Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Underwater Photography Guide Photo Workshop Trip Report, May 2011

I just got back from an excellent weeklong trip to Anilao to attend Underwater Photography Guide's photo workshop with Scott Gietler and Mike Bartick. It was tons of fun and I feel like my photography skills improved markedly throughout the week.

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.

Anilao Photos May 2011

Just got back from an excellent trip to Anilao with Underwater Photography Guide. Here's a quick selection of photos. Full set of photos here.

Saron shrimp at Cathedral. 60mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Giant frogfish at Secret Bay. 60mm, 1/250s, f/16, ISO 200

Stargazer at Anilao Pier. 60mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Noumea Alboannulata at Bethlehem. 105mm, 1/250s, f/22, ISO 200

Xeno crab at Secret Bay. 105mm, 1/250s, f/20, ISO 200

Sawblade shrimp at Secret Bay. 60mm, 1/250s, f/20, ISO 200

Yawning pink anemonefish at Kirby's Rock. 105mm, 1/250s, f/13, ISO 200

Cavorting risbecia tryoni at Arthur's Rock. 60mm, 1/250s, f/18, ISO 200

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Underwater Photography Guide Photo Workshop

I am very excited that I will be joining Scott Gietler and Mike Bartick from Underwater Photography Guide on a photo workshop trip to Anilao in late May. I just got back from a short trip to Anilao over Easter and the diving was fantastic as usual. This will be my third trip to the area. I have been studying Scott's website to improve my photography skills for some time, so when he announced this trip several months ago, I jumped at the opportunity. Scott does underwater photographers a great service by publishing his free website that is full of instruction, tips, information, and great pictures. It is also a good source of inspiration as the photos on his site are from a number of world class photographers.

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
[End Quote]

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

In the Name of Conservation

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.