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.

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