The Spider Crabs of Rye Pier

Matt Krumins
Mysterious Aggregation of Huge Crabs and Unique Photo Opportunities


The Spider Crabs of Rye Pier

Mysterious Aggregation of Huge Crabs and Unique Photo Opportunities

Text and Photos By Matt Krumins


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia



Summer has passed and thousands of holidaymakers have packed up their chairs and deserted the beach. The weather has turned and only the most dedicated fishermen are left sitting lonely on the end of the pier without so much as a bite on their motionless fishing lines. The beach appears to be empty and there are few signs of life above the water. Every year as the cold sets in between April and June, anticipation builds amongst the divers of Victoria, Australia as weeks go by while anxiously awaiting the first sighting of a spider crab. And then one day you see it…. A Facebook post from Academy of Scuba, located just across the street from Rye Pier:




Every diver in Victoria waits anxiously to hear those four words. The car is loaded, the camera is charged, the tanks are filled and we hit the highway. You see, this is an exciting event - not only because it is such a spectacular and unique occurrence, but because in recent times the once clockwork punctuality of this migration has now become a rather loose commitment which the spider crabs no longer feel obligated to maintain.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


We see the shallow sandy bottom dotted with little black spots as we walk down the pier - moving spots that turn into a moving cluster, which then merges into a single black blanket of activity that swallows the entire seafloor. This is what we have been waiting for.

Striding off the lower landing and curling our legs so as not to disturb the thick layers of spider crabs that have encrusted the area, we start our very short decent. Only pictures can truly describe the scene underwater where spider crabs pile 6 or 7 deep - the pylons of the pier completely encrusted with the spiny shells of the crabs. There is no place to settle down and no sand to be seen - just crabs.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


From a photographic perspective the crabs are both a blessing and a curse. The endless sea of shells creates a spectacular sight for the eyes, but with such a complicated and repetitive pattern is very difficult to photograph well. Finding a subject or focal point to really tell the story becomes a major challenge. To make things worse, the long clumsy legs of hundreds of thousands of crabs feeding simultaneously stirs up silt and sand. As a result, the water clarity drops and strobe lighting becomes rather tricky.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


Through years of interacting with the crabs I have found (as with all marine creatures) that patience is the key to getting the shot. Waiting until a crab climbs the pylons to the water surface and then jumps back into the swarm of spidey friends lends itself to amazing shots from below. Dramatic images with clear stories can be found by those who have a sharp eye, like an adventurous crab who climbs and conquers a shorter cut-off pylon to then stand like a king above an army. Like all underwater photography, simply including your buddy in an image can add scale.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


What is most spectacular about this migration is that it only occurs at one single pier within the bay. If you traverse 100m up the beach you would never know what was going on just a stone’s throw away. Not surprisingly, the migration is well documented by photographers and divers, although not much information can be found from a scientific standpoint. Current belief is that it is some kind of mating ritual where the spider crabs molt their shells - which is apparent by the debris left on the sand after each event.


Spider Crabs at Rye Pier in Victoria Australia


Then they are gone. Within a week’s time the spider cabs arrive and form a massive group, molt and then leave. All that remains under the pier are the thousands of shells left behind. The crabs have stripped it bare. The water under the pier, once bustling with life, is left to rejuvenate, re-populate and prepare its self for next year’s sacrifice to the crabs.

As a photographer you will succeed no matter how you shoot this migration event. The beach is empty, the water temperature has plummeted and the unsuspecting public has gone home. Only underwater photographers have the ability to share this unique experience with all those people. That is why we do what we do. 



About the Author

Matt Krumins is the owner and operator of Deeper Than Diving UW Photography and ambassador to the Olympus underwater housing range. His experience in UW photography is concentrated around the Asia Pacific region and it has led him to launch his own unique, fun and contemporary brand of UW photography courses based in Australia. Visit or for information on Matt's courses and photography.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Malpelo in Photos - Sharks & Big Fish Galore

Carolyn Wang
One of the Coolest Dive Destinations You Never Hear About


Malpelo in Photos - Sharks & Big Fish Galore

One of the Coolest Dive Destinations You Never Hear About

Text and Photos By Carolyn Wang




Most divers know of the great diving at Galapagos and Cocos Islands, but over 300 miles off the coast of Columbia lies Malpelo - a small island that a few have heard about. But while small in size, Malpelo offers some of the most exciting diving and big animal interactions in the world.

If you’ve ever seen photos of schools of hammerhead sharks, chances are the images were taken in the Eastern Pacific region. Schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks are known to migrate along routes that have been dubbed “shark super highways,” ranging between Galapagos, Cocos, and Malpelo. So it was here that I hoped I would finally get to see and photograph hammerheads. 


At first glance, Malpelo is probably not what comes to mind when you think about visiting an island. In truth, Malpelo is only about 1 mile in length, all unforgiving rock, with very sheer drop offs into the ocean. The island is uninhabited with the exception of birds and a handful of residents assigned to a very small Columbian military outpost that keeps watch for poachers.


This wild and remote place has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site and there are strict limits on the number of divers allowed at any time. For divers and photographers, this is a huge benefit because it hasn’t been ‘over-dived’ and you have amazing opportunities to see a huge variety of life, all without running into tons of other divers.

Malpelo is a destination that all wide-angle and big animal photographers should have on their wish list, particularly if you are seeking sharks. Malpelo is known to be frequented by schools of hammerhead sharks and Galapagos sharks, and depending on the season, you may also see schools of silky sharks, whale sharks, white tip reef sharks, mantas, and if you plan for it, a possibility of seeing the very rare smalltooth sand tiger shark. 

With all this in mind, I was very excited to join the Coiba Dive Expeditions trip on the Yemaya II live aboard last February to Malpelo. We had great travel and dive conditions and were fortunate to see scalloped hammerhead sharks on nearly every dive! For me, the trip highlights were schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, juvenile white tip reef sharks, free-swimming moray eels, eagle rays, massive scorpionfish, octopus, bustling cleaning stations, schools of jacks, pacific barracuda, leather bass and way too many other fishes to name. There were also many small fishes and critters resting on the reefs, but frankly, I was mostly focused on looking out into the blue for sharks. 

Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip… I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the diving!

- Carolyn 




2014 Malpelo Photo Essay


Scalloped Hammerhead Shark. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, ambient light, 1/100 sec, f4.5, ISO400. The hammerheads would approach low and near the reef, weaving side to side amongst the many fish at the cleaning station.


Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, UWL-04 lens, ambient light, 1/100 sec, f3.5 ISO400. Schools of hammerheads would circle around the cleaning station for many passes in the blue while a few would venture closer.


Galapagos Sharks & Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, ambient light, 1/125 sec, f3.2, ISO400. The Galapagos sharks traveled in a smaller group of around 8-10 and circled a spot on the northern corner of the cleaning station. Often you would see hammerheads also coming near them to be cleaned.


Scalloped Hammerhead shark and cleaner fish. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes – low power, 1/125 sec, f5.0, ISO400.


Pacific Barracuda. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, ambient light, 1/500 sec, f5.6, ISO200.  We encountered this large school of pacific barracuda every time we dove this site. Here one of the other divers photographs them from inside the school, pushing them towards me for this shot.


Eagle Rays. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, UWL-04 lens, ambient light, 1/100 sec, f3.5, ISO400. Most of us are happy to see just one eagle ray on a dive. At Malpelo, these eagle rays traveled in a group of 5-8 over the course of our week of diving, and we saw them on every visit to the dive site.


Moray Eels. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/800 sec, f5.6, ISO100. Eels were everywhere in Malpelo, even free-swimming during the day, and these three eels decided to share quarters in this crevice. You had to constantly pay attention to avoid accidentally getting too close to them while looking for sharks.


Pacific Scorpionfish. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/800 sec, f5.6, ISO100. The scorpionfish at Malpelo were just massive. This one was at least 18 inches.


Bigeye Trevally. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/80 sec, f6.3, ISO400. This school of jacks swirled around us for a several minutes and during our safety stop before moving on. Mating pairs often travel closely together and the males darken to almost black as seen here.


Pacific Creolefish and Moray Eel. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/125 sec, f6.3, ISO200. Schools of creolefish swarmed over this colorful reef as a moray eel looks on.


Blue and Gold Snappers. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/125 sec, f6.3, ISO200. Huge schools of these snappers wove around hard corals on the reef.


Leather Bass. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/100 sec, f7.1, ISO400. These large leather bass swam constantly against the strong current.


Pacific Scorpionfish. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/800 sec, f5.6, ISO100. The scorpionfish on the left was resting until the fish on the right decided to cozy up next to it. It was quite common to see more than one animal at a time at Malpelo.


White Tip Reef Sharks. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/125 sec, f4.0, ISO400. Originally there was just one juvenile reef shark resting under this table coral formation and I held my camera rig down in the crevice, hoping for any shot as I couldn’t get in there to see and frame it. After a few shots, the second shark on the right squished itself in there, and you can see the disgruntled expression on the shark on the left’s face as it got shoved out of the way.


Coral Hawkfish. Sony RX-100, UWL-04 wet lens, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, 1/500 sec, f5.6, ISO100. A quiet, peaceful moment.


Scalloped Hammerhead Shark. Sony RX-100, Recsea Housing, 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes – low power, 1/125 sec, f3.2, ISO400.



Photo Tips:

The equipment I used on this trip was the Sony RX-100 in a Recsea housing, UWL-04 wet lens on a quick adapter for fast removal/donning and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes.

For compact shooters, having an ultra wide-angle fisheye lens will be great in situations where you are able to get closer to subjects, however for the shark portraits you’re often better off just using the native zoom lens on the camera.

If you are shooting with a mirrorless or dSLR camera, I’d highly recommend you mainly use a wide-angle zoom lens for any shark shooting at Malpelo. The dSLR shooters on the trip found the full 180 degrees on a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye to be too wide for most of the interactions. 

Try using your strobes on low power if the sharks are coming close enough for them to make a difference so you add a little light and color without blowing out their white underbellies. I found that because of the distance, often it was better to just shoot with ambient light.

Irrespective of camera type, keep an eye on the thermocline and how it will affect your photos. It was constantly moving shallower and deeper during the same dive at Malpelo and ranged anywhere from 40 to 80 ft. It was the cause of much frustration for all of us photographers because if the sharks happened to be above the thermocline and you below it, all of your shots taken through it would be blurred.  



In terms of approach, the dive guides advised that it’s best to tuck down and essentially try to camouflage yourself as part of the rocky reef. If you swim towards the sharks or are up floating above the reef they tend to avoid you. So do yourself a favor and follow that advice to maximize your own photos opportunities and avoid being “that total idiot who chased away all the sharks” when you visit Malpelo!



Check Out Carolyn’s Gear

Sony RX-100 Camera

Recsea RX100 Housing

UWL-04 Wide-Angle Wet Lens

Sea & Sea YS-D1 Strobes


More on Diving Malpelo

Learn about diving Malpelo Island on Bluewater Travel

Read Carolyn’s detailed Malpelo trip report and travel trips on Bluewater Travel



About the Author

Carolyn Wang is video game marketing executive, PADI dive mistress, avid underwater photographer, and explorer for Bluewater Travel. She has a passion for diving with sharks and exploring unusual sites, and can often be found in California waters while plotting her next dive adventure abroad.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



10 Epic Shark Dive Destinations

Brent Durand
Get Your Blood Pumping with these Incredible Shark Dives


10 Epic Shark Dive Destinations

Get Your Blood Pumping with these Incredible Shark Dives

Text by Brent Durand
Photos by Various


A lemon shark shows off its teeth in low afternoon light. Bahamas. Photo: Ron Wakins



This past February I was snorkeling in the Galapagos, down around 20 feet drifting along the side of a narrow channel between islands. The abundant marine life moved in all directions and I was enchanted by a couple large triggerfish. Suddenly the perfect quiet was broken by the clap of tails on scales as a school of surgeonfish darted in front of me towards the shallower water. I instinctively looked left to where the fish came from, where a massive black triangle faded into the deep water of the channel.

This wild experience sent chills down my spine and a barrage of thoughts as I came back to the surface. It’s the same thrill many shark divers seek out on a regular basis - a balance of adrenaline and beauty. Some divers love the high-energy action of chumming and shark feeding; some get into cages with huge Great Whites; some travel to sharky waters for wild encounters and some swim alongside gentle whale sharks.

Whatever your flavor, these are destinations/dives that should be high on all shark-minded divers’ trip lists. We’ve excluded whale sharks in order to focus on the fast action of predatory sharks for this list. And more importantly, we’re starting a conversation. You want to dive with sharks and Bluewater Travel wants to help book the perfect trip at the lowest possible price. Let’s work together to get in the water for these dives!




Where: Several locations

Type:  Baited, feeding & wild encounters

The Bahamas are home to several renowned shark dives. Crystal clear water, white sand and sunshine create fun diving conditions for some adrenaline-filled dives. Visit Tiger Beach for (you guessed it) tiger sharks. Watch Caribbean reef sharks being fed at “The Arena”. Visit the waters near Bimini to swim with great hammerheads in shallow water. Swim with oceanic white tips at Cat Island. If that’s not enough, throw in lemon sharks, other reef sharks, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and some other great Caribbean diving.

Bahamas dive info on Bluewater Travel


Diving with tiger sharks is always exhilarating. Photo: Ron Watkins


A lemon shark reflects on the surface. Photo: Ron Watkins


Beqa Lagoon

Where:  Fiji

Type:  Shark feeding

Fiji is a diver’s paradise, so it makes sense that it is home to one of the best shark dives in the world. The shark dive at Beqa lagoon is renowned worldwide as one of the few places divers can reliably get close to large bull sharks. Shark feeding is the name of the game, attracting many bull sharks and the occasional tiger shark. These big fish are the stars of the show, but expect to see grey sharks, black tips and other reef sharks.

Fiji dive info on Bluewater Travel


Bull sharks patrol the waters of Beqa Lagoon. Photo: Carolyn Wang


An experienced guide hand feeds a bull shark. Photo: Carolyn Wang



Galapagos Islands

Where:  Ecuador

Type:  Wild encounters

Declared a national marine park in 1959, the remote Galapagos Islands are home to many pelagic and reef shark species. Swim with whale sharks in the fall or watch for schooling scalloped hammerheads near Wolf and Darwin Islands. Hammerheads can be seen at any dive site and it’s common to have a Galapagos shark circle your boat at some anchorages. The islands form an oasis in the open ocean and a great hunting ground for pelagic sharks, so keep your eyes open on every dive.

Galapagos Islands dive info on Bluewater Travel


Wolf and Darwin Islands are home to large hammerhead schools. Photo: Kadu Pinheiro


Sharks are found in abundance in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Kadu Pinheiro




Where:  Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia

Type:  Wild encounters

Talk of Rangiroa has been increasing in diving circles with the recent discovery of grouper spawning aggregations. With these large aggregations of fish come their predators – sharks. Rangiroa is said to have countless sharks in the water during the spawning, and Bluewater Photo will be there in July 2014 for a workshop around the event. It’s necessary to plan your trip around the spawning event, so make sure to have Bluewater Travel help set this up for you.

French Polynesia dive info on Bluewater Travel


Rangiroa is an incredible shark diving destination. Photo: Rene Capozzola



Jardines de la Reina

Where:  Cuba

Type:  Wild & baited encounters

This popular dive area has recently risen to the attention of North American divers after enjoying popularity with European divers for a number of years. Protected Caribbean reefs are home to many large sharks, with frequent sightings of Caribbean and silky sharks. It’s safe to say you will have sharky dives… every dive. Learn more in our article on diving Jardines de la Reina.


Exciting shark encounters await divers who venture to Jardines de la Reina. Photo: Goran Butajla


A Caribbean reef shark cruises along the reef. Photo: Goran Butajla



Malpelo Island

Where:  Columbia (boats often leave from Panama)

Type:  Wild encounters

Malpelo is another remote Eastern Pacific island known for wild shark encounters. Most famous are its hammerhead cleaning stations, where divers can get close and personal with the large sharks in shallow water. Other pelagics are common, including seasonal schools of silky sharks, plus Galapagos sharks, mantas, eagle rays, dolphins and more.

Malpelo Island dive info on Bluewater Travel


Schooling hammerheads make a close pass. Photo: Carolyn Wang


A scalloped hammerhead cruises by for a closer inspection. Photo: Carolyn Wang



Isla Guadalupe

Where:  Mexico

Type:  Cage diving with great whites

Isla Guadalupe is a well-known destination for ultimate cage diving experiences. Clear water and reliable sightings make it arguably the best place to photograph and (cage) dive with great white sharks.

Isla Guadalupe dive info on Bluewater Travel


A great white shark goes for the bait. Photo: Ron Watkins


A great white shark shows off its impressive girth. Photo: Ron Watkins



Aliwal Shoal & Protea Banks

Where:  South Africa

Type:  Wild & baited encounters

Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks are both near Durban and offer incredible shark diving. Aliwal Shoal is known for the aggregation of ragged tooth (sand tiger) sharks that appears every fall, offering some very sharky dives. Large populations or other sharks are seen year-round. Protea Banks is a rich reef, and it’s no wonder that bull sharks are frequently seen, as well as tiger sharks and many other pelagic and reef sharks.


Blacktip sharks are year-round residents at Aliwal Shoal and make for interesting and exciting subjects on baited shark dives. Photo: Cormac McCreesh


Ragged tooth (sand tiger) shark, taken at Raggie Cave. Photo: Cormac McCreesh




Where:  Philippines

Type:  Reliable wild encounters at cleaning stations

Malapascua Island, located north of Cebu in the Visayas is known for daily pelagic thresher shark dives. Known locally as Lawihan, the sharks visit shallow cleaning stations on Monad Shoal each morning, treating divers to close-up experiences. Fortunately, Typhoon Yolanda (fall 2013) did not claim any casualties on Monad Shoal, however it did destroy housing, boats and buildings. Fear not, however, because dive trips and incredible thresher shark diving is as exciting as ever (with thanks due to the national and international dive community for their support).


Thresher sharks are infamous for their extemely long tail. Photo: Rafn Ingi Finnsson


A thresher shark swims towards the photographer. Photo: Rafn Ingi Finnsson



Cocos Island

Where:  Costa Rica

Type:  Wild encounters

Diving remote Cocos Island is a must for big animal lovers. It is one of the very few places you can still see schooling hammerhead sharks, as well as many other pelagic species. In addition, divers are treated to mantas, whale sharks, marble rays, large schools of fish and other pelagic surprises.

Cocos Island dive info on Bluewater Travel





Southern California

Where:  USA

Type:  Baited open water dives

Our 11th shark dive destination is off the radar for many but host to some surprisingly good dives.  Bluewater Photo runs annual blue and mako shark dives every spring. Some days may have one shark while others may have 10+, with close open water encounters. You never know what will show up, and on one day in 2013 a salmon shark cruised up to the boat, which is very rare. Check out some photos on the Bluewater Photo Facebook page.


Mako shark off Southern California. Photo: Scott Gietler


Blue shark off Southern California. Photo: Scott Gietler



Let Bluewater Book Your Shark Trip

Plan your next shark diving trip with the help of Bluewater Travel’s expert travel advisors. Our team will help you book a trip to the right resort or perfect liveaboard at the lowest possible price.

Visit Bluewater Travel or email for more info.



Protect the Sharks

Shark conservation efforts have been increasing in recent years but still need all the support they can get. Whether you have some extra time, a useful skill or even a small financial contribution to make, both shark non-profits below (and any others) would love to hear from you.









Carolyn Wang  |  Cormac McCreesh  |  Kadu Pinheiro  |  Goran Butajla  |  Rafn Ingi Finnsson  |  Ron Watkins  |  Scott Gietler



About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Dive Ancient Ruins of Lion City in Qiandao Lake

Carolyn Wang
Explore 1,400 year-old ruins, submerged for over 50 years in Eastern China


Dive the Ancient Ruins of Lion City in Qiandao Lake

Explore 1,400 year-old ruins, submerged for over 50 years in Eastern China

Text and Photos By Carolyn Wang




Deep below the calm surface of Qiandao Lake in the Zhejiang Province of China lie the mysterious ruins of two ancient cities, dating back to the Han and Tang dynasties.




The Origins of Lion City

Qiandao Lake, also known as Thousand Island Lake, is a sprawling body of fresh water, covering 573 sq. km. The name comes from the fact that there are over a thousand islands in the lake. Qiandao Lake was created in 1959 when the valley at the base of the Wu Shi (Five Lion) mountain was flooded to create the Xin'anjiang Reservoir and Xin'an River hydroelectric station.


Aerial view of Qiandao Lake. Photo by Chinese National Geography.


This was a massive government project that forced 290,000 people to relocate their homes as more than 1,300 villages and tens of thousands of acres of farmland were flooded and submerged. In addition to the direct impact on the local residents, two ancient cities located in the valley at the foot of the mountain were also submerged into the lake.

It is believed the city of Shi Cheng (also known as Lion City, named for Wu Shi mountain) was built during the Tang Dynasty in 621 AD, making it nearly 1,400 years old. Based on records of the region’s history, it is thought to be quite large, possibly over 60 football fields, and featured 265 arches throughout the city.  Shi Cheng was also unusual in that it was constructed with 5 city gates and towers, as opposed to the norm of 4.  The city of He Cheng is believed to date back even further to the Han Dong dynasty (25 -200 AD).  

The cities lay undisturbed at the bottom of the lake, until recent rediscovery and exploration starting in 2001. The early divers found Shi Cheng to be largely intact, with many of the structures, carvings, guardian lions, and arches still preserved. There have been efforts to map & document Shi Cheng by divers and researchers, as well as looking into protective measures to prevent damage to it. In January of 2011, the cities were declared historical relics under the protection of the Zhejiang Province.


Book Your Dive Trip to China

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect dive trip for you. Visit for more info.


A closer look at one of Lion City’s many intricate carvings.


Getting There

There are very few dive operators running trips to Qiandao Lake. I opted to dive with Big Blue Scuba, based in Shanghai, as they have scheduled trips to dive the lake. In addition, Shanghai has a wide range of travel and accommodation options, along with many international and domestic flights to either Pudong Interational Airport (PVG) or Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA).

The Qiandao Lake dives were offered as a weekend package, including round trip transport between Shanghai and the lake, the dives, tanks and weights, food, and local accommodations. Nitrox and rental gear is available if needed.


Qiandao Lake on Google Maps.


From Shanghai it is approximately 400km to the small town of Dashuzhen near the southwestern edge of the lake, taking between 6-7 hours by car.  It was actually only 4 hours to reach the eastern edge of Qiandao Lake, however, you will still needed to navigate the local winding roads around the lake (some of which were still under construction) to reach the hotel in Dashuzhen.

Another option is to contact the Beijing Dragon Diving Club to see if they have any upcoming Qiandao Lake dives. Members of the club were the first to rediscover the underwater city in 2001.


At the Lake

Dashuzhen is a small and remote town with a handful of local shops and vendors. We stayed at a small hotel that was just 10-15 minutes by van to the dive staging area and boat dock. The hotel was fine for dive purposes (sleeping & showering) but it is definitely more on the adventurous of the accommodation scale. So if you choose to dive Qiandao Lake, be aware that you will not find any 4-star hotels near the dive sites.  It should also be noted that most of your food options while in Dashuzhen would be traditional Chinese dishes, prepared from fresh, locally farmed ingredients. This will undoubtedly thrill some people, while less adventurous eaters may have a tougher time.


The Dives

Because this is a lake dive, it is important to understand the differences between the conditions encountered here vs. clear ocean water. All divers were required to do an initial checkout dive in the lagoon, which only reached around 25ft in depth.   Visibility at the surface was 5ft at best, dropping down to a mere 6 inches in some places at the bottom of the lagoon. This quickly made us realize how quickly the visibility could deteriorate, how easily you could become separated from your guide and how disorienting the conditions could become. If any group members had lapses in buoyancy or improper kicking technique that disturbed the sediment at the ruins, the dive could be completely destroyed for everyone. 


Panoramic view of the calm waters of the lagoon at Qiandao Lake where we conducted our check out dive. 


The dive boat can hold 6-8 divers and was docked in the lagoon near the dive staging area where we prepped our gear and suited up. Bathrooms and showers are located at the staging area as well. The Lion City dive sites are about 10 minutes by boat from the dock, and we dove as a group of 3 with our guide. The lake itself becomes dark very quickly as you descend, and dive lights are mandatory as it essentially becomes a night dive as you near the ruins, which lie between 85 – 130ft below.


Your first glimpse of the ruins of Lion City will take your breath away. Clear structures appear out of the dark waters as you approach with your lights.  Thankfully the visibility at the ruins was much better than in the lagoon, topping out around 20-25 feet.


The beautiful city structures rise above you, covered with extensive carvings.


The upper right edge of an archway in Lion City.


Lion City (Shi Cheng) has been submerged in Qiandao Lake for over 50 years since the building of the Xin'anjiang Reservoir and Xin'an River hydroelectric station in 1959.


Another close up view of the ruins. Remarkable detail considering Lion City dates back nearly 1400 years to the Tang Dynasty.


A gorgeously detailed dragon and phoenix in Lion City.


It’s amazing to see the rich, 3-dimentional detail characterizing the carvings on the city structures. 


Free from the damages of sun, wind and rain, the lake has preserved the ruins relatively free of growth and intact.


Panels and carvings cover nearly the entire surface of this Lion City wall.


While it can be easy to stay fixated only on the animal carvings in the city, Chinese characters can also be seen carved into the walls, giving further context to the city.


Another section of intricate carvings and Chinese characters on the city walls.


Detailed carvings adorn the top of one of Lion City’s 265 archways.














As we explored further, you could see some of the ruins have begun to topple over time.  


Our guide getting a close up look at some of the looser stones from city structures. 














Photo left:  Both stone and wooden structures are visible at the ruins. The water actually preserves the wood quite well.  Some wooden beams that were recovered from Lion City during earlier dive expeditions quickly became damaged as they dried and shrank in the air.

Photo right: Interspersed amongst the structures, it was eerie to see the remnants of the trees that used to line the city when it was above water.


When To Go

Generally, April – October are the recommended months to visit, as there is warmer weather at the lake, and hopefully warmer water below the thermocline. The colder air temperatures Nov – March can make it uncomfortable for divers to do 3 dives in a day, particularly those diving in wetsuits. Depending on the time of year, the water temperature can range from 45-60F (7-16C).  

During my visit in early May, the air temperature was in the upper 70s to low 80s, with the surface water temperature in the low 70s – quite manageable upon entry. However, the water quickly dropped to a chilly 48F/8C below the thermocline.

For exposure protection, those diving wet first got into 3mm full wetsuits, and then had to contort themselves to get another 7mm wetsuit over it for 10mm in neoprene total, plus gloves and hoods. Even with that protection, several of the divers chose to cut their dives short either due directly to the cold temperature, or because they were consuming their air more quickly than usual from being cold while in the water.

I dove in a drysuit with similar undergarment layers to what I would wear in Southern California waters, and did not have any issues with the cold water temperature during the dives. I definitely recommend using a drysuit if you have one, particularly if you’re planning to do these dives for photo or video and are looking to maximize your dive time. After all, if you come this far to see the underwater cities, I don’t think you’ll want to cut your exploration short.


A last look at Lion City.


Photo Tips

Treat this like a night dive and bring lights, lights, and more lights. There is almost zero ambient light when you reach the ruins down at 85-130 feet. You’ll need lights for navigating, spotting/focusing your camera, and strobes or video lights. Don’t bother with a macro lens; a mid-range lens or wide-angle lens will be your best bet. Just keep in mind that if you choose to shoot wide-angle, you will be fighting with the sediment in the water and limited visibility of no more than 20-25 feet, so it can be difficult to get a shot without any backscatter.

The photos in this article were taking using a Sony RX-100 in a Recsea housing and a UWL-04 fisheye wet lens with dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. The video was filmed on a GoPro Hero 3 Black edition with two Sola video lights


VIDEO:  Diving Qiandao Lake & Lion City Ruins:

Filmed by Carolyn Wang and edited by Lawrence Wang.



About the Author

Carolyn Wang is video game marketing executive, PADI dive mistress, avid underwater photographer, and explorer for Bluewater Travel. She has a passion for diving with sharks and exploring unusual sites, and can often be found in California waters while plotting her next dive adventure abroad.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Diving into History: The Flooded Farms

Christian Skauge
Exploring a Flooded Valley, Farmhouse Ruins and an Underwater Forest in Norway


Diving into History: The Flooded Farms

Exploring a Flooded Valley, Farmhouse Ruins and an Underwater Forest in Norway

Text and Photos By Christian Skauge




Once upon a time there was no lake, only a peaceful valley with a small river running through it. Then the mountain above it started to rumble and a big rockslide came crashing down. Lake Lygnstøylsvatnet was born.

In the narrowest valley on the Norwegian west coast, Norangsdalen, rockslides and avalanches are very common. But not all of them create beautiful dive sites where an underwater photographer can frolic among remains of old dairy huts and the trees of a flooded forest.

In 1908, a huge rockslide closed off the small river Lygna, in Norangsdalen, and the water soon started to rise. After a few hours it became clear that it wouldn’t stop anytime soon and the farmers gathered the animals and their belongings and headed for safety further down the valley.


Remains of the old farmhouses in Lygnstøylsvatnet at 3 meters depth.
Nikon D300s, 10-20mm rectilinear, f/3.5, 1/160s, ISO 200


The long name of the lake is composed of three words - the river Lygna (meaning slow or quiet), støyl (a mountain summer pasture) and vatnet, which simply means lake. Luckily, you don’t have to pronounce the name to shoot some great images here.


Spectacular Scenery

Apart from being a great place to rinse your gear after diving in the ocean, lake Lygnstøylsvatnet offers spectacular scenery and often-great visibility – sometimes 40+ meters.

The lake bottom holds the remains of ten old farmhouses. The shallowest are found at just 3 meters depth and can be seen from the surface even before you enter the water.


Divers exploring the dairy hut remains in the lake.
Nikon D200, 10-20mm rectilinear, f/5, 1/90s, ISO 100


Between the pastures there are rock fences, and at the very bottom the road runs next to the old riverbed, complete with the milestones still standing.

The best visibility is usually found in April or May, as soon as the winding mountain road opens after the winter. The lake is even prettier in late summer or fall when the bottom is covered in a lush green blanket of algae, but the trade-off is visibility.


The bottom is beautifully covered in green algae in late summer and fall.
Nikon D300s, 10.5mm fisheye, f/4.5, 1/200s, ISO 400


Straightforward Wide-Angle

There is not too much to be written about how to shoot images in a shallow lake like this. To a certain extent the quality of your images is determined by the visibility – but even in less than optimal conditions there is plenty to play with in terms of light and shadow and the eerie scenery.


The remains of an old gate in one of the rock fences.
Nikon D200, 10.5mm fisheye, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 125


Basically we’re talking relatively straightforward wide-angle shooting here, very often without strobes – at least it you want to capture those big underwater landscapes.

There is not much other than greens and browns in terms of color, and I often find strobes redundant. In clear water, adding a little extra ISO may help you achieve a stronger blue in your backgrounds.


The last remains to be discovered in the lake showed up in the summer of 2012.
Nikon D300s, 10.5mm fisheye, f/5, 1/160s, ISO 400


One thing that may cause a problem is the depth, or more accurately the lack thereof. All the cool stuff in the water is at 12 meters or shallower and you may quickly run into problems with the dynamic range of your camera sensor.

The images very often burn out at the top, especially if you shoot portrait (tall) images on a sunny day. Watching your angle and (of course) the histogram is very important as the amount of light hitting the sensor changes dramatically even with the slightest change in tilt.


Dramatic landscape with trees and boulders from an ancient rockslide.
Nikon D300s, 10-20mm recilinear, f/5, 1/60s, ISO 640


The trick is usually just to remember to shoot with the sun behind you – but even so, the big difference between light at the top and at the bottom of the frame may present challenges. Some of the scenes can be shot from above, which very effectively solves this problem, but you might instead end up with your own shadow in the image.


Sunballs and Light Rays

The moderate depth on the other hand allows for several different lighting opportunities. You can crank up the F-stop and play with sunballs or turn the shutter speed up and try to capture those beautiful shafts of light that occur when sunlight hits water.


Catching light shafts is easy - but watch out or the image will burn out at the top.
Nikon D200, 10.5mm fisheye, f/4.5, 1/80s, ISO 125


No matter what you choose, you be mesmerized by the magic scenery and all the photo opportunities that present themselves. The scenery is breath-taking and eerily quiet, and at no other time is diving more like flying than this; soaring weightless above the bottom like a giant bird.


The Flooded Forest

In the southern end of the lake you enter the magical realm of the flooded forest. Before you know it, you are surrounded by old trees with naked branches stretching towards the surface. 


Old trees stretching for the surface make interesting subject matter.
Nikon D200, 10.5mm fisheye, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 125


They sometimes look twisted and tormented and sometimes slender and peaceful. Often, algae hangs from the branches like dark veils, hiding what lies beyond. The feeling is eerie and even a little scary. Thoughts of trolls and underwater creatures not of this world easily come to mind.

Diving in Lygnstøylsvatnet is an unforgettable experience, and the resulting images are often unlike what most underwater photographers have in their portfolio.


Lens Choices

I usually choose to go with either a 10.5 mm fisheye or a 10-17 mm fisheye zoom lens, but I’ve also had good results using a Sigma 10-20 mm rectilinear wide-angle zoom lens, which doesn’t curve the edges of the image.

The shallow depth dives you plenty of time to explore and discover and you can even surface to change lenses or to get your bearings straight if you’re looking to return from where you came.

As an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about rinsing your camera rig when you’re done – that’s pretty much taken care of!




Lygnstøylsvatnet is located on the Norwegian west coast, not far from the small town of Ørsta. The lake came into being after a rockslide in 1908, and today it offers one of the most spectacular photo dives in Norway.


An old image showing the dairy farm as it was before the rockslide in 1908. Photo by A.B. Wilse shot prior to the rockslide, reproduced from an info sign at the lake.


Link to Google maps:,7.426758&sspn=7.521742,19.753418&ie=UTF8&ll=62.17584,6.728439&spn=0.014783,0.038581&z=15




About the Author

Christian Skauge is a former Nordic Champion of underwater photography and has won several international photo contests. He writes articles about diving and underwater photography and is published regularly in magazines around the world. He also runs underwater photo and marine biology workshops. Check out his website for more info:


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Diving Cozumel: A Photo Essay

Brent Durand
Exploring Fabled Reefs & Visiting Resorts on Assignment for Bluewater Travel


Diving Cozumel: A Photo Essay

Exploring Fabled Reefs & Visiting Resorts on Assignment for Bluewater Travel

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

December 2013




Cozumel has a reputation as a world-class dive destination and ranks high on many U.S. divers’ wish lists. I love adventure and wide-angle photography, so when the opportunity came to visit a few resorts and shoot underwater photos on behalf of Bluewater Travel, I jumped at the opportunity. The plan was to visit 4 resorts in 7 days and dive as much as possible around a busy work schedule.

Cozumel is a small island located off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It sits across the channel from Playa Del Carmen, about an hour south of Cancun, and divers have the opportunity to explore many dive sites that comprise a section of the Mesoamerican Reef (second largest barrier reef in the world). To learn more about Cozumel diving, check out Bluewater Travel’s Cozumel Dive Travel page.

Drift diving is the name of the game in Cozumel and can present some minor challenges for underwater photography, but hey, that’s what makes it fun. Check out my article Diving on the Drift for tips on shooting while drift diving. And macro shooters need not fear, as there are some fun subjects to track down while beach diving off the resorts.

Below is a small sampling of photos from diving Cozumel followed by info on the resorts visited. Breathe deep and enjoy.


Schoolmaster snapper hover above the reef at Yucab.


A small dome port adds a nice effect to a small school of white margates at Tormentos.


A simple composition showcasing yellow tube sponges at the San Francisco Shallows.


The usual suspects: Hawksbill turtle, french angelfish and yellowhead wrasse.


Massive swim throughs that I can only describe as "hobbit-like". This scene is from Palancar Deep.


A diver exits a swim through at Palancar Deep.


Keep an eye out for nurse sharks and giant moray eels.


Many fish like to hide out behind coral heads, presenting colorful photo opportunities.


Macro photographers will find some great subjects off the beach, including this juvenile drum fish.


Orange sponges create vivid contrast with the clear, blue water.


Trusted dive operations use very experienced dive guides and expert boat drivers.




Cozumel Resort Highlights



Scuba Club Cozumel

Overview:  A resort built by divers for divers with a longstanding reputation, full-service dive operation on-site, unlimited beach diving and a hassel-free Cozumel experience.

Dive Operation:  Fantastic dive operation in-house.

Who Should Go:  Serious divers looking for a hassel-free trip while becomming friends with other divers and staff.

More info on Scuba Club Cozumel




Presidente InterContinental

Overview:  With breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea and an in-house dive operation, Presidente InterContinental Resort & Spa is an intimate, elegant and relaxing destination on the island of Cozumel.

Dive Operation:  Scuba Du, located on-site, provides an exceptional dive experience.

Who Should Go:  Divers who value exlegant dining and a quiet beach to relax when not diving.

More info on Presidente InterContinental




Cozumel Palace

Overview:  A premier choice of all-inclusive resorts for divers and families in Cozumel, offering an unforgettable dive trip experience with luxury accomodations.

Dive Operation:  Aqua Safari location on-site.

Who Should Go:  Anyone looking for an all-inclusive trip where you can dive in the morning and then enjoy drinks and poolside entertainment.

More info on Cozumel Palace




Living Underwater

Overview:  High-caliber dive operator offering personalized small group dive experiences from any Cozumel resort, with a fast boat, large steel tanks and extra care for photographers.

Who Should Go:  Small groups and those interested in a personalized dive experience.

More Info on Living Underwater




Hotel Cozumel & Resort

Overview:  A comfortable dive resort located right next to town, Hotel Cozumel is a great destination for divers interested in combining diving with dinners in town and a personal choice of dive operators.

Dive Operation:  Dive Paradise location on-site.

Who Should Go:  Divers interested in exploring town or booking independent dive operators.

More info on Hotel Cozumel & Resort



Have you Visited Bluewater Travel yet?

Bluewater Travel is a new scuba travel agency from UWPG's publisher, Scott Gietler, dedicated to providing outstanding personalized service combined with a great online resource to book the best trips possible.

Bluewater Travel would like to book your next trip!  

Email for more info or visit:



About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Diving into Egyptian History: Cleopatra's Palace

Wessam Atif
The Rediscovery of Cleopatra’s Sunken Palace & Diving it Today

Diving into Egyptian History

The Rediscovery of Cleopatra’s Sunken Palace & Diving it Today

Text and Photos By Wessam Atif


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Diver approaching the head of a sunken Sphinx, a remnant decoration of the sunken palace of Cleopatra. Continue reading to see a photo of the body of the Sphinx.


1400 years ago in Egypt there was a terrible earthquake and a huge tsunami that hit the coast of the great city of Alexandria. It sank the island of Antirhodos, taking down queen Cleopatra’s palace and Alexandria’s old lighthouse, once a wonder of the ancient world.

Today we dive where Antirohodos Island once was, taking you on a journey to see and enjoy what’s left of Cleopatra’s sunken palace under the sea of Alexandria.


Site History

The city of Alexandria was founded in 332 BC by Alexander the Great, conquering Egypt in a conquest to expand his vast empire. After Alexander’s death, Greek occupation of Alexandria lasted 300 years until the start of Cleopatra’s reign. Queen Cleopatra was a full-blooded Greek and a mighty Egyptian Pharaoh. Her palace was spectacular - a landmark and symbol or her power. She ruled Egypt and spent much time creating alliances with Roman leaders to keep them from occupying Egypt. Tragically, she took her own life when she felt her efforts were about to fail, thinking Roman invasion was imminent.

The earthquake and tsunami that sank the island of Antirhodos occurred a few centuries after Cleopatra’s death, destroying and scattering the palace under about 10 meters of murky water in a small bay. Little was known of Cleopatra’s palace until the 1990s, when French archeologist Franck Goddio stumbled across the ancient writings of a Greek historian named Strabo. Strabo described the great city of Alexandria and the island of Antirhodos, which seemed to be located in a bay near by the city’s shore. In these writings Strabo also described Queen Cleopatra’s palace, built on that same island.


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Diver checking an old bowl, most likely used to store food or water in ancient Egyptian times. Canon PowerShot S110, Nauticam housing, Inon wide angle wet lens and dome, ambient light. F3.2, 1/60, ISO 200.


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Diver hovering over the remains of the sunken palace of Cleopatra. We can see what seems to be remains of red granite pillars and columns from the ancient times.
F3.2, 1/80, ISO 200.


Rediscovery of the Site

Franck Goddio, who is also the President of the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology, spent 10 years planning an expedition to uncover the secrets of Cleopatra’s sunken palace, determined to find and bring it back to light.

 While exploring the sunken island of Antirhodos during the expedition, guided only by Strabo’s ancient descriptions, Goddio's team started to find clues: a wreck of an ancient cargo ship more than 30 meters long, jewelry, hairpins, rings and glass cups.

In the late 1990s, divers discovered the remains of ancient docks at the eastern side of the island as well as a series of giant columns/pillars made of red Egyptian granite with shattered pottery beneath them. There were more than 60 pieces, each 4 feet in diameter and 7 meters in length.

Ancient paintings indicate the columns/pillars acted as a ceremonial gateway to the island. Each column had a decorated crown on top and together they created a magnificent entrance - one fit for a queen.

Inspired and dedicated, Goddio’s team finally found the wooden foundation of Cleopatra’s palace, carbon dating it to approximately 200 years before her birth. Because of this, Goddio believes Cleopatra inherited the palace. The team also discovered statues believed to be part of Cleopatra’s shrine/temple, a statue of her high priest and 2 perfectly preserved sphinxes (spiritual guardians of temples).


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

The remains of a red granite pillar or perhaps a tower. F3.2, 1/60, ISO 200.


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Part of a broken vase/container with side handle, found among the relics of the sunken palace of Cleopatra. F2.8, 1/25, ISO 200.


Diving Cleopatra's Palace Today

Unfortunately for divers, all the well-preserved pieces Goddio dug out have been taken out of the water to tour the world museums. These are the images you’ll see when searching for Cleopatra’s palace on the Internet. The team took detailed photos of everything before lifting it, but that’s not quite the same as diving among the historic relics. That said, there are still some artifacts for divers to see today and you can feel the presence of history all around you underwater.

Diving the Mediterranean might take some getting used to if you only dive tropical water. Waves can be big and strong, while visibility is a serious issue that you should never underestimate, especially if you’re planning to take photos. Vis is less than 1 meter in some locations and a maximum of 4 to 5 meters on a good day. Sometimes you may even have to hold the hand of your dive guide during descent. It's well worth it though.

The site is really shallow, just 5 to 8 meters, which gives you plenty of bottom time. You can see many of the columns of the palace, huge stones everywhere, big bowls used in ancient times to keep water or food and two Sphinxes. The Sphinx that appears in the photos of this article had its head separated from its body. You may also see stones with ancient Egyptian writings on it if the visibility is good enough (by good enough I mean more than 2 meters).

In conclusion, diving Cleopatra’s palace is an amazing experience as long as you know what to expect. You will not see the detailed artifacts shown in museum photos, but you will find interesting diving in one of the oldest historical sites underwater. It’s an unforgettable dive experience.


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

Diver checking a crown or a base of a red granite pillar/column. F3.2, 1/60, ISO 200.


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

An old vase or amphora laid against other remains of Cleopatra's palace. F2.8, 1/30, ISO 200.


Scuba diving Cleopatra's palace

The body of a Sphinx (head was separated) found near Cleopatra’s shrine. You can see the body of the lion, including the crease and curve of the thigh on the right side. The head appears in the first photo of this article. F3.2, 1/60, ISO 200.


About the Author

Wessam Atif is an Environmental Health Doctor, originally from Egypt but living in the Philippines. His passion is underwater photography and diving, and he is fascinated by the history of Alexandria - once the greatest city in the world. His photography experience is 3 yrs and almost one year shooting underwater. Wessam's work has been published in Practical Photography Magazine, BBC wildlife Magazine and Gulf news.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



The Bali Muck Diving Experience

Patricia Gunderson
Macro Heaven with Unqiue Critters that should be on Every Underwater Photographer's List

The Bali Muck Diving Experience

Macro Heaven for Underwater Photographers

Text and Photos by Patricia Gunderson


boxer crab

Boxer crab (Lybia tessellata) with eggs.


Bali was a dive destination I had never considered prior to my first trip - a prize for winning 1st place supermacro in the 2011 Ocean Art Contest. Looking back, it makes sense that the prize would be to a destination that was known for nudibranchs and supermacro photo opportunities.


My prize was a week in a private bungalow at Villa Markisa in Tulamben, Bali. I had heard about muck diving in Indonesia, but having done most of my diving in the Pacific Northwest I really did not know what to expect. I took the trip and finally experienced the wonders of muck diving in January 2013, intending to visit different places and dive other areas of Bali. Plans changed after experiencing the great diving and the wonderful relaxing atmosphere at Villa Markisa, and we stayed at the resort until we had to leave for the airport. The bungalow was beautiful and comfortable, with lots of room to relax between diving, the food was great and the Balinese outdoor bathroom was a real treat. Lush foliage next to the shower made rinsing off from so many dives a pleasure.

villa markisa pool

A view of the water from the pool at Villa Markisa.


            January is the low season in Bali and it rains in the afternoons, but I was very glad to have visited then and plan to go again at the same time of year when I get another chance. The conditions were wonderful for photographers. Since there were only a few people at the resort, the excellent service was made even better by the fact that often there were only two people diving. There was always something new to see and with the dive guides spotting critters there was no lack of photographic opportunities.

Much of the diving is muck diving because of the very fine consistency of the sand. Patches of life are everywhere on the muck slopes with chances to sight rare critters, which is incentive to keep your eyes open on every dive. There were many of the creatures I have only seen in photos and that are much sought after in muck diving. Here are a few:


A Skeleton Shrimp with an Interesting color.


The much sought-after Donut Doto.


golden mantis

A Golden Mantis Shrimp. This species of Mantis comes flying out of it's burrow and spears it's prey - a sight I would love to see.


tiger shrimp

A juvenile Tiger Shrimp with it's prey.


On every dive, the guides would point out far more critters and nudibranchs than I would ever be able to photograph on one trip. There were so many Opisthobranchs that it was difficult for me to choose a few to present in this article.



One of my favorites,Thecacera Sp. I have seen this species called Pikachu because of its appearance.



Cyerce kikutarobabai, not a Nudibranch but a Sacoglossa, which I am told is a rare sighting.



Chromodoris collingswoodi, with eggs.



Favorinus tsuruganus, with its spectacular rhinophores.


My favorite diving on this trip was night diving on the house reef at Villa Markisa. The macro and supermacro life at night is constantly on the move and there was never any lack of interesting subjects. On one night dive I had to leave my camera behind and watched a Jawfish dance in and out of its den. I also saw many other critters I would not have seen if I were focused on the viewfinder of my camera. I am glad that I had this opportunity and recommend diving without a camera (once in a while) to all photographers.



A Doto sp 7 surrounded by more Skeleton Shrimp than you can count.



A striking Cowry that contrasts with the dark sand.


cocunut octopus

Octopus were out and about hunting at night. This tiny Coconut octupus made a great subject.



This tiny juvenile Marble Shrimp is my favorite critter from the trip. Our divemaster, Dharma, found it for me on my last dive, a night dive of course.


            I have to say that the wide-angle opportunities were also excellent in Bali, but I have chosen to showcase the tiny muck-diving critters and night diving. If you choose to visit Villa Markisa you will have many photographic opportunities, great service and meals, and the opportunity to walk down to the beach beyond the dive center to some great muck diving and some of best night diving I have ever done.

            My thanks to Christiane and Pedro who were great hosts at Villa Markisa, and especially to Christiane for making sure I had the opportunity to dive a variety of sights with fantastic macro photography opportunities. My only regret was that I did not have more time there to better learn the behavior of the creatures I saw.



About the Author

I have always loved the water and been fascinated with what lives in it. I've been diving since 1995 and began shooting photos shortly afterwards, but it was not until the world went digital and I bought a D70 and Subal housing that any of my photos were worth anything (aside from a sad memory of my diving). I thank the digital era for giving me a passion for underwater photography and underwater creatures of all kinds.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Socorro Workshop Photos & Report

Todd Winner
Incredible Photos: Sharks, Dolphins, Whales and Mantas!

Socorro Workshop Photos & Report

Sharks, Dolphins, Whales and Mantas!

Text by Todd Winner. Photos by Todd Winner and Workshop Guests




Socorro is one of those magical underwater places like Galapagos, Malpelo, and Cocos Island. It is a premier big animal destination and one of the few places on earth where divers can easily interact with dozens of sharks on every dive - without the use of bait. There are three islands that are typically visited on a Socorro trip: San Benedicto, Socorro and Roca Partida.  

The only way to get to the islands is by boat. We held our Socorro workshop on the Rocio Del Mar liveaboard. The Rocio is a comfortable 110-foot vessel that can accommodate up to 20 guests, typically diving the islands from November through the end of May.


Getting There

The Socorro Islands lie 250 miles off Baja Mexico's southern shore. Guests arrive and depart in San Jose del Cabo, which conveniently has flights from many international destinations. After boarding the Rocio, it takes approximately 24 hours to arrive at the islands.


The Diving

We had anticipated Mantas to be the main attraction for this trip. Unfortunately, the water was unusually cold and the Mantas were not at their cleaning stations. Situations like this are one of the unpredictable things with underwater photography and big animals. There's always going to be some level of unpredictability. The cold water did have one advantage - the humpback whales were still around even though they are typically only sited in the winter months. We had a nice underwater encounter with them on one dive and got to see numerous breaches. Over the past few years, bottle nose dolphins have been interacting with divers in Socorro and everyone on our trip got a few great encounters. Sharks can be seen on almost every dive. White tip sharks are found sleeping in every crack and crevasse, and Galapagos and silky sharks swim along with divers in the current. Hammerhead sharks are more elusive but were still sighted on many of the dives.  

Water temps typically range 78-82F, but it did occasionally get colder on our trip. I used a 5mm along with a hooded vest. Currents can also be very strong around the islands. In fact, on the second day at Roca Partida, we encountered a vortex that was strong enough to hold onto one of our divers for six minutes.  This was a very rare phenomenon and probably not likely to repeat itself, but it is important to be a competent and fairly fit diver before going to destinations like Socorro.















Photo Workshops

Every afternoon we had a short discussion on a particular topic, such as balanced lighting, Lightroom adjustments or any other subject the majority of guests were interested in covering. Throughout the week, there was plenty of time to get in some one on one time and review images. It is always a pleasure to be around other photographers that share your interests and to be able to swap knowledge.



Conclusion & Guest Photos

We got some great images and were lucky to have some fantastic snorkel encounters with mantas near the end of the trip. It just wasn't the cleaning station mantas we had expected. The humpbacks were incredible to witness and the sharks are always exciting to dive with.

Please check out the Underwater Photography Guide trips page for more of our upcoming workshops!


Photo: Drew Collins

Photo: Jeffrey Sheppard

Photo: Joe Morris

Photo: Jon Churchill

Photo: Michael Hardman

Photo: Michael Strole

Photo: Phil Symonds

Photo: Michael Hardman


About the Author

Todd Winner is a professional underwater photographer and cinematographer, PADI scuba instructor and owner of Winner Productions, a boutique post production facility catering to Hollywood's most elite cinematographers. Since taking up underwater photography in 1990, Todd Winner has won over 60 international underwater photo competitions. His images have been published in numerous magazines and online publications. His work has been featured in commercial advertising, museums and private galleries.  To see more of Todd's work or join him on an underwater workshop, please visit


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Alor: Indonesia's Secret Gem

Victor Tang
Epic Diving for Adventure Seekers

Alor: Indonesia's Secret Gem

Epic Diving for Adventure Seekers

Text and Photos by Victor Tang




Indonesia is an undisputed scuba diving haven, with a vast archipelago comprised of dive destinations catering to every taste and budget. If you poll divers on the best Indonesia dive destinations, names like Raja Ampat, Lembeh, Bali and Ahe are bound to be at the top of the list. But many feel that Alor has a resident Mola Mola population sighted more frequency than in Bali, macro subjects every bit as interesting as those in Lembeh, reef conditions that are arguably on par with Raja Ampat and possible whale sightings at any moment. How is it that such a highly rated dive location be relegated to an afterthought among scuba divers?

One plausible reason could be that information about Alor remains hard to find on the Internet. Most info comes directly from local dive operators, which some might view skeptically until they have actually dived there. Dive operators paint an interesting picture on rustic accommodations offering intermittent access to electricity - an essential lifeline for underwater photographers. This perception of Alor sounded exactly like the place that I thrive on, so I decided to head south and check it out myself. (Disclosure: I “cheated” and dived with the only dive operation out of Kalabahi, the only urban oasis on Alor, so I had 24 hour electricity for all my camera needs)



Alor has been on the scuba diving radar for longer than one expects, and a significant moment on my Alor adventure was to be able to meet the man who discovered Alor’s riches more than 18 years ago: Donovan Whitford. While running a dive operation in Kupang, West Timor, Donovan ran exploration trips around the Nusa Tenggara Timor Islands (which incidentally encompass Komdo). On one of these trips to the area around Alor Island they reached the southern part of the Pantar Straits and ended up staying for the rest of their expedition. Donovan has been organizing trips to Alor since then. The Pantar Strait, which is in between 2 islands collectively termed the Alor Archipelago, has yet to be fully explored. On every return trip there are new sites to dive, recently discovered by the locals.


If you thought traveling to Raja Ampat was tough…

I’m lucky to be based in Singapore, the undisputed hub for traveling within Southeast Asia, and there are flights aplenty to the Indonesian capital Jakarta, which has the best connections to Kupang - the only gateway to Alor. Even then, reaching Alor will take 2 days of travel, as one reaches Kupang in the evening and flights to Alor only depart in the earlier half of the day. But at least that flight is only 45 minutes!


Alor Underwater

The diving map of Alor can be broadly classified into 2 main areas: Kalabahi Bay for macro photography and the Pantar Strait for wide-angle.


Kalabahi Bay


Kalabahi Bay is a long and narrow bay, flanked on both sides by mountains. The boat takes about an hour to get across the bay, which would be a good chance to catch a quick nap before the first dive, however the resident pod of dolphins and juvenile yellow fin tuna keep you awake with their daily duels. Alor is essentially an extinct volcano jutting out from the ocean, and all the dive sites in Kalabahi Bay are muck dives in black sand. The bay plunges to more than two hundred meters, which tricks whales into entering several times a year.


Kendi Bay

The abundance of soft coral strikes the diver when entering Kendi Bay and gives the site its name. Pause before getting in close to scout for macro subjects, because you might come eyeball to eyeball with one of the enormous Longspine Lionfish that use Kendi Bay as a resting spot between nocturnal hunts. Some of these lionfish are estimated to be as long as thirty centimeters! And while this is a great muck macro spot, the lionfish offer great Close Focus Wide Angle photo opportunities for those armed with mini dome ports.



Fire Dartfish. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F14 and 1/250s. Tamron 60mm.
Note:  All Photos shot with Nikon D600.



Synchronized Feeding by Porcelain Crabs. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105VR.



Harlequin Sandperch. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F3.5 and 1/320s. Nikon 105 VR.


Pink Forest

Muck diving sites are generally stereotyped as “deserts” relatively devoid of coral compared to their white sand counterparts, but this muck dive promises to debunk that stereotype. A gentle slope that evens out at twenty meters, the site filled with pink soft coral for most the dive. On one dive Murphy’s Law caught up with me when I learned my macro lens was set on manual with no focus gear, so I decided to enjoy looking for new critters on the dive, seeing species new-to-me like the Harlequin Swimming Crab and the Yellow Sea Cucumber. Rare nudibranchs are often found as they come out to bask in the sun, with crustaceans lurking in almost any crevice you care to look into.



Yellow Spotted Anemone Shrimp.. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F32 and 1/250s. Nikon 105 VR. Subsee +10 Diopter.



Needle Cuttlefish. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F22 and 1/160s. Tamron 60mm.


Ferry Harbor and Bus Station

Ferry Harbor operates as the only nautical gateway out of Alor, and the Bus Station is named for the sunken bus that was there for years until it was recently salvaged for scrap. Any dive at these places features the weird and the wonderful. Spanish Dancers are sighted very frequently at both sites, with the Ferry Harbor singled out as a great nursery, its large pylons and ample rubbish offering the perfect refuge. Sea urchins are huge; their long spines used for protection by juvenile devil fish and pufferfish. The silt at the bottom is as fine as it gets, so an errant whisk of a fin could mean losing sight of your dive buddy’s light even though he or she is just beside you.



Commensal Shrimp. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F4.5 and 1/320s. Nikon 105VR.



This site is very special, for its name is attributed to the first divers to enter its waters that day: my guide, dive buddy and I. Threesome is a classic muck diving site, its creatures well camouflaged among the black and well hidden under the nooks and crannies. Patience is the key here, for if you stay still long enough little movements seize your attention, and dragonets start to come out to feed. There are lots of shrimp and lobster to be found here, tending to stand their ground against the invader (you), allowing you time to plan and frame that perfect shot.



Bicolor Parrotfish. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F22 and 1/250s. Nikon 105 VR.



Coleman’s Phyllodesmium. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO400. Manual mode at F22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105 VR.



Sailing out of Kalabahi Bay and into the Pantar Strait, the underwater landscape changes dramatically. Diving the sites around the Pantar Strait revolves around a central theme: coral cover, fish life and more coral cover. Fed by incoming currents from the Indonesia Sea and the Pacific Ocean, visibility did not fall below twenty-five meters on any of the dives in the strait during my trip, at times reaching forty meters or more. All this, along with cloudless skies and a relenting sun, makes for some glorious diving. Below are some of the sites not to be missed.


The Edge

My first taste of diving in the Pantar Strait was at a site called The Edge. Situated on the northeast of Ternate Island, diving at The Edge starts with a gentle slope packed full of soft coral down to ten meters and an abrupt drop off that plunges beyond one hundred meters. Strong and unpredictable currents here mean average individual coral sizes stay relatively small, but in unbelievable densities and varieties. There seems to be no end to this steep wall, and as the dive computer reminds you it’s time to leave, you ascend knowing this site has much more to offer. I thought I had seen complete coral cover blanketing a seascape, but that was before visiting Alor. This is one of those times where one has to have been there to really understand.















Photo left: Reefscape Photo-ops Galore. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F16 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.
Photo right: Fleeing the Scene. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F18 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.



On the south side of Ternate Island lies Babylon, named after the overhangs on the wall, which feature combinations of hard and soft coral that inspired the name. Most of the action is between fifteen to twenty-five meters, and with thirty-meter visibility and a strong sun it is possible to be bathed in sun rays for the entire dive. This is a site where both wide angle and macro opportunities are abundant, as many nudibranchs can be spotted basking in the daylight.















Photo left: Coral Tower. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F16 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.
Photo right: Alor is sunburst heaven. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F18 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.


Kel’s Dream

This is the marquee site of Alor, for it promises a lot of big pelagics and large schools of fish. A submerged pinnacle starting at five meters and buffeted by currents most of the day, this is one site where local knowledge is absolutely crucial. Most liveaboards that make stops here do not have the best timing and the dive conditions aren't ideal. When the currents are ripping the waters surround the pinnacle resemble a druid’s cauldron, and even calm conditions on the surface bear no indication of the conditions below. Even when conditions are right to visit Kel’s Dream the anticipated pelagics may not be there. The risk is worth the reward because when you hit the jackpot it could be the best dive of your life. Here is what I saw on one of the dives:

  • THREE 2-meter long napoleon wrasses
  • A school of about 200 surgeon fish
  • A seemingly endless train of 1-meter long rainbow runners (1 meter you say? One of the boatman caught one while we were diving below)
  • Giant trevallies
  • One fearless dogtooth tuna

Diving can get very good at Kel’s dream, but if the party doesn’t show up the pinnacle itself is a very great consolation, the coral cover and variety no less impressive than other sites. Macro is also pretty good with nudibranchs precariously hanging on and blennies popping out to have a look at the commotion.



Crystal clear waters. Taken at ISO200 in ambient light. Manual mode at F3.5 and 1/1600s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.



More than just fish life at Kel’s Dream. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F14 and 1/125s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.


The Bullet

A channel that lies between the pinnacle at Kel’s Dream and Alor Island itself, it is called The Bullet because the water that gets compressed through pinnacle and landmass can get very swift, bringing along some big photo subjects. The site is a good backup if Kel’s Dream is not dive-able. It is the one place where hammerhead sharks can be reliably seen, which draws divers who will brave the currents. No hammerheads on my dive but a there were a couple of large black tips and turtles drifting with us. Do not just focus on the blue water on this dive, for behind you is arguably one of the prettiest reefs anywhere on earth. It has just the right balance of hard and soft coral with fish life so picturesque it might literally take your breath away.



Alor In A Nutshell. Taken at ISO200 in ambient light. Manual mode at F3.5 and 1/640s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.



Xenia Soft Coral. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F22 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.


The Cathedral

One of the most southerly dive sites in the Pantar Strait, there is a swim-through at thirty-five meters that exits at twenty meters. Entering it at the right time means the sun dominates the view at the exit, lighting up the reef in a sea of sunrays and creating a somewhat ecclesiastical experience. The reefscape is unique from other sites in Alor, with reefs covered in kelp resembling a savannah, combined with dense coral cover and fish life so rich that at times the anthias block the view. This site is special personally, for while preparing for the dive a huge fin emerged from the water and seemed to wave at us. It was my first time seeing a mola mola sunning itself! It stayed on the surface for a good ten minutes before disappearing. Upon further investigation this appears to be common at the Cathedral, and there is an estimated population of slightly more than a hundred mola mola that inhabit its deep waters.














Photo left: Nowhere To Rest. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F14 and 1/250s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.
Photo right: Gorgonian Creativity. Taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at F13 and 1/320s. Tokina Fisheye at 10mm.


Diving Alor – Not for Beginners

I have included this little section as a moral duty to divers that do want to go Alor. Diving in Alor is not easy. The currents can be strong and direction unpredictable, and there is never a dive in the Pantar Strait where the water is still. One can safely assume that any dive in the Pantar will be akin to Crystal Bay in Bali. Even in Kalabahi Bay while muck diving there will be a slight drift depending on the tides. Water temperatures can plummet at any time due to the expansive thermoclines that rise from the deep. To fully enjoy the beauty of Alor, divers must have a high degree of water confidence and safety equipment like a Surface Marker Buoy. A Russian instructor looking for somewhere exotic to bring his students scrapped the idea after one dive, so Alor is recommended for highly experienced divers.


Conservation Efforts in the Alor Archipelago

Commercial fishing, which has been so destructive to many other dive destinations in Indonesia, is not existent here. The main methods of fishing employed by the sparse population are hand lines and traditional underwater fish traps. This means that the fisheries are entirely sustainable. Overall conditions in Alor create an amazing rate of coral growth. Mr. Whitford relates to me a story about how an errant anchor from a tugboat created a one hundred meter-long scar on one of the reefs, and upon returning two weeks later the scar was almost unnoticeable. A tremendous recovery rate.

The area has been declared the “Alor Marine Park” by authorities, making it arguably one of the least visited marine parks in Indonesia, and we hope it stays that way.














Photo left: The Fishing Industry In Alor
Photo right: Future Workers of the Tourist Trade



A Fish Trap


Alor: You Could Have a Change Of Heart, If Only You Change Your Mind

I knew from the outset that exploring Alor would be an epic adventure, and it did not disappoint. The journey there was filled with potentially crippling sagas, but thankfully the diving was epic. Alor has undoubtedly one of the most pristine marine environments with organized scuba diving in Indonesia. The absence of commercialism makes it relatively inaccessible, but I have a feeling it is precisely this halcyon environment that makes Alor such a wonderful diving paradise. On my final boat ride back to Kalabahi my mind advises that I should try my best to ratchet up the negatives and keep Alor to myself, but my instinct compels me to shout out, “Come! Come before the crowds eventually do!”


I Will Come Back


About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.


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