Advance your Skills with Underwater Photography Workshops

Ron Watkins
Tips to Get the Most out of your Next Underwater Photography Workshop

 

Advance your Skills with Underwater Photography Workshops


Tips to Get the Most out of your Next Underwater Photography Workshop

Text and Photos By Ron Watkins

 

 

 
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Whether you are brand new to underwater photography or an advanced shooter, photo workshop dive trips are an excellent way to learn and improve your skills. They are also a great way to meet like-minded people and expand your u/w photography network.  When the u/w photography bug bit me, I decided to take a liveaboard workshop. At the time, I thought it was really expensive and that I should spend the money on more equipment rather than instruction. Looking back, it was the best investment I have made and after the hands-on instruction, critiques, feedback and in-water demonstration I had solid fundamentals to quickly advance my image quality.

Workshop trips feature instructors that are professional or accomplished photographers who are familiar with various techniques, equipment, destinations and enjoy sharing their love of underwater photography with others. There are a wide variety of photo workshops in various destinations, with different durations, focus and price levels. Live-aboard dive trips will maximize your bottom time and land based resort trips will offer additional topside opportunities. As video becomes more popular, many of the trips will also include sessions and techniques on improving video. Selecting the right workshop is often a personal preference, but make sure that the trip selected is offered though a reputable organization that has years of proven experience and positive feedback. Do your research and when you are ready to invest in significantly advancing your skills, book early because the best trips fill up quickly.

 

While on a whale shark snorkel, a tiny filefish swims right up to the mask of this photographer. What would you do?

 

Preparation for the Workshop

Once you decide on a trip that is best for you, don’t just sit back until it is time to leave or you will not maximize the potential of the learning experience. Like anything in life, you will get out of the trip what you put into it. Follow these key steps to get the most out of your u/w photography workshop investment.

 

Determine What you Want to Take Away from the Workshop

The reason for attending a workshop depends on past experience, interests and how the person wants to grow as an underwater photographer. The following will help you determine what is important to you.

 

Basic u/w Photography Techniques

 

Proper equipment setup and care is critical before entering the water. Once set up, you need to know what your equipment can and can't do to in order to maximize success underwater.

 

Composition is key in photography, and learning about the rule of thirds, leading lines and other basics of composition is critical no matter what camera you're using.

 

Photo Techniques

 

Behavior photos tell interesting stories about underwater marine life. This wrasse was observed picking up clams and slamming them against a rock to get them to open. To capture images like this you have to be patient and often spend the entire dive anticipating a special moment like this. Other times it happens quickly and you have to be ready for the shot.

 

Wide-angle photography can be a challenge to learn because you need to have the right equipment, good control over your strobes and an understanding of how to shoot in manual mode. You can't be fumbling around with your strobes and camera settings when approaching a skittish school of sweetlips or they will scatter.

 

Shooting over-under split shots can be tricky, but with a few simple tips and tricks you can create images that will amaze even your non-diving friends. Add a model to the image and it will add an element everyone can relate to.

 

Fast action shots like this dolphin at night are easier to capture when you set a high shutter speed and preset your focal distance, waiting for the subject to swim into the focal plane (in sharp focus).

 

Combining the use of strobe light and ambient light is easy to learn if you know how to properly adjust your shutter speed and aperture. A diver silhouette and light rays are two other elements that can be added to make your image even more interesting.

 

 

Post Processing

 

Shooting RAW format provides the most flexibility in post processing your images. Converting to black and white can add a dramatic effect to some images, including this shark lit by ambient light beams.

 

 

Communicate Your Priorities to the Trip Leader

Once you prioritize the above items, you need to communicate them to the trip leader in advance so that they can be prepared. Not all trip leaders will be experts in every category, but if there is something important to you and they have time, they may research and practice the technique or determine if others on the trip may be experienced in those areas. The trip leader will also prepare material to cover the topics of interest and if needed possibly bring specialized equipment to use. Most good trip leaders will also send out an email well in advance of the trip requesting this information from the participants, but if they don’t, share it with them.

 

Inventory the Items in Your Toolbox

Several years ago I booked a photo workshop to Tiger Beach in the Bahamas and only brought a 10.5 fisheye lens. When I arrived to check-in at the office, Jim Abernathy asked me if I was using a 10-17mm lens because that is the only lens he shoots with and that the 10.5 would be very limiting. Luckily, I was able to find a lens and focus gear that same day before the trip started. If I had only communicated with Jim ahead of time, I could have avoided a lot of stress and a potential missed opportunity.

Making an inventory of your equipment is even more important before a workshop because the equipment needs to support the goals of the trip. If you want to try wide-angle for example, make sure you have the right lens, port, extension rings, focus rings, diopters, etc. that are required to effectively shoot wide-angle. Call experts at Bluewater Photo to make sure you have everything for the destination. Do this inventory well ahead of the trip so that if something needs to be ordered there is time for it to arrive and tested. If there is a critical piece of last-minute equipment missing from your inventory, contact the trip leader immediately and see if they can bring it for you from the shop or if they will have rental or demo equipment to use.

 

if you are looking to learn how to shoot better macro or super macro, make sure you have the proper macro lens, diopter and ports. One of the most important tools in macro photography  that is often overlooked is a high-lumen focus light.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

If it has been awhile since your last dive trip or you have new equipment, make sure you make time to practice with the new setup prior to departure. If there is no convenient access to local diving, jump in the pool and practice with kids, models, toys, dogs, etc. It is also a good idea to go online to sites like www.uwphographyguide.com and read the articles on topics of interest for the workshop.  There are also a number of excellent underwater photography books on the market for all levels and sometimes the trip leader will provide recommended reading prior to the trip to level set the group. You won’t be expected to be an expert on the equipment when you arrive at the workshop, but you should at least be confident in the new features and how to use them. Try not to show up like I did for the Bahamas trip with the equipment still in the box.

 

Why not fine-tune your camera settings and strobe positioning in a pool shooting sharks?

 

Before I take a new piece of equipment underwater, I always spend a fair amount of time mastering it above water. I tried out my new super macro setup in my office to learn the minimum focal distance, how to manual focus, how to shoot with and witout the diopter and the proper camera settings.

 

 

Research the Location

Before every trip, I do a lot of research on the location and marine life expected. Read previous trip reports, look at photo galleries from the location and talk to others that have been. Knowing what to expect and the types of images to capture is important. I like to have a list, or script, of the subjects and techniques to try out on each. Don’t just try to duplicate others work, but look for your own personal style and have the trip leader help you accomplish that.

 

Prep Computer Hardware and Software

Besides the usual laptop, backup drives, memory cards, card readers and power supplies, make sure you have downloaded the necessary software you want to use for post processing on the trip. If recommendations on software are not provided, make sure to ask. Many post processing packages offer 30-day trials, which provide a risk free way to try it out on the trip. After installing the software and downloading all of the upgrades, become familiar with the basics, practice importing images, playing with all of the different features and if possible, get an online tutorial on the basics of the package.

 

At the Workshop – Shoot, Review, Improve and Repeat!

When the day finally arrives, you will be well prepared to make the most of the workshop. Approach it as a learning experience where you can learn not only from the trip leader, but the others on the trip. Don’t be shy about asking for help, questions, and feedback on images or equipment. When asked by the trip leader to share images for the review sessions, don’t be shy and participate if you really want to improve. Don’t just provide your best shots either, but include the images that didn’t quite come out as planned. Listen closely to the feedback received and work on incorporating it.

Make it a point to dive with the trip leader or other experienced photographers on board and watch their style and technique (without screwing up their images). Also ask them before getting wet if they will also watch you and your technique. Once out of the water, discuss with them what they were doing and recommendations they have for you.

 

Summary

Underwater photography workshops are an investment on time, money and vacation days, so make sure to get a good return. Prepare for the trip like you are preparing for an important business meeting and do your research like you would for any investment. It is best to be humble on these trips and take all of the advice you can get. Get out of your comfort zone and try new techniques. Although many of these workshops have ‘friendly’ competitions at the end of the trip, don’t make winning it your main priority or you will miss some valuable lessons. Most of all, have fun, enjoy the trip, make new friends and appreciate the beauty of the underwater world and unique marine behavior. Like underwater photography itself, these workshops can be addictive and most likely you will find yourself going on additional trips with the same organizations, trip leaders and fellow photographers.

 

 

About the Author

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer, frequent contributor to underwater photography guide, and Bluewater Trip Leader. He has been passionate about underwater photography and marine conservation since the 90’s and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections. More of Ron’s photography may be viewed at www.scubarews.com.

 

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!


 

 
 
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The Packing Guide for Underwater Photographers

Brent Durand
Strategies for Bringing All the Gear you Need and Avoiding Excess Fees

The Packing Guide for Underwater Photographers


Strategies for Bringing all the Gear you Need and Avoiding Excess Fees

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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It’s that little knot of excitement in the bottom of your stomach that makes the pain of purchasing of an expensive airline ticket dissipate. Underwater photographers will start to dream about the reefs, large fish or tracking down an elusive critter and capturing an award-winning photograph. That photograph might be a shot from the hip or carefully researched and planned, resulting in a few Megabytes on a hard drive or maybe even a framed print. Either way, that little reward required moving loads of fragile equipment through several hostile environments: airports, cabs, boat loadings and remorseless baggage handlers.

There is no universal way to protect your camera and dive gear while avoiding airline weight restrictions and fees - everyone has an evolving system. I've been settling into a system that has been working really well, beating weight restrictions and allowing me to move quickly (and effortlessly) through airports with all my gear. This packing strategy is outlined below and includes some tips learned from very well-traveled photographers.

 

Underwater photography gear adds up quickly regardless of whether you're shooting a compact, mirrorless or DSLR camera.

 

Shaving Weight While Bringing the Gear you Need

 

There are three gear categories on my packing list and I try to follow the strategy of “bring what you need, nothing more and nothing less.” A home luggage scale is invaluable during the packing process and worth every penny.

 

Photo Gear

Will you really use that 70-200mm lens while diving 4x per day at a resort? Probably not. Do you need a full set of allen wrenches for that housing handle bolt? Nope, you just need a single allen key. Backup items (ie sync cords / fiber optic cables) are critical, so always bring those since it’s unlikely you can replace them while on the road. You could even earn good travel karma by loaning them to another diver in need.

 

Dive Gear

Underwater Photographers who frequently travel to warm water know that it pays to invest in lightweight (yet sturdy) dive gear because it takes little space and weight in your dive bag, leaving room for clothes and other items. A good travel BCD like the Scubapro LiteHawk will roll up into a lightweight bundle that takes little room in your dive bag. Unfortunately, cold water divers don’t have too many ways to save weight when it comes to drysuits, undergarments, backplates and other specialized gear.

 

Personal Items

This is another category that many new travelers can pair down for basic space and weight savings. One thing to remember is that while attire at many dive resorts/liveaboards is very casual, luxury resorts at some popular destinations have a restaurant dress code and you don’t want to be caught off guard.

 

 

Carry On vs. Checked Baggage

 

The real challenge in packing for underwater photography comes down to bag weight, whether carry-on or checked. Carry-on baggage is generally limited to 15-20lbs (7-9kg) while checked bags are limited to about 50lbs (22.5kg). This weight allowance disappears QUICKLY with camera gear.

 

Carry-On Packing

The packing goal for underwater photographers is to bring all critical elements as carry-on items. Not only does this protect your gear, but also eliminates risk of a lost checked bag. Starting with a light bag is essential, so ditch that carry-on Pelican case. In my opinion, a padded camera backpack and a compact roller bag with padded insert is the ideal combination.

On international flights it’s wise to assume that your carry-on bags will always be weighed. This happens no matter how much you smile, complement the employee, play stupid, bribe, distract, flirt or even reveal that you’re carrying fragile camera gear. Having a friend hold your carry-on out of sight during check-in is a great idea, but remember that you’ll need to go through the process again on the way back.

Domestic U.S. flights tend not to weigh carry-on bags so it’s usually not a problem to push past the weight limits. There are two caveats, however. First is that some flights use smaller jets that have small overhead compartments, forcing travelers to gate check larger "carry-on sized" roller bags. The second is that you need to board the plane as early as allowed in order to guarantee there's overhead space left for the roller bag.

 

A camera backpack and low-profile roller bag carry all crucial gear.

 

Roller Bag

I use a Scubapro Cabin Bag because it is light and small enough to fit in overhead bins of small planes where many carry-on rollers need to be gate-checked. The small size draws little attention and fits a padded camera insert that contains:

  • Housing with camera body inside (no front port to avoid pressure lock when flying). I remove one handle to make it fit horizontally.
  • Macro port
  • 4” dome port
  • Dual sync cord
  • Diopter and flip adapter

A view inside the roller bag.
Note: Roll carefully and pick up the bag if the ground is bumpy!

 

Backpack

I’ve been using the ThinkTank Shapeshifter backpack lately. It’s very comfortable, and even when expanded it has a soft shape that appears lighter and less flashy than a square camera backpack with the same capacity. This bag contains:

  • Laptop
  • Charger
  • 2x travel hard drives
  • Card reader
  • Fisheye lens
  • Macro lens
  • Wide-angle lens
  • Circular polarizer
  • Variable ND filter
  • 2x strobes
  • camera battery charger
  • Memory cards
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Earbud headphones
  • Sunglasses
  • Aluminum water bottle I fill up wherever I can (bringing a bottle saves plastic and helps to stay hydrated on long flights).
  • Note:  This bag is slightly above limits but looks light on my back and is not often weighed. If it is, I can stuff lenses into my pockets (note: wear clothes with big pockets) to meet the weight limit, then put them back in the bag after checking in.

All other gear is relegated to checked baggage, including strobe arms/clamps, strobe batteries, focus light and charger, strip charger, and depending on the destination, additional ports/dome, an extra strobe, video lights & chargers, topside lenses, tripod, etc.

Lenses, strobes, computer and accessories fit nicely in the backpack with plenty of extra room for miscellaneous carry-on accessories.

 

Checked Bag Packing

I use a full size Scubapro Porter dive bag for my gear and load it to about 47lbs. Gear is always a little bit wet when returning home, so plan for the extra weight before leaving. This bag contains my BCD, fins, regulators wrapped in a wetsuit and other dive gear.

Topside clothes are packed inside a lightweight dry bag that goes in this bag, along with non-critical toiletries and miscellaneous camera gear that didn’t make the cut as a carry-on item. The dry bag doubles as a bag I can carry onto the dive boat. This checked bag comes in right at 47-48lbs for warm water destinations.

For colder destinations it’s necessary to bite the bullet and check a second bag since the gear is heavier, bulkier and there is more topside clothing. Same thing for longer warm water trips or warm water trips where I'm bringing extra gear (video lights, extra ports/lenses, etc). For cold water I use a standard roller bag filled with clothes and drysuit undergarments, leaving extra space in the dive bag for heavy fins and larger cold water BCD. A hard Pelican case is nice if for those with a lot of fragile checked camera gear (i.e. extra housings, ports & camera bodies), but most people will be fine with a regular hard-sided roller bag if any "tough" camera gear inside is padded well. A regular bag is also more discrete in customs and on the street.

This bag combination was easy to transport (even without a cart) on a recent trip to dive the Puget Sound.

 

Three Items Not to Forget

  • Pen:  If you can’t fill out a customs form on the plane you might be at the back of the line once you track down a pen.
  • Headlamp:  You’ll appreciate having a headlamp when opening and closing your camera housing in dark areas.
  • Snack or Nutrition Bar:  Many international airports have limited food choices (if any) once through security and at the gate. You’ll be happy to have a snack to hold you over a few hours until food is served on the plane.

 

Other Packing Strategies & Tips

 

1.  For international trips on small planes with very strict weight allowances, try wearing a photographer’s vest. You might not receive the airport fashion award, but any camera bodies and lenses on your person don’t count towards checked bag weight!

2.  I prefer to pack the housing separate from the camera gear because I’m often in the water just hours before flying (snorkeling or freediving) and don’t want to put the wet housing in a sealed bag along with lenses and camera. I move the camera body (normally transported inside the housing) into the backpack if the housing is wet.

3.  Car Travel:  I do a fair amount of road trips to camp and dive with photo gear. There are no weight restrictions, however I still stick with just the gear I need and keep a very low profile because theft is always a possibility. Pelican cases are perfect here since they can be stored under other non-valuable camping gear and are protected from mud, water and other debris from roadtrip adventures.

 

Conclusion

Travel is fun, dive travel is even more fun and traveling to shoot underwater photos is extremely fun. Different trips require slightly different packing strategies but revolve around protecting the gear and beating airline weight restrictions. It’s important to look up the weight restrictions for your airline before every trip so that you show up to the airport packed like a pro and breeze through the check-in process.

 

Even the locals will want to be your friend when you arrive at the destination stress-free!

 

 

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!


 

 
 
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Must-Pack Items for your Underwater Photo Trip

Scott Gietler
Not your regular packing list - these are essentials you may need and others may not have

Must-Pack Items for your Next Photo Trip

Not Your Average Packing List - These are items you may need and others probably won't have

By Scott Gietler

 
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I've seen many excellent packing lists out there, telling you to bring spare o-rings, various tools, gadgets, wires, etc etc. Some of these lists are 30 or 40 items long.  Bringing all of these items is obviously not a bad idea, however I couldn't help feeling that many of these items I either find myself never using, or always being able to borrow from other people (in a pinch).  So I started to think - other than your camera & housing, what do I see people really needing?  What are the things that are often very hard to get?

Ok - you need more than just a camera and housing.  You need a camera, housing, mask, laptop, and external hard drive.  You can pickup a 500GB external hard drive for $60 USD and a 1500GB drive for $99USD, so you'd be crazy not to have one for backing up your images.

This list of a dozen or so items is not meant to be all-inclusive, but it does list the items that I think will either be extremely useful or hard to find if needed.  The list is based on my own experience running underwater photo workshops for several years, along with input from experienced travelers like Mark Strickland, Ron Watkins and Michael Zeigler.

So here it is - in no particular order, the "must-bring or you may-be sorry" packing list.

 

#1 Micro Mesh Kit

If you own a dome port, at some point it is going to get banged up. And when it does, you'll wish you had a way to repair it on your trip.  Bring along your micro-mesh kit and you won't see that giant gash in your photos anymore.

Micro Mesh Kit for Dome Port

 

#2 Spare charger for your Sola Light / Ikelite Strobe

First of all, be very careful to check all of your charges and make sure they say 110/220.  I learned the hard way that my Energizer charger was only 110 - when I plugged it in (in the Philippines) it got fried.  Same with my UK light canon charger.

Most chargers will work pretty well when travelling, but I have seen my fair share of charger problems.  If you own a Sola light or Ikelite strobe, I definitely think having a spare charger is a wise investment. 

scuba travel

 

#3 Rocket Blower, Lens cleaner, O-ring removal tool

One of the most important task on a dive trip is cleaning your housing, o-ring, ports and lens glass. Having a Giotto rocket blower, lens cleaning fluid, lens paper, and a good o-ring removal tool will make this task a hundred times easier.

Rocket Blower

 

#4 Spare Strobe or spare battery cap

Yes - your strobe is your weak spot. I've seen people flood battery compartments, fry chargers, have their strobe stop working, etc, etc. If your strobe does flood, usually if you quickly dry it out and clean the inside, it will work again. You may need to replace the battery cap. Just to be safe, either get a spare battery cap or bring a spare strobe. For a once in a lifetime trip, some shops like the nice folks at Bluewater Photo might let you buy a new strobe and return it if it is unopened.

scuba travel

 

#5 Digital Luggage Scale

Ok - this item is not essential, but it sure is a lot of fun, and it can save you a lot of money in baggage overage charges. But the best part it, you'll easily make lots of friends in the check-in line by sharing your scale with other travelers.

digital luggage scale

#6 Universal Travel adapter

There's nothing worse than needed to recharge your laptop or phone at a resort or airport, and not having the right adapter. Travel adapters are small, inexpensive, and usually cure these ills immediately.

 

#7 USB Drive / Thumb drive

For $10 or $20, you can pick up a large capacity USB drive, so you can easily share photos on a trip with friends, put together group slideshows, etc. So the next time someone takes a perfect photo of you underwater, and they offer to send you the photo, slap a thumb drive in their hand and get it on the spot!

scuba travel

 

#8 Spare Computer battery (& TTL converter)

If any of your gear takes a lithium battery (like your dive computer, leak detector or TTL converter), it is sure to stop working during your next trip, guarenteed. Bring a spare battery, however, and the gear will most likely make it through the trip.

scuba travel

 

#9 Owners manual for camera & dive computer

On many, many trips - people need to figure out something on their camera or dive computer, that no one seems to know. Bring the manuals - they may come in handy. More often then you think.

scuba travel

 

#10 Micro-fiber cloths

These are essential for cleaning your lenses, LCD screens, or anything else you don't want scratched. Enough said!

scuba travel

 

#11 Lens for topside use

Don't forget to bring a zoom lens for some topside shots. Yes, I know the main subjects are underwater. But inevitably, there will be something on land you will want to photograph. Don't be stuck with just your underwater lenses (e.g. - fisheye or macro).

Nikkor

 

#12 Regular viewfinder (if you are diving with a 180 or 45 viewfinder)

If you usually dive with your viewfinder, don't forget to bring your original viewfinder along, with any tools you'll need to change it. Because if your pricey viewfinder fogs up, you will be in deep doodoo. This happened to my friend Jim on my Raja Ampat trip, with his Subal 180 viewfinder.

 

#13 Thinktank International Bag  

Last, but not least, the Thinktank International Bag is essential. I fit my D7000 housing, 105mm port, 6 inch dome, camera, 2 YS-D1 strobes, Sola light, and 3 lenses into this bag. Wow! And I carried it on the plane. The best part is the long handle, it was simple to roll it while I was walking, without leaning over at all. I will never again travel any other way.

thinktank airport international bag

 

 

So that's all folks. If you have anything to add, etiher leave a comment, or shoot me an email at scott@uwphotographyguide.com.

 

Where to Find These Items?

Want to pick up some of these items before your next trip?  The well-traveled team at Bluewater Photo can help.
 

 

 

About the Author

Scott Gietler is the creator of the Underwater Photography Guide and owner of Bluewater Photo Store. An avid marine naturalist, Scott is the author of the Field Guide to Southern California Marine Life. He was the LAUPS photographer of the year for 2009, and his photos have appeared in magazines, coffee table & marine life books, museums, galleries, and aquariums throughout the world.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

You'll find the Thinktank International bag, micro-mesh kits and other essentials at Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Top 5 Big Animal Encounters

Travis Ball
An underwater photographer's guide to the best 5 big animal encounters

Top 5 Big Animal Encounters


A Guide to the Best Big Animal Dives for Underwater Photographers

By Travis Ball

 

 

 
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What are the best big animal encounters in the world?  The sheer magnitude of life on this planet is astounding with an estimated 50%-80% of all life found in the ocean.  As scuba divers, we spend lots of time underwater, but generally need to seek out photographs with the largest animals and fish on Earth.  Diving lets us go on safari every time we dive, experiencing a little piece of the deep blue each time we get in the water.

Who wouldn’t want to capture that experience and share it?  From mantas to whales, we have the same fascination with big animals under the sea that we do on land.  Here are some of the best destinations to experience these magnificent creatures.

 

Swimming with Humpback Whales

Whales are by far the largest creatures on the planet, and who wouldn’t want to experience one up close?  For humpbacks, your best option is Tonga, where there government issues a set number of permits a year allowing people to snorkel with and photograph the Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale. 

Whales in Tonga

Tonga, an independent kingdom made up of 176 islands, is about a 90-minute flight from Fiji.  The humpbacks head to Tonga from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to mate and give birth.  Most of the whale excursion tours are launched from the Vavau Island Group, one of the three major groups Tonga is divided into.

A snorkeler shoots photos of a humpback whale in Tonga.

Travelers can opt for shared open boats or private charters.  Photographers should choose the private, more expensive, option as you’ll have more time in the water with smaller groups and the captain of the boat will find cooperating whales and keep the boat in the best spot for good lighting. Here is great info on diving Tonga.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is another option that has a lot of options available for swimming with these majestic animals.  Read our article on swimming with humpback whales in the Dominican.

A humpback whale dances with a swimmer in the Dominican Republic.  Photo:  Wilfried Niedermayr

 

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Whales may be the biggest creatures out there, but when it comes to fish, there isn’t anything larger than a Whale Shark.  Not a predator by any means, these gentle giants graze on plankton and can occasionally be found near the surface where we can interact with them. 

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

As swimming with whale sharks is a huge attraction, there are many places that market as being good destinations to see and swim with them.  We have three favorite spots that we like to target. Top amongst them is Isla Mujeres, Mexico, where massive numbers of them congregate in the summer. This location is near Cancun. The advantage of Isla Mujeres is the ultra-clear water that will allow to get some great shots. The disadvantage is the crowds - there can be many, many boats on the water. Read our Isla Mujeres dive adventure story.


Whale shark in Isla Mujeres, photo by Stanley Bysshe

 

Sea of Cortez, Baja

Other greta options include La Paz, Mexico and the Bay of Los Angeles in the northern Sea of Cortez. There are usually many whale sharks swimming in shallow bays feeding on plankton, and although visibility isn't great, you can get many excellent photos over a couple day period in either place.

Another location where they congregate is Cenderawasih Bay, in West Papau, where they are fed by fishermen. Oslob, Cebu in the Philippines is also gaining popularity as a spot where whale sharks are fed.

A general rule of them with any of these spots is to leave the scuba gear at home.  Snorkeling is the method most encounters will force you into, which is probably fine as you wouldn’t be able to keep up with them anyhow on scuba.

 

 

A whale shark feeds in the Sea of Cortez.

 

Diving with Mantas

Kona, Hawaii

Likely the most unique creature on this list, manta rays are also the most graceful of the bunch and the easiest to encounter.  What else could you hope for but year-round access and a location that offers guaranteed encounters?  Enter the famous Kona feeding dive in Hawaii, where divers sit around a “campfire” (a large light) on the bottom of the ocean and allow the light to attract large amounts of plankton, which in turn attract the mantas.  The Kona experience isn’t exactly a natural encounter but it is virtually guaranteed that you’ll see these unique creatures up close and personal. Read our guide to diving Kona for Mantas.

A Manta flies over the reef in Kona.

If you’d like a more natural encounter, head to Raja Ampat in Indonesia, which has a famous cleaning station called Manta Sandy that regularly attracts mantas.  While nothing is guaranteed in the wild, your chances of an encounter are good.  Bali and Yap also have similar natural encounter locations. 

Baa Atoll in the Maldives should also be mentioned, as it is a well-known host to a large gathering of mantas between May and July.  It should be noted, however, that the timing can fluctuate and the idea of a large gathering of mantas has turned experience into a bit of a zoo.  Stick to Kona or a well known cleaning station for best encounters.

Mantas circle divers during the famous Kona Manta night dive.

Socorro Island and Bali

Socorro Island has amazing Manta Ray experiences year round, in addition to sharks and the possibility of dolphins and humpbacks. A socorro island trip is sure to produce some great Manta Ray shots, and many other big animals. Read our Socorro Island guide.

Likewise, Nusa Penida island in Bali has a couple Manta Ray cleaning stations that attract large numbers of huge manta rays.

Yap, near Palau in Micronesia, has some well-known Manta Ray cleaning stations that are great for manta shots, and you can also usually see mantas in the German Channel in Palau.

A Manta Ray swims overhead in Bali.

 

Playful Sea Lions

Whales, sharks and mantas are all interesting to observe and take photos of underwater, but there’s nothing more interesting and playful than a dolphin or sea lion encounter.  Just as curious of us as we are of them, sea lions remind me of playing with your dog in the park.  Their agility in the water gives them the confidence to get up close with divers, and they certainly make any dive experience a fun one.

Sea Lions play during a dive in La Paz. 

La Paz, Mexico

The number one destination for experiencing sea lions has got to be La Paz, Mexico.  It is easy to get to, has clear, warm water, and is host to large quantities of sea lions.  Anacapa or Santa Barbara islands in Southern California and the Northern Sea of Cortez are other destinations where you have a good chance of playing in the water with these guys. Read our La Paz guide.

A Sea Lion barks at the camera in La Paz.

 

Getting Close to Sharks

Sharks are likely the most misunderstood marine animal in today's culture.  Avoided by everyone except divers, it is hard to include them on this list because the sheer diversity of shark species makes it hard to pin down any one place for one type of encounter.  Instead, we have picked a few different types of encounters we feel represents some of the best shark experiences a diver can seek out.

Tiger Beach, Bahamas

Looking for an up close and personal experience?  Head out to Tiger Beach in the Bahamas where you can dive cage-free with Caribbean tiger and lemon sharks.  These trips are often set up with in a two-dive combo where the first dive is bait free, for a more “natural” experience,  and the second dive uses bait to bring the sharks in very close. Read our Tiger beach diving adventure story.

Tiger Shark at the world famous Tiger Beach.  Photo: Steve Rosenberg

 

Beqa Lagoon, Fiji

Another good spot that uses feeding techniques to bring in sharks is Fiji.  You will encounter up to eight species of shark on these trips, including Silvertips, Tawny Nurse Sharks, Bull sharks and a variety of reef sharks.  If you’re interested in this, seek out the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, Fiji. Read our Shark Destination guide.

Blacktip reef sharks in Beqa Lagoon.  Photo Mark Strickland with Beqa Adventure Divers.

 

Shark diving at Beqa Lagoon, Fiji.

Cocos Island

Lastly, for a truly natural experience, meaning no feeding or baiting, the best are to head is to Cocos Island of the shore of Costa Rica.  Being an uninhabited island, there isn’t much on land to attract anyone out here.  What’s under the water, however, is a major draw for scuba divers.  Mantas, sailfish, dolphins, turtles and, of course, many species of shark, often in large numbers, can all be found out there.  Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks are the headliner, and can be found schooling if you’re there at the right time. Cocos Island has the advantage of having cleaning stations for Hammerhead sharks, which allows for some great underwater photos. Read out guide to diving Cocos Island.

Socorro Island and the Galapagos islands also have their fair share of sharks, along with other large marine life. Also, Rangiroa, Tahiti, French Polynesia at the Tiputa pass can be an excellent shark dive, with Silvertip sharks and several other species commonly sighted.

Hammerhead shark at Cocos Island, Costa Rica.  Photo: Randy Harwood

 


Schooling Hammerhead sharks at Cocos Island, Costa Rica.  Photo: Edwar Herreno

 

Get out and dive!

There you have it - the best areas around the world for diving with some of the biggest animals in the ocean.  While nothing is ever guaranteed, if you head out to these spots you can be fairly certain you’ll have an experience worth capturing and sharing.  Let us know if you’ve been to any of these spots in the past and feel free to share an image or two you might have taken out there.

 

Top 5 Big Animal Dives

  • Tonga for Humpback Whales

  • Isla Mujeres or Sea of Cortez - Whale Sharks

  • Kona, Hawaii - Mantas

  • La Paz, Mexico - Sea Lions

  • Cocos, Beqa Lagoon, or Tiger Beach for sharks

 

About the Author

Travis Ball is a travel blogger and underwater photographer who recently finished 30 straight months of travel. He believes everyone should enrich their lives with travel and all the experiences it has to offer. His photography and writing can also be seen at his blog http://flashpackerHQ.com

 

 

 

 

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!


 

 
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Our Favorite Dive Destinations, Part 1

Travis Ball
An ongoing article list of our favorite places to dive

Our Favorite Dive Destinations, Part 1

An ongoing article list of our favorite places to take underwater photos

By Travis Ball

 

 
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We decided to ask some of our regular contributors and well-traveled underwater photo friends what their favorite places to dive are, and these are the results.  Some are local favorites, others are remote destinations, but they all have a place in the heart of these photographers.  We will be showcasing 5 favorite destinations from new people every couple of months.

 

Scott Gietler - Anilao

Where:  Anilao, Philippines. 2.5 hour drive south of Manila, across the water from Puerto Galera.

Why: Anilao has a number of things going for it. It is some of the best critter & macro diving in the world, with all of the popular macro and supermacro subjects found on a regular basis, such as various octopus, juvenile fish, frogfish, seahorses, rhinopias, etc. – pretty much everything on the underwater critter list (http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/critter-list). It is relatively easy to get to, diving is usually surge-free, with healthy coral reefs and good diving conditions. Most dives sites are just a 10-20 minute boat ride from resorts, sites are not overly crowded, and guide to diver ratios are small.

Who: Scott Gietler is the creator of the Underwater Photography Guide and owner of Bluewater Photo Store. An avid marine naturalist, Scott is the author of the Field Guide to Southern California Marine Life. He was the LAUPS photographer of the year for 2009, and his photos have appeared in magazines, coffee table & marine life books, museums, galleries, and aquariums throughout California. 

 

Victor Tang - Ningaloo Reef

Giant Manta Ray

Where: Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia- Remotely located 1200KM from Perth, Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringing reef on the planet spanning 260KM long. The reef can be accessed mainly from 2 small towns, Coral Bay and Exmouth.

Why: Although primarily famous as a major waypoint in the migratory route of whalesharks, Ningaloo Reef boast phenomenal coral cover, streching as far as the eye can see and reef life is just somehow bigger in size than other tropical locations I have been to. Sharks can be seen in abundance even while diving the in the shallows, with Giant Mantas make frequent visits close to shore when the plankton blooms. Macro life is also bountiful if you can pry your attention away from the big stuff swimming around, making Ningaloo a complete dive paradise for underwater photographers.

Who:  Victor Tang is founder of adventure dive outfit Wodepigu Water Pixel based out of Singapore and shoots with the Canon G12. He is a regular  to UWPG and his work can be found at www.facebook.com/WodepiguWW

 

Ron Watkins - Tiger Beach

Tiger Shark

Where: Tiger Beach, Bahamas – Easily accessible from Palm Beach, FL or about 20 miles off of Grand Bahamas is one of the sharkiest dive destinations in the world.

Why: This site allows you to get face-to-face (or face-to-dome port) with its namesake tiger sharks for incredible images of these beautiful creatures.  In addition to numerous tiger sharks with names like Emma and Baby Cakes, there are sometimes 10-15 large lemon sharks at a time that circle you for hours and allow you to compose the perfect photo. The waters around Tiger Beach also have some incredible reefs teaming with reef sharks for a different backdrop for your shark photos.  After a week on a live-aboard, if you still haven’t gotten enough big animal action, free dive with Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins in turquoise blue water or at night off of the Grand Bahama Grand.

Who: Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer and frequently contributes to Underwater Photography Guide.  He currently shoots a Nikon D300 camera housed in a Sea & Sea Housing with YS-250 strobes. Additional images from the Bahamas and other international destinations can be viewed at www.scubarews.com.

 

Michael Zeigler - SoCal Oil Rigs

Location: Oil Rigs - Southern California: A series of oil platforms dot the coast of southern California several miles offshore. A few of these are able to be visited by recreational divers, namely oil platform Eureka and oil platform Elly-Ellen. 

Why: These are about 20 miles from the coast, and sit in several hundred feet of water. Being so far from shore and in such deep waters means that you could be visited by a whole host of pelagic critters. Molas, large jellies and salp chains, massive schools of fish, and even pelagic sting rays have been seen here. Not to mention the playful sea lions to hang out at the platform. Huge Metridium anemones, scallops, and brittle stars cover the structure, providing unique photo opportunities.

Who: Michael Zeigler is editor-at-large for the UWPG, instructor & trip leader for Bluewater Photo, and an AAUS Scientific Diver. His underwater photography can be seen at www.SeaInFocus.com.

 

Mark Strickland - Fiji

Fiji

Location: Fiji - I could never pick just one favorite dive destination, but Fiji certainly ranks among my top three. A group of roughly 330 tropical islands in Melanesia in the South Pacific, Fiji is roughly 1100 miles northeast of New Zealand. The capital and gateway city, Nadi, is located on Viti Levu, one of the two major islands.

Why: Fiji is known for its abundant soft corals, but there’s also a wider spectrum of colors than I’ve seen anywhere else. These vibrant hues, combined with healthy hard corals, dramatic topography, typically clear water and a great variety of reef fish make Fiji’s underwater scenery second to none. It’s also home to some of the best shark diving on the planet, and is probably the most accessible Indo-Pacific destination from the USA, with direct flights daily from the west coast. If that’s not enough, Fiji is also home to some of the friendliest people you’ll meet anywhere.

Who: Mark Strickland is a professional underwater photographer based out of Los Angeles, California and serves as DSLR and Travel Specialist at Bluewater Photo. He’s also active with various marine conservation efforts and leads international dive trips several times each year. Mark shoots with Nikon D7000 and D800; his work can be seen at markstrickland.com      

 

Keep your eyes out for Part 2 coming in a couple months...feel free to leave your own favorite underwater photo destination in the comments section!

 

Further Reading

 

Note: underwater photos provided by the respective photographers

 


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!


 

 
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Underwater Photography On A Non-Diving Vacation

Brent Durand
Don't leave your housing at home, take it with you and get some great shots on your next non-dive vacation!

Underwater Photography On A Non-Diving Vacation

Don't leave your housing at home, take it with you and get some great shots on your next non-dive vacation!

By Brent Durand

 

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It's summertime here in the northern hemisphere, and that means many of us are planning summer vacations with friends and families. If you're like me, you're an avid diver and photographer who is going on a trip where there will be no scuba diving.

Normally it would be easy to leave your housing at home if scuba diving isn’t on the agenda, but as long as your destination has water attractions (ocean, pool, lake, river) you’ll have the opportunity to bring home some great images. While it’s easiest for compact and mirrorless shooters to throw a housing into their bag, dSLR shooters should also make the effort if space is available.

 

Canon s90, ISO 80, f/5.6, 1/60th. Even without scuba tanks there are great underwater images to be created.

 

Spending time in the water presents a great opportunity to capture friends and family snorkeling or splashing around in the shallows. Maybe your daughter made it all the way out to the swim platform or your friend thinks he’s too cool for school with sunglasses in the pool. In addition to candid shots, you’d be surprised how quickly your water buddies will volunteer to model in a scene for you – it lets them get involved, lets them see how you get your underwater shots and allows them to share a moment with you. And if you want to post the shots on Facebook you can be sure that the effort will be appreciated. The image might even turn into someone's profile photo! Different techniques will be required depending on whether the water is warm or cold, has bad vis or is crystal clear, but that’s part of the fun.  

 

Canon s90, ISO 160, f/4.5, 1/250. Everyone likes posing for photos when they’re having fun!

 

Aside from the fun of capturing images, a major reason to bring along your housing is to grow your photography skills. We learn the most by pushing ourselves into new situations with our photography, so you’ll be challenging yourself in several technical areas. First off, you’ll be shooting exclusively with ambient light. As long as you’re in shallow waters you can get some excellent results, with images full of color and good contrast. You don’t want to shoot any deeper than 15 or 20ft with ambient light, so more of your breath on each dive can be spent finding an image instead of swimming up or down. When shooting with ambient light you’ll need to pay attention to the angle of the sun and the shadows it creates, usually shooting with the sun behind you. On the other hand, to create a silhouette you need to shoot into the sun, preferably with a higher aperture to create sun rays, and faster shutter to freeze those rays in the water. Reflections are also a great way to challenge your photo skills and bring a whole new element to your portfolio.

 

Canon s90, ISO 160, f/8, 1/1600. Shooting exclusively with ambient light can change the way you “see” potential images and lead to some interesting results.

 

Composition is something you’ll need to consider when shooting without strobes. The photos of people that stand out are the ones that bring the viewer a new perspective and puts them in the middle of the action. A great example is over-under images, which bring together the surreal underwater world with the topside. One trick I’ve learned for shooting above water, from the water is to lick my lens port – this creates a film that sheds water so you don’t end up with droplets on the glass.

 

Canon s90, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/160. Composing scenes in shallow water with ambient light is challenging but rewarding.

 

As with scuba diving, I always try to have my camera ready to shoot since you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to catch that elusive perfect shot. Just a few weeks ago in Catalina I dove to the sand while snorkeling and found myself in the middle of a group of at least six bat rays. Both they and I were somewhat startled, and by the time I had my camera ready it was too late. Lesson learned, yet again…

The last thing to think about is how photos motivate people to become a certified scuba diver. So take advantage of the small size of your compact or mirrorless housing and who knows… snap a few shots and you might end up with a new scuba dive buddy for your next trip.

 

Canon s90, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/125. Small housings are worth bringing along every time you’re in the water – you never know what you’ll see.

 

About The Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver and ocean-inspired photographer. You can see more of his work at www.brentdimagery.com or follow his photography at www.facebook.com/brentdimagery.com. 

 

Further Reading

 


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


 

Top 10 Tips for Dive Travel

Carin Kiphart
Experienced traveler shares her most useful travel tips for divers and underwater photographers.

 Top 10 Tips for Dive Travel

Experienced dive traveler and underwater photographer shares her most useful travel tips

By Carin Kiphart

 
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Having spent over 300 days away from home each year and having logged over 12,000 dives, my husband and I have had a lifetime of “learning experiences” with packing and dive travel. Essentially, we've done it wrong enough times to learn how to do it right! Here is a sampling of our favorite tips for the traveling diver.

 

Top dive travel tips

 

1) Take your own gear.

It may be a pain for you to pack it and you may pay extra, but it's better to use gear that you trust and that you are comfortable wearing. Many resorts and liveaboards use lower-end, dubiously maintained rental gear that gets fixed only when broken. Instead of renting, use your money to pay for that extra bag of your own stuff.

 

2) The essential carry-on.

First and most importantly – always, always put your medications in your carry-on. Also, be smart and put in a pair of shorts, t-shirt, flip flops and bathing suit, basically anything you will need for the first 24 hours of your trip. If your luggage is lost, you'll be all set! We also recommend carrying on your dive computer and your regulator if possible. BCD, fins and mask can easily be rented. Most standard carry-ons will fit all of these things.

 

3) Ziplock bags.

This is one of our all-time favorite words in dive travel! Use them to pack lotions and potions so if they explode, the mess will be contained. You can also use them for wet gear on your trip home. They come in handy for so many things, especially in countries that don’t have them, so pack extras! Use them to make it easier to get into your wetsuit, then wash and reuse to help the planet!

 

4) Research!

This may seem obvious, but we can’t tell you how many people have no clue where they are going, if they are going at the right time, if the dive operator is any good or what the reputation of the liveaboard is (full article on choosing a liveaboard coming soon). Don’t go on blind faith - I’ve heard all the horror stories! Read more about dive site research.

 

5) Completely rig and test your camera before departing from home.

Cameras have so many parts that to forget just one could mean the difference between using or not using the precious device that you've lugged halfway around the world. Take the time to make sure it all works properly and that you have all the parts you need.

 

6) Carry a sensor cleaning kit.

Diving photographers shoot in remote, hot, humid, and sometimes dirty environments, meaning it’s not difficult to get something on your camera sensor. If you're a videographer, carry a head cleaning cassette! I found that out the hard way.

 

7) Replace gear immediately.

If you use up something, break something, lose or give it away, replace it as soon as you arrive home. Far too often we’ve remembered that we needed new booties or something a few days before we were set to leave again. Take care of it when it’s fresh in your mind.

 

Diving and photography gear

 

8) Don’t service your gear.

Yes, you read that right - do not service your gear and then pack it for a trip. It happens so often that something goes wrong because a piece wasn’t tightened, a screw wasn’t put back in or a spool forgotten. Seriously - when you're in the middle of the Maldives is not the time you want to find this out. Also, dive with your gear after you service it before you leave. Get it in a pool if there is no other way to use it before you pack.

 

9) Don't buy expensive defogger.

You know that $7.95 bottle of defogger you buy for your mask? Don’t bother! Pick up a 99 cent travel-size bottle of baby shampoo instead. It will last forever, and if you find yourself out of shampoo on your dive trip it’s a two-for-one deal!

 

10) Split your luggage.

If you are traveling with a friend or spouse, pack half and half in each bag. That way each of you will have half your stuff if one of your bags gets lost. Smart!

 

If you want to learn more, check out Carin's Top 25 Questions About Scuba Diving Travel.
 

 

Further Reading

Best dive destinations for underwater photography

Dive travel information for underwater photographers

Choosing a liveaboard or resort for underwater photography

Must pack items for your next photo trip

 

About the Authors

Ridlon and Carin run Global Diving Adventures, a premium provider of SCUBA diving vacations and advice on SCUBA diving travel & the adventure lifestyle. They provide their friends the experiences and knowledge to live an extraordinary life through adventure.

 


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


 

Packing Strategies for Traveling Photographers

Mark Strickland
Another approach to the challenge of packing your checked and carry-on camera gear for underwater photography.

Packing Strategies for the Traveling Underwater Photographer

An approach to packing your checked and carry-on camera gear

By Mark Strickland

 
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Checked Bags

To an extent, excess luggage problems can usually be overcome by paying for extra bags or paying luggage over-weight fees.  Or, you could upgrade to business class, which usually includes more liberal luggage allowances. Of course this approach will cost you, either in cash or miles or both.

One obvious way to reduce the weight of checked bags is by thinning out the contents. This may require some hard choices, but chances are you can lose at least a few items without adversely affecting your trip. At least for tropical destinations, I consider clothes a very low priority. A good rule of thumb is to organize all that you anticipate needing, then reduce that amount by half. Also remember that most resorts and even some live-aboards offer laundry service, so you needn’t bring a full week’s wardrobe. Or, if you’re a penny-pincher like me, bring a small bag of laundry powder and wash your own clothes in a bucket or sink. This may not be suited to most live-aboards, but is a great option if you’re land-based.  And unless you’re heading to a very remote place, things like shampoo, soap and toothpaste are usually available at your destination—no need to bring more than a few day’s worth.

 

 

 

 

Packing underwater photography gear

When it comes to photo gear, one of the many advantages of the digital revolution is a trend towards lighter, more compact gear. Nowadays there are a number of compact, lightweight still and video camera rigs that are capable of taking amazingly good images. SLR shooters must still contend with relatively heavy housings, but at least there’s a new generation of small, lightweight strobes that perform very well in most shooting situations.

Another consideration is the bags themselves, which can account for a sizable portion of allowable weight. While it’s hard to beat a sturdy watertight case for protection, there are a number of lighter weight alternatives that are still fairly robust.  You might even consider what I use—a standard, inexpensive picnic cooler fitted with a locking hasp.

Also, an increasing number of dive operators now offer quality rental gear, so you may want to think about leaving some or all of your dive gear at home. In fact, some operators provide dive gear and even computers free of charge!

 

Carry-on strategy

My personal carry-on strategy is constantly evolving, and also varies somewhat depending on my destination.  For most flights, I travel with cameras inside their housings in my primary carry-on, and take my laptop in a sleek computer backpack as my "small personal item” or “SPI."  In some places, however, airlines are very serious about one carry-on only, and make no allowance for an additional "SPI," so be prepared to adjust accordingly.

For the last few years, my primary carry-on has been a regulation-size roll-away, one side being a fabric, zippered main compartment “door." The fabric component provides a little stretch, allowing me to pack 2 housings & cameras with dome ports, optical viewfinder, chargers, sync. cables, hard drives and various accessories. The whole package doesn’t appear any larger than standard carry-ons, but naturally weight can be an issue depending on what’s allowed. Thankfully it’s still fairly unusual for carry-ons to be weighed, but it’s worth doing whatever you can to avoid that possibility at check-in. If you’re not traveling alone, try to keep such items out of sight of the ticket agent by asking a companion to watch them while you complete the check-in process. It’s not fool-proof, but usually works very well.   

If you’re inclined to push the envelope on weight or the airline’s baggage policies are unclear, try to have a contingency plan. One that’s worth considering is packing an extra soft bag that’s easily accessed at the airport. This way you’ll have more options for separating delicate from non-critical gear at check-in, in case you’re forced to check some of your carry-on items.

 

My secret weapon for carry-on items

 

More than anything, however, one “secret weapon” has been indispensable for allowing me to travel with all the essential gear—a photographer’s vest. OK, they do look pretty geeky, but wearing one sure beats leaving important items at home. Even if airlines don't allow a small personal item, I've yet to have anyone object to the vest, which holds an amazing amount of stuff. Apparently the fact that it can be considered clothing makes it part of your person, rather than an additional item. So I take full advantage of this, and fill those pockets with a wide assortment of lenses, hard drives, and accessories... anything that is delicate, expensive, or heavy, but still compact. By doing so, I'm able to take pretty much all my most delicate stuff as carry on, without getting penalized. 

One more consideration for videographers and digital photographers:  never travel from a dive trip with all your precious images in only one place. Redundancy is crucial! Not only is there a chance of your storage device going missing, there’s also a very real possibility of data corruption or loss due to, say, your hard drive being dropped. Whether you keep your images on DVD’s, portable hard drives or some other device, make sure you have at least 2 copies, stored in 2 different bags, at least one of which is a carry-on.

International dive travel inevitably involves some hassles from time to time, especially with camera gear. There may even be moments when you wonder if it’s worth it. However, with a bit of planning and creativity those inconveniences will quickly fade, replaced by fond memories of your travel experiences, and hopefully some great images too.

 

Editors note: There is some great information out there about which vest to choose.  Here's a great article that you may find useful.

 

Mark Strickland is the friendly store manager at Bluewater Photo.  Be sure to give him a call if you have any questions. His life-long interest in the sea has included over 10,000 dives and careers as lifeguard, boat captain and scuba instructor. His passion for underwater photography has led him to many top dive locales, including Virgin Islands, Australia, and Thailand, where he spent 17 years as Cruise Director on a series of live-aboards. www.markstrickland.com

 

Further Reading

 

 

Dive Travel: Making a List

Ridlon Kiphart

Dive Travel: The Importance of a List

Make sure you have everything for your next underwater photography adventure

By Ridlon Kiphart

 

 
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I’m at 39,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Narita and Singapore on my way to Indonesia.  Mantagirl and I are spending over a month exploring the archipelago – both below and above the water.  It’s a huge place; geographically, ecologically and culturally.  So with a big agenda, being gone for over a month and with serious weight restrictions, packing was a big deal.

 

Having a big or complex packing job is right in our wheelhouse.  We’ve been leading diving expeditions for over a decade and routinely carry 300+ pounds of diving and underwater photography/video equipment.  I once left to lead a diving group in Malaysia with over 250 pounds of diving and photography gear while stopping off in Tibet for two months to climb one of the world’s highest mountains.  Mantagirl was meeting me en route to Tibet after spending two months at documentary film school in Maine.  We would meet up in Salt Lake City (SLC) and swap her bags, then fly to Los Angeles (LAX) separately and then from LAX together over to Asia.  She would collect her luggage from Maine that was left in SLC on the way home, repack for the diving expedition and meet me in Malaysia.  Clear as mud?

 

 

Why Use a Packing List?

One of the first rules of packing is ALWAYS use a list.  As underwater photographers, things take on more complexity not just because we have more gear to carry but because if we forget even one small part, say a viewfinder diopter, we could end up half way around the world with a system that doesn’t work properly.  And it’s not like you’re going to pick one of those up at the mini mart in Sorong.

Another reason is peace of mind.  Before a big trip, the last thing you want is to be stressing about whether or not you’ve packed everything you need.  Sound familiar?  The night before a big trip, I’m drinking a glass of wine and kicking back in my hot tub because I know I’ve got everything I need.

A packing list for SCUBA diving and underwater photography includes 5 sections:

  1. Dive gear
  2. Camera/video gear
  3. Clothing
  4. Toiletries/Meds
  5. Misc Travel stuff

 

 

How Do You Make a Packing List?

It’s really quite simple. I sit down with my list and go through a typical day on my vacation for each of the five sections.  I visualize the day.

• When I get up in the morning, what do I need? 
• Toothbrush and paste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, morning meds
•  I have breakfast
• Protein powder and shaker bottle, vitamins (in daily packs)
• I get dressed.
• I keep my clothing simple, casual and functional
• I’m heading out for the day to SCUBA dive ...
• I literally visualize getting geared up to make sure I’ve got everything I need including my C-card.
• What miscellaneous things will I need on my travel days?
• iPod, noise canceling headphones, Blackberry, laptop & charger, passport, paperwork (e.g. copies of hotel reservations, credit cards, passport, etc)
• What type of shooting will I be doing (i.e. macro, wide-angle, topside)?
• Which lenses, filters and/or diopters will I want?

You get the picture.  I go through the entire day and the entire vacation.  If my trip has a dive component and a land component, I go through my days hiking or whatever else I’m doing.

 

camera gear

It would be easy to forget something without a list!

 

 

Underwater Photography and Videography Packing Tips

Usually I carry all my camera gear in a roll aboard and store it the same way at home.  That way most everything I need is always in the same place.  When I get ready to pack, I open the bag, check, assemble, charge and re-pack.  The first cardinal rule is to always assemble and test your gear 2-4 weeks prior to your trip.  This is important for two reasons:

1. By fully assembling your system, you know you’ve got everything you need, and that it works and has been properly maintained
2. By doing it 2-4 weeks prior to departure, you have plenty of time to get something fixed or replaced if it is broken.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen people show up for their dream vacation and find out they were missing a critical piece of gear or for some mysterious reason, their camera or video system wasn’t working properly.

Whether I’m shooting video or stills, I walk through the entire process.  I think about what I will need to do the actual shooting, then I’m going to download and process it (laptop, cables) then I’m going to share it (power point projector, cables, wireless remote) and then I’m going to do it again the next day (extra batteries, chargers, adaptors for the host country).

 

 

A Few Pro Tips

Your packing list is dynamic.  If you go on a trip and realize that you needed something that wasn’t on your list, add it immediately.  I have AC plug adapters on my list but only took the model I needed for where I was going.  Recently, I ran out of battery in a transit airport in a country that used a different plug pattern than the adapters I brought.  Now I carry adapters for all countries I will transit through as well as my destination country.  Over a short period of time, you list will refine itself using this process.

When you return from a trip take inventory and re-stock immediately!  Here’s what I mean...If you step on a pop top and blow out a flip flop, replace it right when you get home.  If your battery charger stopped working, replace it immediately!  Most people wait to do these things until their next trip but have forgotten by that time.

It will only take you 10-15 minutes to put together your initial list and will save you a ton of time and headaches down the road.  The night before a big trip, you can relax knowing you’ve got everything you need.

Happy Packing!

Sharkman

 

Live Adventurously is a premium provider of SCUBA diving vacations and advice on dive travel and the adventure lifestyle.  We provide our guests and friends the experiences and knowledge to live an extraordinary life through adventure.

 

 

Further Reading

Is a liveboard right for you?

Liveaboards & Resorts for Underwater Photographers

By Ridlon Kiphart

 
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Editors note: A few months ago Randy Harwood wrote an excellent article on choosing a liveaboard or resort. Ridlon Kiphart brings a fresh perspective to this important topic, with some honest real-world examples that will be of benefit to all dive travelers.

 

 

Is it better as an underwater photographer to opt for liveaboard diving or resort diving?

Liveaboard diving versus resort diving. This is an age old diving question isn’t it? One of the central ideas of a liveaboard diving has been to get you to places that you couldn’t dive from land. Fourteen years ago, on my first liveaboard experience, I went on the Mike Ball Spoilsport out to Flinders and Dart Reefs in the remote Coral Sea, about 200 miles offshore. We left the dock late the afternoon we boarded the boat and returned at 6AM the day we disembarked and didn’t see another boat or other people the entire week we were out diving the Coral Sea. This is in complete contrast to say, the Palau Dancer where we were back to the dock at noon the day before we disembarked and dived all the same sites the land based dive operators did. That’s not to say that in the second scenario there still are not advantages to diving from a liveaboard - but less so.

arenui dive liveaboard

Liveaboards like the Arenui, shown above, or the Dive Damai offer lots of space, luxury, and access to areas land-based resorts don't visit such as remote parts of Raja Ampat.

 

General Considerations for choosing liveaboard diving versus resort diving


As the answer ultimately depends on you and your preferences, start by answering the following questions.


· Do you have a non diving partner/spouse? If so and they want to do ANYTHING besides read a book and listen to you talk about diving, stick to land based adventure. A liveaboard is a sure way to kill that relationship.
· Do you get Seasick? Don’t even think about liveaboard diving if you get seasick. There are a few exceptions to this rule such as the Odyssey or Palau Dancer that stay anchored within a protected lagoon almost the entire trip. There is no night time engine noise or any “boat noises” if you stay on land.
· Do you want to put your toes in the sand at the end of the day? In some places, like Palau, I like the one hour morning boat ride zooming through the rock islands. You can get in 2-3 dives and be back to enjoy a sunset margarita with your toes in the sand. It’s a personal choice.
· How much privacy do you want? The only privacy you have on liveaboard dive boats is in your cabin and depending on the boat you choose that could be a beautiful stateroom or a bunk with a curtain pulled across it and … thin walls. Not the best choice for the honeymoon …
· Do you want more varied diving and the opportunity to get to more remote locations? This is what liveaboard diving was originally designed to do. As mentioned above, these days, some liveaboard dive boats don’t venture far from home in order to reduce fuel costs so check the itineraries. When you can get to these remote destinations like diving Krakafat in Papua New Guinea from the Febrina, you’re in for one kickass dive.
· Do you want to hang by yourself or with the gang? It depends who shows up on your boat but liveaboard diving is a great way to hang out and really get to know some great people. You can learn a lot about underwater photography if there are other good photographers on the boat.
· What about diving destinations with/without both options? Can I do both? Yes! Check out answers to more SCUBA diving travel questions.

solmar v room

There's no land based option in the Socorro islands, so you'll have to stay on a liveaboard such as the Solmar V, whose stateroom is shown above.

 

Is liveaboard diving or resort diving easier for an underwater photographer?

It totally depends on the liveaboard dive boat and/or dive resort. I’ve been on 100+ liveaboard trips and a lot of dive resorts and seen it both ways. Many liveaboard dive boats cater to underwater photographers. Every Aggressor or Dancer Fleet liveaboard dive boat I’ve been on and many independent liveaboard dive boats like the Naia and Odyssey have excellent camera areas. Look for large camera tables adjacent to the dive area with designated dry areas, compressed air, plenty of electrical outlets, a photographer’s toolkit and a designated rinse tank. On the Sea Hunter, each person has a personalized area with their own electrical outlets. It’s really nice having a designated, personalized area so people aren’t stacking gear on top of yours. In general, resorts have not dedicated as much space or amenities to photographers – other than a dedicated rinse tank. Most resorts assume you are going to walk your camera back to your room and use a table there. And, there is generally more space in your room at a resort to do this, albeit usually not a great rinse tank option. Sipadan Water Village has dedicated individual camera rooms adjacent to the dive area – just watch out for sea snakes!

Even with liveaboard diving, you will likely load you and your camera into a smaller zodiac/skiff/panga for the ride to the dive site rather than just diving off the mothership. The ultimate in convenience is when you can dive directly off the mothership as you simply pick up your camera and step into the water – the Odyssey and AquaCat do it this way.

 

Travel Tip for all Underwater Photographers:


Get a small, soft sided insulated cooler like a Coleman. They work great as a padded transport case for your camera on any dive boat. It also doubles as a fresh water rinse bucket either on the dive boat or on the floor of your shower back in your room. It folds up small for packing. Nice.

 

Is liveaboard diving or resort diving a better value?

It used to be that the high end of liveaboard diving was around $325 per person, per night. That’s $650 per room per night including all meals for two and all diving for two if we want to make a comparison to resort diving. Keep in mind that most liveaboard dive boats that bill themselves as luxury would actually rate 3 stars when compared to equivalent land based accommodations and cuisine. Galapagos Sky (formerly Galapagos Sky Dancer) charges a hefty $4795 per person per week. That’s $1370 per room per night including all meals for two and all diving for two. I love this boat and have been on her four times. She has one of the finest crews anywhere and an excellent captain. But when I compare that pricing to most land based resorts, it doesn’t seem like a great value.

crystal blue resort anilao

Resorts in Anilao such as Crystal Blue Resort (shown above), Club Ocellaris and Dive solana offer easy access to dive sites from land, great food / accommodations and a great value.

 

Will liveaboard diving or resort diving help me get better underwater images?

For some underwater photographers, this is what it comes down to and all other considerations come a distant second. I certainly understand because sometimes I fit right here. This is another loaded question in that it certainly depends on the situation and the where – and the photographer! Considerations include amount of bottom time per day (remember, F8 and be there), ability to stay on site if something is happening and you don’t want to miss it, ability to get to a broad range of sites during the week and ability to get to the “best” dive sites. On the whole, a liveaboard dive boat gives you an advantage here.

When it comes to total daily bottom time, it’s as easy for me to get in 4 dives per day and 6 hours of bottom time staying at Sipadan Water Village as it is on most liveaboard dive boats. And while many liveaboard dive boats offer 5 dives per day, 4 dives often optimizes bottom time more efficiently anyway … but that’s a subject for another article. Until then, whether you choose a liveaboard, resort or both, happy diving!

Go get some great images!

Ridlon and Carin Kiphart, aka Sharkman & Mantagirl
Underwater Photography Guide Travel Editors

 

As members of the prestigious Explorers Club, they are the founders of Global Diving Adventures, a premium provider of SCUBA diving vacations and advice on dive travel & the adventure lifestyle. They are also founders of Ocean of Hope Foundation, a non profit dedicated to restoring the health of the ocean through education.
“We believe in living an extraordinary life through adventure and share our experiences and knowledge so that others can do the same.”
Connect with Sharkman & Mantagirl on Facebook and Twitter!
 

Further Reading

Guide to the best dive destinations for underwater photography

Join one of the Underwater Photography Guide trips or workshops in 2011

Top 10 tips for dive travel

 

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