was introduced to shark diving and was hooked.  Debbie is a board certified Physician Assistant in Dermatology and displays her shark photos in her clinic as a way to promote shark conservation and education.  Check out her website at debbiewallacephotography.com

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Paradise is found in one the planet's most remote destinations - dolphins, wrecks, beaches, and more!
By Nirupam Nigam

Heaven is a Place on Earth: Diving Mauritius

Nirupam Nigam
Paradise is found in one the planet's most remote destinations - dolphins, wrecks, beaches, and more!

“Mauritius was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius” – Mark Twain (1896).

striped eel catfish

As divers, we all dream of exploring that pristine tropical island as far from any other landmass as possible. We dream of white sand beaches, turquois water, mountainous jungles, or strange and wonderful creatures lurking in unexplored places. Well, that dream is a place on Earth, and that place is Mauritius. Located approximately 1000 km (600 miles) east of Madagascar, Mauritius is one of the most remote islands in the Indian Ocean. As the home of the now extinct Dodo, Mauritius is a remnant of the lost (and newly found) continent of Mauritia. Its remote location resulted in the evolution of a unique diversity of endemic flora and fauna that translates to some exceptional diving and hiking.  

Grand-Baie, Mauritius

Diving Overview

Although Mauritius is often overlooked by divers who visit other Indian Ocean locales, such as Seychelles or the Maldives, the diving can be quite good. Overall, Mauritius is a macro-lover’s paradise with some big animal sprinkled in. Frequent cyclones and some overfishing can make the reefs seem a little barren at a first glance when compared to other Indian Ocean destinations. However, the highlights of these reefs are the small stuff, and in every crevice or coral overhang there is something amazing waiting to be discovered. 

Octopus and Diver

As one might expect in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the diversity of the reefs is excellent. In one dive you can expect to see peacock flounder, endemic angelfish and butterfly fish, parrotfish, nudibranchs, many species of morays, mantis shrimp, striped eel catfish, lionfish, marlin, turtles, stingrays, octopus, scorpionfish, trevally, gray reef sharks, and 200 species of coral! The hard and soft corals in Mauritius are unique in their shapes and colors. Reefs seem to be speckled with pastel pinks, purples, blues, and greens resembling an Easter-time pallet of color. There are many dive sites to choose from, each offering their own set of unique fauna.

The Best Diving

If you are in Mauritius to dive, then choosing where on the island to go is fairly easy – the North! Diving in the north of the country gives you the best access to its outlying islands, shore-side reef dives, resorts, and the most tourist-friendly part of the country. There is also some good advanced drift diving on the east side of the island and ok diving in Flic en Flac in the west. The south, however, is more exposed to the elements of the Indian Ocean and has poor diving conditions. 

Grand-Baie, Mauritius

Coin de Mire and the Djabeda Wreck Dive

Coin de Mire

Coin de Mire is a small, peculiar looking island lying 8 km to the north of Mauritius with what many consider to be the best diving in Mauritius. Dives often feature wall and wreck diving with spectacular visibility (50m/200ft on a great day), as well as chances to see large pelagics such as marlin. Its unique geology makes for some interesting underwater canyons and crevices that can be quite fun to swim through.

Djabeda wreck

Perhaps the highlight of all dives at Coin de Mire is the Djabeda wreck dive. The wreck is a 144ft/44m long Japanese fishing vessel sitting perfectly upright at a depth of approximately 100ft/30m. Completely covered in beautiful pink soft coral, the wreck attracts perhaps the largest concentration of fish life on the north side of the island. Octopus, scorpionfish, stonefish, lionfish, and many reef fish are common here. Less common are barracuda, dolphins, and sting rays. 

Grand-Baie and Trou-aux-Biches

The highest concentration of dive operations on the islands are situated in the northwest towns of Grand-Baie and Trou-aux-Biches for good reason. Grand-Baie’s proximity to Mauritius’s outlying northern islands as well as amazing diving just outside the bay make it the perfect place to start most dive trips. The diving outside the bay and in neighboring Trou-aux-Biches is where all the best macro critter diving is. Reefs are relatively flat and shallow with short corals that have taken a bit of a beating from cyclones. However, these flat reefs provide just enough protection for vast arrays of small reef fish and small invertebrates to find a home. Just a couple dives here will be enough to come back with a diverse portfolio of macro photos.

Peacock mantis shrimp in Grand-Baie, Mauritius

The photographic highlights here are the multiple species of morays, very curious and frequent peacock mantis shrimp, and schools of small striped eel catfish. The striped eel catfish can be particularly fun to photograph as they tend to hide under coral heads and allow photographers to get very close to photograph them. Although visibility is not quite as good here as the outlying islands, it is still very good and can reach up to 30m/100ft+ on a good day. 

Swimming with Dolphins (Tamarin Bay)

spinner dolphins in Tamarin Bay

Although there are no trips to dive with dolphins, many tour operators offer morning snorkeling trips with wild spinner dolphins. These tours depart daily at approximately 8-9 am from Tamarin in the southwest of the island and follow the dolphin’s daily feeding path north along the coast to Flic en Flac. Boats will follow the dolphins and drop you in ahead of their path. The dolphins then zip by, and you have a few seconds to take as many photos as possible. The whole process can seem a little stressful to snorkelers as well as dolphins as it can become quite crowded by boats. Personally, I have mixed feeling about the practice, so go at your own discretion. That being said, every now and then a curious dolphin might take interest in you and the experience can become the highlight of your trip. 

The Shark Pit

There is one place on the island where sharks are seen regularly – the Shark Pit. The shark pit is located at Flat Island, one of the farthest of Mauritius’s northern outlying islands. Trips are infrequent as it can be expensive, long, and difficult to get to. Recommended only for advanced divers, strong currents and rough seas are common. Bull sharks, gray reef sharks, and silvertip reef sharks are common. Most trips leave from Grand-Baie in the North. 

Belle Mare

Belle Mare is the best diving on the east side of the island. It is often drift diving geared to more advanced divers. Pelagics and sharks are the highlights here. 

Dive Operators and Prices

There are plenty of dive operators to choose from. Most are very professional and well organized. You can rent any gear you need at any of these shops and most will give a discount for bringing your own. Most operators will be happy to accommodate for photographers. Some organize photography dives whereas others will try to make small groups for you. Diving is like in other tropical places – usually a group of two to seven divers will be led by one or two dive masters. Most shops are good at accommodating for English, French, and German speakers.

Diving is all done from a boat. The immediate shore around the island is generally sandy lagoon, so a boat is needed to motor out to reefs. For local dives, the price can range from $30 USD to $40 USD (1000-1500 Mauritian rupees) per dive. Dives to the outer islands can be quite a bit more.

striped eel catfish

When to Go

Mauritius is a year-round destination. The Mauritian winter (May to October) is the most ideal for topside activities. The weather is generally cooler, drier, and windier. The Mauritian summer (November to April) is a little rainier, more humid, and hot. Overall topside temperatures differ only slightly, reaching an average of 26 C (79 F) in the summer and 21 C (70 F) in the winter. 

There is no true rainy and dry season, as the seasons are very similar. There is, however, a cyclone season from January to March. As Mauritius is a small island, cyclones often miss the country. Thus, it is completely unpredictable whether a cyclone will actually hit – even a few days before. Otherwise summer weather is quite calm.  

Spinner dolphin exhaling

Diving Conditions

Ironically, summer (November - April) is the best time to dive in Mauritius. The visibility is usually great and the warm water brings a higher diversity of sea life. Winter wind can also make diving conditions less favorable. In order to avoid cyclone season, we recommend diving in Mauritius from October to December and March to April. That being said, the weather at a given time of year likely won’t affect your dive trip.

From November to April, water temperature can be as high as 30 C (86 F) and from March to October, water temperature can drop to as low as 21 C (70 F). Generally, a 3 mm wetsuit is recommended, and possibly a 5 mm for winter months.

leaf scorpionfish

Rain

Although summer is technically the rainy season (especially in January and February), rain is usually not an issue. When it does rain in Mauritius, it happens in short bursts and becomes sunny immediately after. Often it can be raining on one side of the island and completely dry in the other. Always be prepared for rain, but don’t expect it to ruin a vacation.

Grand-Baie, Mauritius

A word of advice: the driest, sunniest part of the island is Grand-Baie. For whatever reason, clouds always seem to avoid that northwest corner, and rain can be infrequent even during rainy season. 

Topside Activities

Beaches and Watersports

People come to Mauritius for the beaches. With arguably some of the best beaches in the world, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to swim and relax in the sun. The north, west, and east of the island are calm and ideal for swimming, but the south can have a little too much surf (though not any less beautiful). The prettiest beaches are in the southwest surrounding Le Morne Brabant and in the northwest by Grand-Baie. My personal favorites are Mon Choisy, Bain Boeuf, and La Cuvette. The most beautiful water on the island, and perhaps the whole Indian Ocean, is the water in Grand-Baie. There are many days where you can’t tell where the water ends and the sky begins. 

Gabriel Island, Mauritius

The public legally has access to the whole Mauritian coastline, and public beaches are very good. Resorts, however, are a good way to get some exclusivity. They also offer a variety of water sports like banana boats, sailing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, kite surfing, and more.  

Hiking

Hiking is an often overlooked activity in Mauritius. Most people fly in, plop themselves on a beach bed, and fly out. Don’t! The hiking in Mauritius is some of the best in the Indo-Pacific. The island is blessed with many small peaks that make excellent day hikes. Most range around 700 to 800 meters (2200 to 2600 feet) high. The jungles of Mauritius are inundated rare and unusual plants and animals that cannot be seen elsewhere. For example, the Mauritius flying fox, a large species of fruit bat, is the only native mammal to the island and can often be seen flying in the forest canopies in large groups. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to spot a Mauritius ornate day gecko – a colorful but rare gecko also native to the island. 

Le Morne Brabant

The two most popular hikes are Le Pouce (the thumb) and Le Morne Brabant. Although both trails can be a little difficult to find and traverse, it is well worth the effort. The first person to climb Le Pouce was rumored to be Charles Darwin. Hikers are rewarded with an excellent view of the capital city of Port Louis as well as the surrounding sugar plantations. Le Morne Brabant is by far the best hike on the island. Located in the Southwest corner of the island, this peak is a UNESCO world heritage sites where escaped slaves used to hide from their captors. The second half of the hike is a steep scramble, not for the faint hearted, but the views at the top are the best on the island. You can even see a glimpse of the famed “underwater waterfall illusion.” 

Le Pouce

Exploring the Outer Islands

The north of Mauritius has a number of outer islands that are arguably more beautiful than the island itself. Frequent catamaran trips take tourists to visit these picture-perfect locales. All you can eat food and drink make for a perfect day at the beach on remote tropical islands. The most popular trips are to Flat Island and Gabriel Island. 

Gabriel Island

The South of Mauritius

A lot of Mauritius’s most amazing topside attraction are in the south. The Black River Gorges National Park is the largest national park on the island, home to the largest variety of endemic plants and animals. Adjacent to that is Chamarel. Here you can see an amazing natural phenomenon where the earth has striated into many colors as well as the Chamarel waterfall. Ganga Talao, Mauritius’s most important holy site to Hindus, is also nearby.

Logistics

Flights

Getting to Mauritius is easy from Europe or South Africa and a little harder from elsewhere. Flights are often expensive, though less expensive airlines, such as South African Airways, have been trying to establish new routes. Most direct flights are from South Africa, France, England, and Germany. The local airline, Air Mauritius, is very well operated and a pleasure to fly with. There is only one international airport on the island – located an hour drive from the capital of Port Louis. 

Port Louis

Transportation

Taxis are reasonably priced when booked beforehand, but a rental car might be a good idea for short stays. Driving is generally easy, though many people drive too fast. Driving is on the left. If you are in Mauritius for a while, I highly recommend using the bus system. The public buses are excellent, though old. You can get anywhere on the island for $1-$5 USD. People are very friendly and will be happy to tell you how to get where you need to go. 

Lodging

Most travelers to Mauritius stay at all-inclusive resorts, many of which offer diving. Although these resorts are top notch, they are very expensive. Renting through Airbnb or a local apartment can be much cheaper. If you are here to dive, then I would consider this option. The north and west of the island has most of the lodging options. The south and east can be slightly more exclusive. 

People and Language

The people of Mauritius are some of the friendliest I have ever met. People legitimately enjoy talking to and helping others. In just two months of staying there, I already felt like part of the community. Crime is not an issue (though scams can occur), and most people will go out of their way to help you. The island demography is reminiscent of colonial days with people of a mix of Indian, African, and European heritage. Many are Hindu, although Islam and Christianity are popular religions as well. Keep an eye out for frequent religious and cultural festivals that can be a joy to watch and participate in. 

Mauritians speak Mauritian Creole and French fluently. Many also speak English and derivatives of Indian languages such as Hindi and Bhojpuri. Tourists will get around fine knowing English, though French is understood better.

Conclusion

When I first arrived in Mauritius I was floored. In all my travels (including many exotic dive destinations), I have yet to see a more beautiful place. Colors somehow seem more saturated; the sea and the sky meet in one continuous band; the shapes of the mountains are straight from a Dr. Suess book.  But beyond the beauty, there is a stillness in the air and in the people. A stillness that can only be found in the outer reaches of the world.

Gand-Baie sunset

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. 

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

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Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


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Three of the most unusual underwater marine life encounters that you need to dive and photograph when visiting Australia
By Brent Durand, photos by Various

3 u/w Encounters You Can't Miss in Australia

Brent Durand, photos by Various
Three of the most unusual underwater marine life encounters that you need to dive and photograph when visiting Australia

There are two different types of underwater photo and video trips: those where you go to a known destination to create great images of common subjects, and those where you spend hours researching unique subjects and behaviors in the hopes of creating some unusual images.

Australia happens to be home to some of these unique opportunities and we've decided to put some of the preliminary research together for you. Whether you shoot photos, video or simply enjoy being in the water with your dive buddy, these are some marine life encounters that you need to add to your adventure list (I'm not big on bucket lists because mine would overflow in 2 seconds!).

So pack your camera bags, grab your dive gear and prepare to be amazed by the ocean, once again.

 

1. Giant Cuttlefish Aggregation

Point Lowly, Whyalla, South Australia

 

Looking for some contest-worthy underwater images? This is it. Every winter, hundreds of thousands of Australian Giant Cuttlefish (Sepia apama) migrate from all over the southern half of the country to the shallow waters of the upper Spencer Gulf near Whyalla, South Australia to mate. Similar to other cephalopods like market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens), the giant cuttlefish generally meet in small groups to mate. This is when divers see the eggs on buoy ropes, rock structure or forming baskets on the sand. The aggregation in Whyalla is the exception, however, and provides much more insight into the character and lives of these animals.

When so many giant cuttlefish show up to one area it becomes much more competitive to find a mate. The males put on elaborate displays to impress females who are out looking for a mate, flashing radical colors and textures to complement their fluttering . Smaller, less desireable males put on more vibrant shows, even disguising themselves as the females, in order to sneak in and succeed in aquiring a mate. Like all cuttlefish, once the male mates he swims off to die. The female lays the eggs before doing the same.

These interactions and behaviors create incredible photo opps for visiting photographers and videographers.

Photos by Peter & Kathy Cave.

 

 

 

2. The Spider Crabs of Rye Pier

Rye Pier, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Have you ever seen an entire sea floor covered with a writhing blanket of spider crabs? If you hang out in Victoria, Australia during the early winter months, then you absolutely have to dive the rye pier once word gets in that the spider crabs have showed up. Similar to the cuttlefish aggregation above, the spider crabs migrate to this precise shallow water area to mate and molt (at least, that is the common belief).

Upon arrival, the crabs cover the bottom, sometimes in multiple layers for about a week. They mate, molt, and then disappear. The only evidence left behind is the debris field of molts. The crabs normally rely on their hard exoskeleton for protection and are left defenseless while they slowly wriggle out of their old shell, attracting opportunistic predators like rays.

Needless to say, this is the only place (to my knowledge) where you can witness an event like this. Smaller aggregations do occur (even here in Southern California) but nothing even close to the event at Rye Pier.

Read about the full experience in The Spider Crabs of Rye Pier, by photographer Matt Krumins (on Facebook, on Instagram).

 

 

 

 

3. Leafy Sea Dragon

Southern coast of Australia

 

Along the coast of southern Australia lives the Leafy (and Weedy) Sea Dragon. Simply put, this is just a very beautiful creature to photograph. Living in shallow sea grass beds, the Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus eques) may be hard to spot at first, with wavy appendages that provide excellent camouflage.

The Leafy is the marine symbol of the state of South Australia and once of the most iconic marine animals in the world. Every underwater photographer should want to have a nice leafy shot in their portfolio!

Photos by Mike Bartick (on Facebook, on Instagram), manager and photo pro at Crystal Blue Resort in Anilao, Philippines.

 

 

 

Read all of our Marine Life Facts and Articles.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer and story teller from California.

Brent is an avid diver and adventure photographer, and shoots underwater any time he can get hands on a camera system. He can be reached at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Follow Underwater Photography Guide on Facebook or Instagram.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


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Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Go behind the scenes with French explorer Alban Michon while diving some of the coldest and most remote locations on earth
By Alban Michon

Inside Look: Cold Water Expeditions

Alban Michon
Go behind the scenes with French explorer Alban Michon while diving some of the coldest and most remote locations on earth

Many of us (fortunate) underwater photographers have traveled across the world to go scuba diving. We plan and book a trip, pack the gear, and then fly to a country where we are swiftly esorted into a resort or onto a liveaboard boat. The guides show us some great reefs and marine life, and before we know it, we're back on the plane heading home.

But what if you remove the soft resort and liveaboard beds? Take away the warm meals. And dive guides... what dive guides? This is becomes the world of dive expeditions.

French explorer Alban Michon is no stranger to dive expeditions. He has a resume that boasts several polar expeditions and is no stranger to diving beneath the sea ice and paddling up to a bleak (yet beautiful) camp site in a kayak.

Below we take a photo journey through some behind the scenes moments of Alban's expeditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivated for your own dive adventure? We hope so!

Follow more photography from Andy Parant at Facebook.com/andyparantphotographer.

 

About Alban Michon

Alban Michon, French, 35, begins to dive at 11 years of age. In 1999, Alban becomes a professional diving instructor; in 2000 he opens his own ice diving school in Tignes (Savoie-France) and in 2005 he opens «Vasques du Quercy», an underground diving school near Rocamadour (Lot-France).

In 2010, he takes part in the polar expedition «Deepsea Under The Pole», and in 2012, he organises a second expedition, on the east coast of Groenland together with Vincent Berthet. The film «Le piège blanc» shows part of the adventure.

Alban has also worked with «Abyssworld», a specialised travel agency, and with filmmakers such as Luc Besson and Jacques Audiart as a under water technical advisor. He is a speaker for many conferences and talks about the awareness of the power we all have inside ourselves, no matter how hard the situation is. His major goal right now is to showcase the know-how of french companies by making an experimental under water project. 

Website: AlbanMichon.com   |   Instagram:  @AlbanMichon

 

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Sharing photos and the life story of Rajan, the beloved swimming elephant of the Andaman Islands
By Sumer Verma & Nayantara Jain

Celebrating Rajan the Swimming Elephant

Sumer Verma & Nayantara Jain
Sharing photos and the life story of Rajan, the beloved swimming elephant of the Andaman Islands

Most stories of large animals in captivity are sad ones – they speak of miserable animals – magnificent lives sacrificed for entertainment and pretty pictures. Rajan – the beloved swimming elephant of the Andaman Islands – is the rare exception. His is a story where the dive community came together to give him back a freedom that had been snatched from him young, and he in turn became the perfect muse.

Elephants were first brought into the Andaman Islands when India was still under British rule. They were taken from Kerala and Karnataka and walked to the coast of Chennai. Here they were put on ships to the Andaman Islands where they were used to drag timber from the deep forests of the islands to the ships that would export them away. Rajan was one such elephant. His career in logging ended in 2002, when the Indian Government banned the practice. Shortly after that Rajan shot to fame, starring in a Hollywood film called The Fall.

 

 

It was this film, shot in the year 2004, that brought him to Havelock Island. Rajan’s owner was about to sell him off to a temple in Kerala, which would not only put him through a perilous journey but also condemn him to a life of confinement and drudgery, when a dive resort on Havelock Island stepped in. They raised money to buy him from his owners, and set him free – along with his lifelong mahout Nazroo – in the dense Havelock jungle where we was to spend the rest of his life.

Every evening Rajan used to walk down to the beach. He used to lie in the sand as Nazroo – helped by tourists and their kids – scrubbed him clean with coconut husks and seawater. He made for many an iconic picture as he walked the white sandy beach, glowing in the rays of the setting sun. But the most unique pictures of possibly any elephant in the whole world were those that underwater photographers took of Rajan as he played in the waves during his daily swim.

 

 

Divers and snorkelers flocked from all over the world came to photograph Rajan swimming in the clear Andaman sea. His big lungs gave him fantastic buoyancy. His long trunk made a perfect snorkel. He really seemed to enjoy the ocean almost as much as the tiny divers that weaved through his doggy-paddling legs.

As he grew older he swam less frequently. The dive resort was very particular about putting Rajan’s wishes first. Many a diver had to return dry and disappointed because the old man was tired. Luckily, it was bright, sunny and Rajan must have had a good night’s sleep before the morning Sumer Verma went to photograph him. It gave us some of the most stunning pictures which continue to immortalize the gentle giant after he passed away in his sleep in August 2016. He died in the wild, under a canopy of trees and stars. His last breath was the sea breeze from an ocean that had brought him luck.

 

- Text by Nayantara Jane. Photos by Sumer Verna.

 

A Video Tribute to Rajan

 

Rajan Swims

 

 

 

Read our photo essay, Wide-Angle in the Andaman Islands.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sumer Verna started diving in 1997 and completely fell in love with the sea and all its creatures. Since then he has pursued his passion for the oceans singlemindedly and has logged more than 6000 dives and is one of Indias most experienced and accomplished diving instructors and underwater photographers.Through his passion for diving and filming underwater Sumer has travelled far and wide from the Galapagos islands to the far corners of Indonesia and explored most diving sites around Indias Lakshadweep and Andaman islands.He currently manages Lacadives dive schools who were the pioneers of scuba diving in India setting up their first dive school in the Lakshadweep islands way back in 1995 and works on the board of Reefwatch Marine Conservation an NGO set up to bring awareness about Indias coral reefs.Sumers underwater photography work has expanded from wildlife to also encompass fashion shoots for vogue magazine , travel stories for condenast traveller and national geographic as well as film shoots for various production houses from Bollywood to the south.He is currently working on a number of projects simultaneously one of them being a wildlife book in collaboration with the administration of the Andaman islands.

www.lumiousdeep.com  |  Facebook  |  Instagram

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A tale of exploring Fiji after a devastating cyclone to find happy locals, great scuba diving and beautiful reefs
By Gareth Bellamy

Diving Fiji after Cyclone Winston

Gareth Bellamy
A tale of exploring Fiji after a devastating cyclone to find happy locals, great scuba diving and beautiful reefs

Last fall, my local diving season got canned by the start of a cold El Niño wet winter, begging for an escape to the tropics. Fiji is a short hop from my home in New Zealand and the numerous flights throughout the day make travel quick and easy.

Volivoli Beach Resort, on the Suncoast near Rakiraki township, is a firm favourite for New Zealand divers, not only for its close proximity to the Bligh Strait and world class reefs, but the wonderful hospitality, chilled vibe, and the ease with which they accommodate divers from beginners to techies.

Images from my last trip are full of blue skies, sunshine, palm trees, azure seas, multi-coloured soft corals, smiles and diving in a 3mm wetsuit, and I was eager to revisit the “soft coral capital of the world" on a group trip led by Global Dive Auckland. But my goodness, my last trip was in 2013 - had it really been 3 years?  I was well overdue for a trip, but how would things be different in Fiji post cyclone Winston?

 

 

Cyclone Winston

Fiji, particularly the Ra Province, got hammered by the second largest storm recorded in history: Cyclone Winston. Unlike the in movie starring Tom Hanks, ‘Castaway’, Winston was no friend – it was a cyclone with winds in excess of 375km/h, which arrived, left, and then swung back around to cause more damage.

Volivoli Beach Resort got hit. Staff and guests took refuge in the Deluxe and Ocean View Rooms, which luckily received only minor damage. Unfortunately, the Premium Ocean View Villas were wrecked, as was the main restaurant/bar. Luckily family and staff were uninjured, but others weren’t so; 44 people lost their lives in Fiji and more than 35,000 were made homeless.

Volivoli Beach Resort is semi-closed at this time for repair, and the Darling family is taking the opportunity to undertake improvements, officially re-opening its doors on November 1st.

 



View our exclusive 7-night Fiji travel special at Volivoli resort.


 

 

 

Visiting Fiji and Scuba Diving

During the transfer to the resort the cyclone damage was evident, but people were getting on with their lives despite shortages of building materials that are holding things back a little.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the resort, or the condition of the reefs post cyclone and was prepared for the worst. Upon arrival at Volivoli Beach Resort I was pleasantly surprised; the gardens were still blooming with bougainvillea and the sweet smell of frangipanis, and I was greeted with that familiar vista from the headland with the sun heading for a glorious sunset!

Evidence of Winton’s visit was everywhere: damaged villas awaiting work, the restaurant roof being re-constructed and re-establishing trees showing new growth and recovery. Builders were hard at work and the resort staff apologetic; there was no need though, as the privilege of being there and our minimally reduced comfort paled in comparison to their hard work to recovery.

Dive planning is weather dependent and with some wind present our first few days we stuck to the wonderful local reefs, which didn't appear to have suffered from cyclone damage. We dived ‘Neptunes Rapsody’, a myriad of swim-throughs, clown fish/anemones, schooling fish, white tip and grey reef sharks, We also dived ‘Golden Dreams’, which was ablaze with hanging yellow soft corals, gorgonian fans, swim-through, and black coral to name a few. At the safety stop of every dive, a finale of climatic colour explosion by the millions of Lyretail Anthias, Blue/Purple Eye Anthias crowning the tops of the reefs.

The wind eased and we got out to the outer reefs for a 3 and a 2 dive day. The reefs were incredible, pristine, with no damage from the cyclone. The viz was 20-30m+, with schooling fish in abundance and beautiful soft corals, nudibranchs, and sharks every dive.

We dived sites such as “Instant Replay”, which is an aptly named drift dive that was over before it began! ‘Purple Haze’ featured walls of black coral and gorgonian fans. ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ was loaded with amazing swim-through and massive gorgonian fans. And my favourite, ‘Mellow Yellow’, which is a coral stack 30m in diameter, with walls down to 60m covered in every kind of soft coral and colour you can imagine - a photographer's dream for both wide-angle and macro – just amazing.

After a no dive day of chilling it was time to head home and back to the New Zealand winter... brrr. The question, is there life after Winston? The answer - you bet there is, in abundance with bells! And I look forward to returning in November when the Volivoli re-opens.

 

 

 

 

 



View our exclusive 7-night Fiji travel special at Volivoli resort.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gareth Bellamy:  My passion for diving spans 33 years, being underwater is home. I liken the experience to starring in the matrix – connected, as one, with everything in the ocean. I have been privileged to have dived at some of the world’s beautiful places. I am based in Raglan North Island NZ and love the Poor Knights Islands.

Facebook.com/dj.Gareth.B

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Ancient Underwater City or Natural Formation? Scuba Divers are baffled by this dive site in Japan
By Chino Mendoza

Mystery of the Yonaguni Formation

Chino Mendoza
Ancient Underwater City or Natural Formation? Scuba Divers are baffled by this dive site in Japan

A unique dive site off the coast of Yonaguni has been intriguing both archeologists and divers.  It is located on a remote island west of Naha (Okinawa's Capital), Japan.  It is known for schools of hammerhead sharks, but especially for the mysterious underwater formation that has long been a subject of debate. Is this massive linear rock formation a natural geological feature or an ancient city that is now underwater?

During the winter months, Yonaguni is very popular among scuba divers looking to see the large population of hammerhead sharks.  The discovery of the location was made by Mr. Kihachiro Aratake while scouting the area for new hammerhead shark schooling sites several decades ago.

Upon further inspection, he discovered something unusual; a formation that appeared to be a man-made terraced structure.  He believes that the structure was from an ancient civilization dating back to the last ice age, approximately 10,000 B.C. If accurate, this struction pre-dates the pyramids of Egypt.

Shortly after discovery, a professor from the University of the Ryukyus, Masaaki Mikura, began to survey the location of the structure.  Mikura also believed that the site is evidence of an advanced civilization, although many still argue that it is a natural formation.

 

Yonaguni Pyramid. source Collective-Evolution


 

Main Features of the Monument:

The main feature of the site is a rectangular formation which measures about 150 by 40 m (490 by 130 ft.) and about 27 m (90 ft.) tall; the top is about 5 m (16 ft.) below sea level.

  • Two closely spaced pillars which rise to within 2.4 m of the surface
  • A 5 m (16 ft.) wide ledge that encircles the base of the formation on three sides
  • A stone column about 7 m (23 ft.) tall
  • A straight wall 10 m (33 ft.) long
  • An isolated boulder resting on a low platform
  • A low star-shaped platform
  • A triangular depression with two large holes at its edge
  • An L-shaped rock

It hard to not to believe that this is man-made structure with all of these seemingly deliberate and meaningful features.  What do you think?

 

Divers explore the Yonaguni Monument. source Google Images

 

Formation called "The Turtle". source Americaninbosnia blog

 

The Dividing Wall. source Crystalinks

 

The Triangle Pool - a triangular depression with two drainage holes on the edges. source Crystalinks

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chino Mendoza , is an avid diver and underwater photographer and tries to go everytime he can.  He is based in Manila which is a few hours Anilao which is the “critter capital of the Philippines”  He likes to shoot macro and his favorite subjects are nudibranchs and frogfishes.

Get in touch with him via email at lorenzo@bluewaterphotostore.com

View Chino's work:  Facebook     |     Instagram

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A Canon G15 photo essay exploring iconic and remote Indonesian reefs after sunset
By Janice Nigro

Raja Ampat After Dark

Janice Nigro
A Canon G15 photo essay exploring iconic and remote Indonesian reefs after sunset

I felt guilty once as the only guest out of eighteen on a 12 day liveaboard who wanted to go on a night dive one evening. The dive guide said, “Let’s go!” and after that 90-minute one-on-one experience, I became hooked on night dives. It seems tough to beat the day dives on such trips, but night dives are an opportunity to do some serious critter hunting without a lot of effort. Simply put, things come out at night.

My most recent series of night dives took place in three different underwater environments on a liveaboard trip through Northern Raja Ampat in Indonesia: a jetty, a traditional white sand muck site, and reefs/walls of small islands.

 

Arborek Jetty (Dampier Strait)

Arborek Jetty is a classic site that nearly all divers visit before leaving Raja Ampat. In the daytime, there are plenty of reasons to explore way beyond the jetty (like, the giant clams). At night, however, time (and air) will run out quickly without even moving much from the jetty and the rubble patch underneath. Nudibranchs are prolific here, and their vibrant colors give them away in this landscape so that anyone can suddenly feel like an expert in spotting critters.

 

All photos were shot with a Canon G15 compact camera in a Nauticam G15 housing with dual Inon Z240 strobes.

 

 

One of the critters I have never found on my own is the blue-ringed octopus, a macro creature that happens to be the most venomous on Earth. I have no idea exactly where you find them. I just know that it’s somewhere in the rubble, and that they are almost a sure thing to see at this site. Yes, within minutes of our descent, my guide pointed one out to me.

 

 

Crabs, in my opinion, are the comedians of the marine world. They run around with flora or even fauna living on their bodies for camouflage, and might even be born to look that way. The crab of the evening looked like a tangle of chicken wire with eyes that could only be located after looking at the photograph.

 

Cendana Pearl Farm Jetty (Aljui Bay)

It took only a couple dives to discover that Aljui Bay competes with Misool in the south as a soft coral and color factory in the sea. It is a cozy spot on the Earth - a secluded bay where you are surrounded by walls of green-ness growing straight out of limestone. The only other evidence of the world as we know it is the pearl farm.

We had three night dives around the pearl farm jetty. The area was an unexpected white sand desert in between the marvelous island walls covered with soft and hard corals that we viewed during the day. I was up to the challenge of finding anything, and soon a pair of flounder eyes peering above the sand gave me hope that there was more life to come.

Someone else might have been hoping also. An enormous lionfish with a huge fin span that was either lonely or just attracted to my light (maybe both) started following me around. It was a little unnerving to have him follow me so closely (each night!); not because I thought he would purposefully injure me, but injure me by accident, like he was the Edward Scissorhands of Aljui Bay.

There were no bommies (and no garbage!) with which to orient ourselves at first - just the depth on our computers and the sand. Desperate, I saw a small log and without thinking about it, flipped it over. A cockatoo wasp fish was underneath! Why he needed to be under the log in the dark, I am not sure, but it was a good reminder to look and not touch underwater.

Basket seastars were outstretched over some bommies, exposing their tiny shrimp. I marveled at how quickly they began to coil up in response to my light. One night we found a frogfish. You could tell he was a long term resident. He looked so much like the rock he was living next to that he made me wonder if I had actually seen him.

 

 

 

At the end of each dive, a pair of Pegasus sea moths appeared. These creatures always come in pairs. They remind me of wind-up toys that move in one direction until they hit something and go in another. They do not seem to know where they are going, but wherever they are headed, they go together.

 

Mioskon (Dampier Strait)

When you think of Raja Ampat, it is mostly the reef and wall scenes that come to mind first. The last several night dives all took place in sloping wall/reef environments. There were the things you might expect to see - a sleeping wobbegong, a cuttlefish - and then the things you might not expect, like a wide-angle-sized nudibranch, the Platydoris.

My prize for diligently examining the reef at Mioskon was two gigantic saron shrimp. These are incredibly intricately designed shrimp with spots, hair, and long legs that they seem unable to control. This pair was quite large, but nevertheless shy (at least in the bright light).

 

 

Batu Rufus (Penemu)

If there are lessons to learn on a dive, then this one was about how to locate animals by microenvironment. This dive was exceptional, one that even my Indonesian guide after seven years at the job simply stated, “I liked it too.” The mushroom corals contained pipefish and an ornate ghost pipefish was hiding near a crinoid. Sea cucumbers were like a city bus due to their size and their passengers: spider crabs, isopods, and even nudibranchs. When the crabs did not cooperate, I still came home with a photograph, but of the spectacular pattern on the candy cane sea cucumber itself.

I also discovered that the hydroid is an important microenvironment. Nudibranchs, of course, we had found on hydroids. What I did not know, is that the hydroid is a habitat for skeleton shrimp. The hydroids in Batu Rufus were homes not to just a few skeleton shrimp, but thousands. I could almost hear them talking.

 

 

East Mansuar (Dampier Strait)

You could fill up your critter check list at this site (in a little over an hour), and if you were not into that, you could spend your time examining the coral polyps open in the night. As if none of that was enough, something I had never seen before, a toadfish, made a brief appearance before us. They are apparently extremely shy. The toadfish that we had discovered behaved accordingly, as it unfortunately disappeared the moment we spotted it.

After seeing all of this life in Raja Ampat after dark, we have to wonder what will happen in our dreams.

 

 

 


 Want to dive Raja Ampat, Indonesia? Contact Bluewater Travel to book the perfect trip.

 


 

 

About the Author

Janice Nigro is an avid scuba diver with a PhD in biology. She is a scientist who has studied the development of human cancer at universities in the USA and Norway. She has more recently discovered the benefits of artistic expression through underwater photography and story writing of her travel adventures (www.janikiink.com). Her current home is Hermosa Beach, California.

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Analyzing depth, light and camera angles for Caribbean reef sharks based on a digital dive profile
By Brent Durand

Anatomy of a Shark Dive

Brent Durand
Analyzing depth, light and camera angles for Caribbean reef sharks based on a digital dive profile

Shark diving attracts bubble blowers from all over the world. These seasonally timed dives can almost guarantee seeing at least one or two sharks in close proximity - a far more exhillarating experience (albeit less natural) than crossing a shark during a traditional dive.

Baited shark dives take two forms. The first is using chum to attract sharks, who linger based on curiousity of a meal or promise of an easy snack. This is a great way to support shark tourism and resulting benefits without shifting the sharks' behavior much. The second is shark feeding, which is popular with larger species and presents photographers with some high-adrenaline photo opportunities.

Shark diving is new to me. I've had some spine-tingling natural encounters with sharks while snorkeling and freediving, plus regular scuba encounters with whitetips and blacktips, but had never jumped in the water with reef sharks baited in via chum. Our Caribbean reef shark dives in Bimini, Bahamas during Bluewater Photo's recent small group photo trip certainly changed that. Sure, these aren't great whites or great hammerheads or tiger sharks, but they're still very impressive and majestic fish capable of radical behavior changes.

Our first reef shark dive was on a windy day that kept us away from dolphins north of Bimini, so we didn't have excellent vis and were shooting through big shifts in light as clouds passed overhead. I took a COSMIQ dive computer down on the dive and later paired the log with my photos in the Deepblu dive log and social app (via bluetooth) to share the data you see below for each shot.

 


The Gear:

Bluewater Photo's rental Canon 7D Mk II and housing
8" acrylic dome port
Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens
Dual Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes


 

The Shark Dive Begins

Shot: Dialing in the settings as I observed the sharks' swim patterns. I wanted some shark-on-the-reef shots to show the slow-swimming peacefulness of the sharks.

Position: Near the bottom, away from the boat/bucket with sun to my right.

Settings: 14mm focal length, ISO 200, f/8, 1/200

 

Shot: Still working on shark-on-the-reef shots away from the group. This shark came in from the side on a high line, allowing me to shoot up and capture some of the ocean surface.

Position: Near the bottom away from the boat, sun above left.

Settings: 14mm focal length, ISO 200, f/8, 1/250

 

Shot: The sharks stopped swimming laps where I had been, so I moved close to the boat to work on some portraits using a slightly closer focal length. The sun is behind cloud cover in this one, resulting in dark water.

Position: Near the bottom, with boat and chum bucket on left, sun roughly at my back.

Settings: 17mm focal length, ISO 200, f/8, 1/250

 

Shot:  Hanging in the water column now to try and take advantage of the sharks swimming closer to surface while making some very close passes.

Position: Mid-water, shooting away from boat for clean background.

Settings: 17mm focal length, ISO 200, f/8, 1/200

 

Shot: Another portrait shot. I try to take advantage of divers in the frame, but can't take credit for not clipping the diver/shark. Notice the monotonous tone of the water - the result of a cloud passing in front of the sun again.

Position: Back near the bottom to try and shoot up at the sharks.

Settings: 17mm focal length, ISO 320, f/8, 1/250

 

Shot: This shark was making a close pass so I took a shot even though the perspective was downward. The trick was to wait to fire the shot until the shark was at the closest point with tail photogenically curved.

Position: Mid-water column again to intercept the sharks' swim patterns.

Settings: 17mm focal length, ISO 320, f/8, 1/250

 

Shot: Working on depicting the full scene, telling the story of the dive. Still shooting dark water because of cloud cover. I opened up the exposure a bit in order to shoot at a downward angle.

Position: Shallow, mid-water near the chum bucket.

Settings: 17mm focal length, ISO 320, f/6.3, 1/200

 

Shot: Another shark portrait away from the boat. Notice the cloud cover and bland water again. I was still trying to shoot the big picture, but had to take advantage of this close pass framed out into the blue.

Position: Mid-water, facing away from the boat.

Settings: 17mm focal length, ISO 250, f/6.3, 1/200

 

Shot: Another storytelling shot, intentially shooting towards the boat and bucket as the shark reached its closest point of the pass (while still at approach angle/perspective).

Position: Mid-water under the boat. Sun is overhead and at my left. *Note: never dive under the boat unless very comfortable with buoyancy skills.

Settings: 17mm focal length, ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/250

 

There we have it. Our second Caribbean reef shark dive was a couple days later in much nicer conditions, but I'll save those photos for another time.

Want to join a group dive trip or photo workshop?  Check out our full dive trip schedule.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer and story teller from California.

Brent is an avid diver and adventure photographer, and shoots underwater any time he can get hands on a camera system. He can be reached at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Follow Underwater Photography Guide on Facebook or Instagram.

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Go behind the scenes on our Philippine Siren liveaboard workshop
By Ron Watkins

Inside Look at a Philippines Liveaboard Photo Workshop

Ron Watkins
Go behind the scenes on our Philippine Siren liveaboard workshop

After several land-based dive trips to the Philippines, it was exciting to be leading the Bluewater Photo Workshop aboard the Philippine Siren on a 12-day special itinerary designed to dive the best the Visayas Sea has to offer and maximize photography opportunities.  Prior to this trip, I received numerous questions from people about what lenses they should bring and my advice was, “No regrets! If you have it, better bring it.”

This trip featured the smallest critters (baby frogfish, skeleton crabs, shrimps, nudibranchs, seahorses) to the largest fish (whale sharks) and amazing reefs and everything in between.  So the hardest choice of the day for many of us, after deciding which way to have your eggs prepared, was which lens to use for each dive.  But the fact that we would hit some of the best sites multiple times made this decision a little less stressful, as did the advice of the dive masters. The trip included an available 40 dives (typically 3 day / 1 night) at sites around Balicasag, Cabilao, Oslob, Dauin Coast, Apo Island, Moalboal, and Malapascua, which took us completely around the large Island of Cebu in a clockwise direction.



Check out Ron's photo gear:

Nikon D800, Tokina 10-17mm, Sea&Sea D800 housing, dual Sea&Sea YS-250 strobes


 

Cabilao

“So what are you waiting for?”

This was not only the mantra of the Philippine Siren crew; they used it when the food was ready to eat and after the dive briefings to get everyone moving and in the water.  We dove off of the ship's 2 inflatable skiffs in three groups, which intended to spread things out at the dive sites and make for less chaos on the dive deck.  Our fist day was spent diving at various sites at Cabilao just off the island of Bohol.  The sites around Cabilao, like most of the sites, are great macro sites because the reefs are teaming with critters and fish. Sites like Gorgonian Wall and Lighthouse have incredible walls and reefs covered with large soft corals, sponges and sea fans making for terrific wide-angle photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left: A stealthy scorpionfish patiently waits in this purple on the side of a wall at Cabilao. ISO 200, F/16, 1/200
Photo right: The healthy soft coral of Cabilao. ISO 200, F/16, 1/250

 

 

Balicasag

For the next two days, we called the waters around Balicasag home and dove sites called Sanctuary, Black Forest, Turtle Point, Diver’s Heaven, and Rudy’s Rock.  Black Forest and Turtle Point were green sea turtle paradise with large fields of turtle grass like an all-you-can-eat buffet.  These were some of the healthiest and largest turtles I have ever seen.  If you approached them slowly and looked down and pretended to eat grass like them, you could get very close to the turtles.

But turtles weren’t the only star of Balicasag.  The surrounding walls and reefs were teaming with purple anthias, fang blennies, schools of long jawed mackerel and jacks, lionfish, snake eels, several varieties of nembrotha and chromodoris nudibranchs, and various crustaceans all over.  There was a reason we did two full days of diving here and dived some of the sites multiple times.  Our dives at Balicasag made it difficult to choose a lens when not diving in the turtle grass, so I added a section on shooting macro with wide-angle lenses to my workshop.  No need to pass up on that fish behavior, the new nudibranch or other small critter just because you didn’t have your macro lens on.

 

 

Oslob

The town of Oslob on the Island of Cebu is a unique opportunity to dive with whale sharks.  Several years ago, the local fisherman had problems with whale sharks getting caught in their nets so they decided to throw handfuls of shrimp in the water away from the nets.  This resolved the net problem but they found the whale sharks hung around their boats waiting for a free meal.  So the Oslob locals decided to set up eco-tourism to educate people on the whale sharks and to support research.  This form of eco-tourism is somewhat controversial because of the modified behavior of the whale sharks, but their research has shown that only a few sharks have continued to frequent the shallows of Oslob regularly and that most only hang out for a short time as they pass by the area.  And by noon, the whale sharks typically leave the area and travel to the waters off of Cebu for the majority of their feeding.  We received an educational briefing on the whale sharks and then set out at the crack of dawn to scuba dive with them.  Typically, people actually snorkel with them and are not permitted to scuba dive with whale sharks.  This was a unique experience and for those on the trip that had never seen a whale shark, it was quite exciting and presented a different opportuity for photographs.

 

 

Dauin Coast

The Dauin Coast, also referred to as Dumaguete because of where you fly into, is critter heaven and home to some amazing muck diving.  Every dive is like a scavenger hunt and you never know what strange little creature your DM is going to point out.  When we were there, everything seemed to be mating, have eggs, or were newly born babies.  This is the exact reason that Bluewater scheduled a photo workshop at the land based Atmosphere Resort and Spa immediately after the Siren cruise ended.  This also why our Siren itinerary had three days in the area for muck diving and nearby Apo Island.  On one dive we saw 9 baby frogfish ranging in size of a small pea to the size of a quarter.  Night dives are also a treat here with frequent octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, decorator crabs and other critters out hunting in the safety of darkness. 

 

 

Apo Island

Apo is a small little island a short distance from Dauin, and we dove three times at the Island.  Apo is known for its pristine hard coral gardens and resident population of turtles and sea snakes.  A typhoon hit Apo a few years back but it is amazing how quickly the corals and marine life have recovered where we dove.  The north side of the island is still in a protected status because it got hit the hardest and has not recovered as fast.  Visibility at Apo was not ideal the day we were there, but we were still able to enjoy the diving at Coconut Point, Chapel and Rocky Point West.  Coconut Point was a swift current dive in the beginning with several spots that were protected so that a diver could duck behind a the reef for reprieve.  The corals are very healthy along the wild ride and we saw a large school of jacks and barracuda in addition to at least a dozen sea snakes and turtles fly by.

 

 

Moalboal

The two days spent diving around Moalboal were a real treat with incredible photography diversity.

Pescador Island has a massive cavern called the cathedral that has a very eerie silhouette opening and is often full of schooling fish.  Several of us dove it twice after doing a special workshop on ambient light photography and silhouettes to improve our opportunity to capture the essence of the cavern.  The shallow reefs surrounding Pescador Island were alive with marine life and several people spent their entire dive in the shallows.  The Siren crew planned our afternoon dive at Panagsama Beach, where a resident school of over 7 million sardines resides.  It is a must-dive spot.  This was an amazing site to photograph, video and just watch the mesmerizing flow of the school.  The school was so thick at times that when it passed overhead, day became night with the eclipse.  We also dove at Sanctuary for some great macro and later a small airplane wreck at 90’ that the siren had never visited but two of our guests had previously dove.  The plane provided a great backdrop for some creative photographs with the help of our experienced and brave diver Dan McGanty.

 

 

Malapascua

If you are a big animal photographer and you hear "Malapasqua," you immediately think of thresher sharks, as it is one of the only places that you can consistently see them at a cleaning station.  I dove with the thresher sharks of Malapasqua several years earlier and they were one of the star attractions on this itinerary that people wanted to see.  Unfortunately after two early morning dives to 90ft on the cleaning station the illusive sharks proved that wildlife is just that, wild and free to roam.  It was very rare that they did not make an appearance, but actually had not been seen for several days, so we will need to return and try our luck another time.  But we were all treated to several friendly spotted eagle rays near the surface, which is a treat.  Malapasqua also has good macro diving and lots of soft coral, so we took advantage of the great photo opportunities that Mother Nature presented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left: A graceful spotted eagle ray swims below (Converted to B&W in Lightroom). ISO 1000, F/8, 1/125
Photo right: Cuttlefish on night dive. ISO 200, F/20, 1/125

 

 

 

Fo more info on diving the Philippines, where to find the best animals, photo encounters and best dive resorts and liveaboards, visit Bluewater Travel or email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer. He has been passionate about underwater photography since 1996 and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections.

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