Inspiring Photos from the Sea of Cortez

Sea Lions, Whale Sharks, Seahorses & more from UWPG's Sea of Cortez Workshop!
By Todd Winner

Inspiring Photos from the Sea of Cortez

Sea Lions, Whale Sharks, Seahorses & more from UWPG's Sea of Cortez Workshop!

Text and Photos by Todd Winner


Sea Lion



This was Bluewater Photo’s second year running the Sea of Cortez workshop on the Rocio Del Mar, and once again it proved to have some unique photo opportunities. We had excellent encounters with sea lions, whale sharks, jaw fish and amazing blennies this year. One of the highlights for me was the opportunity to shoot humboldt squid - something I'm looking forward to doing again as soon as possible!


Getting There

The Rocio Del Mar runs Sea of Cortez trips out of Puerto Penasco, Mexico. The most convenient airport is the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport in Arizona. From the airport it is about a four-hour drive to the marina. “Head out to Rocky Point” has handled all our transportation needs for the past two years, efficiently driving us to and from the boat.  Once on board, the Rocio sails to the Northern Midriff Islands for six days of diving.
















The Diving

One of the main attractions of the Sea of Cortez is the chance to dive with big animals.  Sea lions can be found on almost every dive and this is the time of year when the big male bulls are out patrolling their territory. Snorkeling with the whale sharks in the bay of Los Angeles was the highlight for everyone on the trip. We made arrangements for the workshop to spend extra time with them and this year we swam for close to six hours.  Accompanying the whale sharks, we had a number of mobula rays and some small schools of fish, presenting excellent photo subjects. We spent part of one day looking for sperm whales and pilot whales but didn't have any luck. We did jump into the water a few times with hundreds of spinner dolphins but they just were not interested in playing with us.

At night we often had feeding pelicans, flying fish and other visitors attracted by the lights from the boat, and on two occasions humboldt squid showed up and we had a great time shooting them. Other wide-angle opportunities include huge black coral gardens and sea fans that make nice foreground subjects. Macro this year was off the charts with nudibranchs, blennies, jaw fish, octopus and more! Over the trip, we sighted six different sea horses and I lost count on how many giant jaw fish I saw, including one with eggs.


whale shark


The water temperature can vary greatly in this area, between 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit, with lots of thermoclines. For myself, I am comfortable in a 5mm most of the time. One of the reasons the whale sharks and other large animals are there is to feed on the plankton. The nutrient rich water is great for attracting animals but it can also lower visibility. Average visibility is around 30-60 feet and occasionally better. It still is very workable for photography - just don't go expecting 100' plus and you won't be disappointed.


Photo Workshops

We had a wide range of shooters, beginners to advanced, and huge variety of cameras.  Inevitably, some camera parts are always left at home and it's always fun to try and MacGyver something together. My drinking straw fiber optic strobe cables failed miserably, but we were able to put something else together that worked. Every morning we reviewed guest images and tried to suggest improvements. In the afternoon we would have a short discussion on a particular topic, like balanced lighting, Lightroom adjustments or any other subject the majority of the guests wanted to learn about. Throughout the week, there was plenty of time to get in some one-on-one sessions. There is always a wealth of knowledge that can be gained just from being around other photographers that share your interests.


whale shark















The Rocio Del Mar

This has been my third trip on the Rocio Del Mar in just over a year, and each time they have made improvements. They just redid all the cabins, extending the length of the beds and adding new memory foam mattresses. The captain and crew have always worked hard to make sure we have a great experience, and the chef does an excellent job at keeping everyone happy with a variety of meals. Everyone enjoys fiesta night up on the sun deck.



The Sea of Cortez offers some incredible dives and I experience something new every time I dive there. For many divers, it is very unique, with sea lions and other large animals being the main attraction. From the USA, especially the west coast, it is incredibly easy to get to. No matter where you’re from, it’s a fun dive trip with countless photo opportunities.


humboldt squid


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


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