Tuesday, August 05, 2014
We'll be doing a mixture of technical and recreational dives, depending on what's hot. At the tail end of the trip, I have arranged an additional 2 days of guided diving in Tulamben with Jeff Mullins' Reef Wreck & Critter focused on photography.
Bali has great diving and very diverse marine life, but the obvious problem is overdiving and diver damage. There are also a lot of unscrupulous dive guides who have no qualms manipulating the marine life. I'm hoping to avoid the crowds and dive at pristine sites given all the arrangements that I've made. Also, Bali is largely unexplored below recreational depths so I'm hoping that we'll be lucky and get some surprises on our technical dives.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Monday, June 02, 2014
Highlights of the trip were having a chance to shoot Grouchy, the resident turtle on Roger's House Reef, seeing 2 bumphead parrotfish and a cuttlefish couple laying eggs at Chebeh, lots of anemones and clownfish at Malang, the biggest spiny lobster I have ever seen on the House Reef, and lots of schools of juvenile fish in general. The cuttlefish laying eggs in particular was very special for me as I felt blessed to witness such a tender underwater moment. I saw her placing her eggs within the folds of a large hard coral head while her partner looked on.
This trip renewed my interest in Tioman and left me very grateful that we have such good diving so close to home. Weekend trips to Tioman are tiring because of the long travel time and many transfers but totally worth it for this quality of diving. I had a lot of fun with the 10-17mm lens and I'll definitely be spending more time with it learning how to shoot wide angle.
Goodbye Taitti and come back to dive with us again soon!
We met bright and early at Long Beach and after a slow start, were on our way. Catalina Island is very accessible from LA and is a popular destination for short trips for both divers and land visitors. We spent the day moored around the island and did 2 leisurely dives among the kelp forests. The kelp forests are quite a unique underwater environment. Kelp is a type of gigantic leafy seaweed that stretches from the rocky bottom all the way to the surface. The fronds create a natural shelter for juvenile fish so the kelp forests tend to be quite fishy. The highlight of the dives was seeing a few giant sea bass, which can grow up to 2m long, in the distance. During the surface interval, we had a friendly baby sea lion hop onto the back of our boat and hang out for about an hour, which I understand doesn't happen too often! We had a very nice sunny day but the water was around 13C, which was a little chilly in my DUI 30/30 drysuit.
My drysuit neck seal had deteriorated significantly since the last time I used it and I had to duct tape it to my neck to keep the seal watertight. I had to be very careful not to move my head too much to avoid any leaks, and as a result, I wasn't very productive in taking photos.
It was a fun day out and a cool first experience in the kelp forests. Next time, I will be back with a wide angle lens to try to capture the full splendor of the kelp forests.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
It was a very productive trip. We were blessed with prolific marine life and all the strange critters were out in droves. Despite having been to a number of muck diving havens such as Anilao, Bali, and even Lembeh itself (twice previously), I still recorded a number of first sightings on this trip: Denise’s pygmy seahorse, ceratosoma nudibranch (6), paddleflap rhinopias, blue ring octopus (3), cuthona yamasui, marionia pustulosa, thecacera pacifica, Lembeh hairy frogfish, and juvenile pinnate batfish.
Alex more than lived up to the hype. Obviously, he is an excellent and visionary photographer and it was great to see him in action. But what made his workshop extra special was his passion for making outstanding photos and especially his strong desire to teach us how to do so for ourselves. He is a strong communicator and put a ton of effort into his presentations, demonstrations, and lectures to make sure that we grasped the techniques and added them to our shooting toolboxes. Alex is all about originality and pushed us to take artistic, novel, and differentiated photos.
It was also a real pleasure to be in the company of many other excellent photographers, many of whom have won prestigious awards and been published! I learned a tremendous amount from speaking to and diving with the other trip participants.
Lembeh Resort is a beautiful, high-end resort for divers. It is designed with respect for nature in mind and the rooms are built around the trees and vegetation. The practices are eco-friendly, with no plastic bottles on the premises and minimal waste. Rooms are comfortable and clean. The staff is very friendly and well trained. The food is plentiful but I thought it was so so.
The dive operation, Critters@Lembeh, is professionally run and is a high quality operation. The dive guides are truly excellent – they are very knowledgeable about the local species, try hard to find good subjects, and are passionate about what they do. The boats all run smoothly and you don’t have to worry about carrying anything yourself or setting up your own gear as they do that all for you. The camera room is great, with individual table space for each photographer. There is plenty of room for gear, accessories, and battery charging. Between the dive operation and camera room, Lembeh Resort takes care of all of a serious underwater photographer’s needs. But perhaps the most differentiated aspect of the resort for photographers is the fact that they have a photo pro, Sascha Janson, based there full-time. I found him invaluable for his advice, local knowledge, and resourcefulness in dealing with camera issues.
Monday, September 23, 2013
I’ve had a chance to take the new system out on a couple of short trips to Tioman Island now, and I can say unequivocally that this is a huge upgrade from my previous system. There are lots of improvements but the ones that I’ve found that made a real difference to my underwater photography are the improved autofocus system, internal motor for non-AF-S lenses, 1.3x crop mode, and U1 and U2 recall modes.
With this system, I now have several options for supermacro photography: 1.3x crop mode, teleconverters, and wet diopters (or some combination of this). The best thing about it is that I can choose at any point in the dive whether to use 1.3x crop mode and/or the wet diopters.
The YS-D1 strobes are great. They are tiny, powerful, and user friendly.
I am reserving my judgment on the Nauticam housing until I’ve spent more time with it. In general, I love the ergonomics and smart design, but I’ve been having a few issues with the housing. Nothing huge, but annoying enough to make a difference.
I spent 2 weekends in Tioman using the new camera system. Having not been there for a few years, I was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant marine life. I saw lots of clownfish and anemonefish, a few interesting nudibranches, lots of gobies and blennies, and millions of marble shrimp (which are very rare except in Tioman, apparently!). Definitely enough to keep a macro photographer busy. Conditions were generally benign except for some surge, which made supermacro photography challenging at times.
I tried the 60 mm & 1.4x teleconverter combination for the first time and it was great. I didn’t really notice any deterioration in autofocus capabilities, which is really a testament to the camera’s good autofocus.
Thursday, January 05, 2012
Monday, January 02, 2012
By the way, Underwater Photography Guide's review of the lens is here.
I used my new Sola 600 aiming light for the first time on my recent Cabilao trip. People have been raving about it for ages and I am glad that I finally got one for myself. It was a pleasure to use, with a wide and strong beam that had enough coverage for my needs. The best thing about the light, though, is the red mode. I found that the critters were significantly less bothered by the red light, which enabled me to get a lot closer than I have gotten in the past – a real boon for supermacro photography. My only gripe with it is the short battery life. It lasted about 60 minutes on full power, which is only one dive.
The diving topography in Cabilao consists primarily of walls and sloping reefs. The reefs are quite healthy and there are no signs of fishing damage. However, it seems that trash on the island is not well disposed of and it is not uncommon to find discarded food wrappers underwater. The marine life is exclusively macro. It is hard to generalize about the marine life as it is quite varied, but during the course of our stay, we saw frogfish, various pipefish, various shrimp and crabs, various gobies and blennies, octopus, squid, anemonefish, and nudibranchs (only a few). The life was good but not as prolific as say, Anilao. I wish there were more sandy areas that were not covered in corals, which would make conditions more favorable for macro photography.
Unfortunately, our few days on the island were plagued with bad weather – strong winds, intermittent rain, and unpredictable conditions. We made the most of it and dove when we could. I found Cambaquiz I to be the standout dive site. It is a shallow sandy slope with coral outcroppings, which is perfect for macro photography. It is located about 200m from the Cabilao Beach Club dive shop and can accessed either by boat or from shore. It is quite sheltered from the elements, making it an ideal site in bad weather. It is also the default night dive spot for Cabilao Beach Club, which suited me well.
This was my first trip using both the Sola 600 and Dyron Double Macro M77 Lens and both proved to be good purchases.
The resort is secluded and located on a beautifully landscaped plot of land with a private beach. The dive shop and a few chalets are located on the beach, and the restaurant and a few more chalets are on a cliff 52 steps above the beach. The resort is small and personal, with something like 13 rooms. The guests are primarily European. It is very quiet and there is no entertainment other than diving. The employees are very warm and service is good. The food, however, is quite uninteresting.
Overall, I was quite happy with the resort. The macro diving is somewhere between good and great. Perhaps I have been spoiled after diving Anilao several times, but all things considered, I would go to Anilao in the future over Cabilao.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
We quickly discovered that the deeper water was surprisingly cold and eerily dark, so we started heading for Wong Nai Chau island. Above 10m was a lot brighter and the vis improved. We spent most of the dive around 5-6m on the rocky slope poking around looking for marine life.
Vis was pretty decent at 3-4m. On our first dive, we saw lots of small crabs, anemones with baby clownfish and anemone shrimp, and we ended our dive accompanied by a small school of curious yellowtail amberjacks. This was one of the fishiest dives I've done in Hong Kong and the amberjacks were the largest fish I've seen locally.
After a break for lunch, we splashed in again at the same site. The highlight of the dive was my buddy spotting a tiny (less than 2cm long) free swimming persian carpet flatworm (pseudobiceros bedfordi). I put my hand out and it landed on my open palm. I spent a good minute or two staring at it and admiring its beauty before placing it on the bottom. As we were ending our dive, I spotted a cute shorthead fangblenny perched on top of a large rock. It was just hanging out, with its dorsal fin out on display.
All in all, an excellent day of diving in Hong Kong. Days like these make me wish I had brought my camera.
Monday, June 27, 2011
There were 2 physical prizes that were randomly allocated to 2 of the 6 category winners - one Light & Motion Sola 600 light and one return stay to Crystal Blue Resort. Both great prizes, which unfortunately I did not win! Still, I had tons of fun and it is nice to have your photos appreciated! The winning shots are here.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I copy below a forum post from WKPP member Todd Leonard. The post explains the circumstances behind the accident and what went wrong.
I have some additional info to relay now, some of which has been described in fragmentary form on other forums, but for greatest clarity, I'll just try to present a chronological summary of the dive:
Jim was diving with two buddies Saturday, each using an RB80 rebreather. They entered at a site in the WKP (Woodville Karst Plain) called Whiskey Still Sink. From Whiskey, the conduit proceeds at a shallow depth to Innisfree Sink, and beyond Innisfree it drops deeper to a max depth around 220ft and continues. Thus, their decompression was to be done on the other side of Innisfree. Their bottom mix was 240 gas. They carried deco gas to be used at 120, 70, and oxygen at 20. Given the offset profile, they did their own deco setup.
They began the dive on their 120 bottles, which are suitable for the shallow cave between Whiskey and Innisfree. Passing Innisfree they dropped deco bottles at their respective depths. The first error occurred at the 70ft stop, where Jim dropped one of his 240 bottles -- he should have dropped his 70ft bottle, and it should not have been carried any further into the cave.
After proceeding down to the 120ft stop, the team stopped for their switch to 240 gas (their bottom gas). At this point the second and most serious error occurred -- Jim switched onto his 70 bottle. Part of our standard procedure and a very critical step in each and every bottle switch is to check the MOD sticker on the side of the bottle, which would have made very clear that he was about to switch to the wrong bottle; we don't know why, but this check was missed. We also want buddies to watch each others' switches carefully enough to confirm the correct bottle is in play, but this secondary check was not performed and the error was not caught. Following the switch the team dropped their 120 bottles, and proceeded into the cave.
They continued into the cave for a little less than an hour (with Jim breathing his 70 bottle), and turned the dive as planned. Not long after the turn, Jim experienced a seizure. His buddies tried unsuccessfully to help him recover from the seizure, and Jim drowned.
After a prolonged exit the team was able to bring Jim back to the basin at Innisfree, and shortly thereafter a pair of our support divers brought him back to the surface.
So, that's the crux of it. There was a significant error, a critical error, plus missed opportunities to catch and correct those errors.
Jim was a very experienced and responsible diver, and known among his friends for his exceptional meticulousness. We're profoundly shocked and saddened to lose him, and he'd be one of the last people we'd ever imagine might die this way. This dive was well within his skill and experience levels, and the site was very familiar to him.
- Todd Leonard
Monday, June 13, 2011
Please share this video with your friends, favorite dive shop and/or resort, and anyone you think might benefit from watching it. Let's work together to minimize our impact on the wonderful underwater world so that we can preserve it for the future.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I saw many firsts on this trip: saron shrimp, stargazer (3 of them), ocellated octopus, thecacera picta nudibranch (commonly called the "pikachu"), sawblade shrimp, pygmy cuttlefish, and lots and lots of interesting nudis and flatworms. Other notable sightings include jorunna funebris laying eggs (2 of them), 2 giant frogfish, 2 bobbit worms capturing prey, mating nembrotha chamberlaini, 2 napoleon snake eels, a trumpetfish eating a damselfish, cavorting risbecia tryoni, clownfish eggs, and more than 40 distinct sea slug species. There were several dives where we saw 8 or more species of nudibranch on one dive. Other divers saw flamboyant cuttlefish, boxer crab, xenia mimic nudibranch, rhinopias, mimic octopus, and wonderpus, but I missed these. Anilao is well known for great macro life but the wide angle opportunities were fantastic as well, with some participants getting some excellent reef and fish shots.
Anilao's many dive sites offer a great diversity of seascapes. There are black sandy bottoms (Secret Bay, Mainit Bubbles), white sandy bottoms (Anilao Pier), wall dives (Kirby's Rock), sloping reefs (Twin Rocks, Aphol Reef), sandy slopes (Mato Point), rubble patches (Bethlehem), hard coral forests (Cathedral), and everything in between. I've always enjoyed diving Anilao and the more I see, the more special I realize it is.
Each day would start early with 2 dives before lunch. We would break for lunch at the resort, do a lecture, and then do 2 more dives in the afternoon/evening. Lecture topics included local marine life and how to best photograph it, wide angle photography, taking your photography to the next level, and basic photoshop skills.
Boat and buddy assignments were flexible, and took into account site preferences and diving styles. There were generally anywhere from 1 to 4 divers per guide/boat. Scott and Mike rotated so that they got to spend time with everyone. Dives averaged 60-80 minutes and were never rushed. We often sucked our tanks dry in the shallows, right beneath the boat.
Crystal Blue is a nice and cozy resort. It is located right in the middle of the channel in what is probably the best location in all of Anilao for easy access to the best dive sites. The service from the dive guides, boat crew, restaurant, and resort staff was top notch.
Just one word on conservation: Anilao has done a pretty good job of protecting its marine resources by restricting commercial fishing in the area. However, there are a lot of improvements that can still be made. The boats often drop anchor at dive sites, when it would be much better to have permanent mooring buoys installed. It is still common to see trash from nearby villages and resorts floating in the water. And dive resorts and guides need to do a lot more to raise the standard of diving in the area in order to protect the marine life.
It was really beneficial to spend time with 2 experienced photographers as they gave tips and critiques and were open to our questions. It was also great to dive with like minded folk and to share our passion with others. I'll be back for future trips, that's for sure.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
The entire trip is 10 days but I will be going for 7. We will be staying at Crystal Blue Resort.
For some info on Anilao and great photos from Scott and Mike, check out:
Diving Anilao (Scott)
Anilao Underwater Photo Essay (Mike)
Here is a snippet from Scott about the Anilao trip:
Experience more photo subjects than you have ever dreamed of.
Anilao boasts some of the richest reefs in the world. Whether at 100ft or 10ft depth, you will be inundated with photo subjects that will fill up your memory card before the day is over. Almost all species on our critter list can be found in Anilao - such as rhinopia, blue-ring octopus, hairy frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish & bobbit worms, along with huge schools of jacks, great barracuda, sharks and beautiful soft corals. Anilao is also the nudibranch capital of the world.
Your hosts are Anilao experts Scott Gietler and Mike Bartick. Mike and Scott know the Anilao reefs inside and out, and will show you where to take that perfect wide-angle, macro or critter behavior shot.
- $1750 includes an amazing 36 dives, including all meals, nitrox, and transport to/from Manila. This is an awesome deal! You just need to purchase airfare to Manila
- 10 nights, 11 days, 4 dives a day
- Deluxe accommodation in sealed rooms with air-con
- Small dive guide to diver ratios, long dives
- Nightly photo clinics and workshops to help you improve your photography
- We will visit the best dive sites early and often! Most sites are just 10-20 minutes from the resort
- May is the best time to dive Anilao, with warm water and great visibility
- Prizes for photographing the most critters, the most nudibranch species, best video, and the best macro, wide-angle, and behavior shots
- 1 week stays may also be available, inquire for prices
- Photographers with even the smallest point and shoot camera will feel very welcome here, and will come home with some great shots
- we will have several boats, so you can dive the type of sites you like
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
On my most recent trip to Anilao over Easter, we shared a number of dive sites with other groups of divers from other resorts. I couldn’t help noticing the general poor standard of in-water finesse, situational awareness, and conservation-mindedness. We observed lots of instances of divers crashing into the bottom and kicking up corals, sand, and marine life. All open water divers should have the basics such as buoyancy, trim, body positioning, situational awareness, and buddy skills. Dive resorts and guides need to take responsibility for the actions of their clients. If their clients are unaware, apathetic, unsafe, or lacking in skill, something needs to be done. At the very least, they need to speak up and demand better behavior from their clients. If their behavior does not improve, the divers should not be allowed in the water, lest they cause further damage. It is very short-sighted for resorts and guides to turn a blind eye as the reefs and marine life will undoubtedly suffer and this will impact all of us.
I was so excited to see my first bobbit worm on a night dive at Anilao Pier. I settled down on a sandy patch next to it and was waiting patiently, camera in hand, to try to capture the "peak of the action". Suddenly, a group of divers charged by, like a herd of raging bulls, completely unaware that they were stirring up the bottom and causing a huge sandstorm. I looked over to my guide and we shared a moment of disappointment before being engulfed by the dust cloud. Visibility literally went to zero. When the silt settled (only partially settled; Anilao Pier has a sandy bottom and no current so suspended particles can take hours to fully settle), the bobbit worm was covered in sand and the photo opportunity ruined. I can only imagine the impact on the bobbit worm and other marine life affected.
This is not directed at anyone in particular but I would like to make a general statement. If you don't have the skills (whether motor skills, experience, or situational awareness) to dive in delicate environments, please have enough respect and care for the environment to refrain. It is advisable to dive in more benign environments and gain experience before moving on to fragile sites. Even better - please seek appropriate training to improve your buoyancy, trim, body positioning, fin kicks, situational awareness, and buddy skills. I suggest GUE Fundamentals and there are lots of other classes out there that emphasize these basic skills.
To those who observe this type of unacceptable behavior: please, please, please say or do something. Today, I pledged to myself that I will not observe silently anymore. If you care about conservation of the marine environment, please do something. The reefs will thank you and so will I.