Photography Workshop in Raja Ampat
Photography Workshop in Raja Ampat
Armed with kilos of overweight luggage and cumulatively more than a century of dive experience, our eager underwater digital SLR photographers arrived onboard the S/Y Indo Siren raring to capture the beauty of Raja Ampat in RAW images. The photography workshop arranged by DiveQuest and lead by underwater photography guru, Shannon Conway, was the perfect opportunity for our guests to hone their skills on stunning subjects. At the end of the trip each photographer submitted their 3 favorite photos into a competition, reviewed and judged by all aboard (including the crew).What diver is not inspired by underwater images found in dive magazines or in coffee table books? I, myself, must admit to envying people who have the opportunity and talent to capture such beauty. And then I think about the weight and size (and price!) of all the equipment, the organization, time and diligence required to filter, sort and post-process each photo and I realize I’m quite happy just to swim around unencumbered sharing beautiful things I encounter to other people … and let them do the work! Because, really, what goes into the making of a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, goose bump-illiciting underwater photograph? A whole hell of a lot! The right equipment and facilities, relevant technical knowledge and information, as well as great subjects, just to name a few.
Let’s start with equipment: camera + housing + strobes + focus light + 105mm, 60mm, wide-angle and fish-eye lenses + dome port. Oh, and camera battery + spare camera battery + battery charger + the same for the focus light and strobes. And then where is it going to all go? Fortunately our guests were able to find ample space to set up and store all of this equipment at the indoor camera stations, using the various non-slip surfaces to dismantle and remount their rigs in-between dives (after having dried them with camera-dedicated towels), and then taking advantage of the large storage drawers assigned to each of them to tuck away equipment they weren’t using at the time. Batteries were charged using one of the many, many outlets at the camera stations, all around the saloon and in their cabins. No fighting necessary! One of the great things about a joining a photography workshop is the resources available. Shannon was on-hand at all times to review photos and give advice, and go over people’s rig set-ups to address any issues they might be having. Several evenings he hosted workshops using the giant flat screen television to illustrate what he was saying with his own images. Among the topics discussed were lighting, composition (negative space, depth and colour) and histograms, as well as a lecture on using (and this is my new favorite camera lingo) a snoot – which proceeded one of our macro diving days. Almost everyone participated in these workshops, regardless of skill-level, and even the dive guides took the opportunity to gain further insight into the art of underwater photography. Check out Joss Woolf’s 2nd place winning photo of anemone fish for an example of the simple, yet extremely effective concept of complementary colours. Since Raja Ampat offers such incredible diversity in diving, it was imperative for the photographers to be properly briefed on each of the day’s dives – preferably in advance so as to give time for preparation. Therefore the dive briefings were particularly detailed with respect to the conditions, the underwater scenery and the marine life descriptions so that everyone was comfortable to choose the appropriate lens for their goal that dive. Dive crew paid special attention to these goals and did their best to cater to them.
Despite having all these experts at their disposal, perhaps the most important resource for our photographers was each other. It was wonderful to see how helpful everyone was to each other, sharing not only advice and experiences, joys and woes, but also equipment and techniques. There was the true spirit of camaraderie onboard. Since the guests of the SY Indo Siren were clearly armed with the resources to take great photos of just about anything, you can image what kind of stunning images they were able to capture on this trip given the abundance of fantastic subjects in Raja Ampat.
Misool lies in the southernmost extremity of Raja Ampat and is famous for its dramatically sculpted limestone islands that drop off steeply into deep waters, and which are densely covered in gorgeous soft coral. Perhaps one of the most iconic dive sites of this area is Boo Windows, what I often to refer to as an “everything” dive site. Named for the large, shallow holes that the water has carved through the island, a shot of a diver through the ‘windows’ is a must have for any underwater photographer. Though not technically ‘marine life’, SY Indo Siren’s three dive guiding mermaids proved to be aesthetically pleasing underwater subjects as they posed for the cameras. They might have had to work a bit harder than true fishes not to fly through the windows and into any lenses given the currents that day, but I would hazard to say they are generally more cooperative subjects – with exception of the resident orbicular batfish that kept swimming right up to the camera lenses. By popular demand from our insatiable photographers, we spent the entire day at this site. Some of our divers took the opportunity to swap to a [super] macro lens and were rewarded with a bonanza of pygmy seahorses. Check out Tammy’s 1st place winning photograph of a yet-to-be-scientifically-described species found only in the Misool area taken that day.
Another particularly memorable experience in the Misool-area was an excursion to the top-secret “Alien Headquarters”, discovered previously by the S/Y Mandarin Siren. Normally a top-side excursion, our photographers took advantage of the Jurassic Park-like setting serving as the background and the shallow hard coral reef top foreground to practice some split and reflection shots during a somewhat unusual dive experience. Since some of our guests had never endeavored in this style of underwater photography, it turned out to be a perfect warm-up for our dives in the mangroves of Yanggefo later on in the trip.
In contrast to southern Raja Ampat, the area around Waigeo’s Dampier Strait is predominantly characterized by hard-coral and soft-coral covered bommie reefs sloping down to sandy bottoms. This habitat creates the perfect lair for the wobbegong shark, which hides on the sand underneath the coral and bommies. It seems as though these creatures have become increasingly bold and curious as a many of our encounters this trip involved the wobbegong swimming right up to us, and once even settling on the sand right next to a diver after brushing her tank! What prompted him to do that is a bit mysterious, and if I may anthropomorphize for a moment, my guess is he was wondering what the hell could be so interesting about a small, purple Murciela sea fan (presuming he couldn’t see the dozen or so Bargibanti pygmy seahorses paired up in it).
Near to the long, thin island of Mansuar is a labyrinth of sand banks and channels – a captain’s nightmare but the location of a very reliable Manta Ray cleaning station named “Manta Sandy”. Three dives lucky, yet again, and over the course of the day we would be treated to close encounters with these majestic elasmobranchs. Swooping, swooping and more swooping, up to 8 at a time. Even our Manta veterans declared it to be some of the best Manta diving for them to date. As though this was not enough, joining the show was a spotted eagle ray, as well as 6 mobula (devil) rays hovering in diamond formation above our heads. Needless to say, quite a few Manta Ray photos were submitted in the competition.
In case you haven’t figured out, a photography workshop is no ordinary trip and under normal circumstances our guests are quite content with a 30 minute snorkel in the mangroves. This trip, however, we did no less than 2 dives here (though a few guests opted to do the ‘normal’ dives offered concurrently). In fact, these were the #3 favorite dives of the trip, after Boo Windows (#1) and Manta Sandy (#2). As mentioned earlier, split and reflection images were the style du jour. The elegant arches of the mangrove roots hovering above a pristine hard coral garden are home to hundreds of coral cardinal fish the unusual archerfish, as well as many juvenile species. Check out Sue Morrison’s 3rd place winning photograph of a bright pink flower hanging from a mangrove tree as it grazes the surface of the water, a unique entry in the competition.
The final day of diving on the cruise was spent at 2 of our most diverse dive sites – Mioskon and Blue Magic in the Dampier Strait. Having dived them the day before, everyone was able to put on the lens of their choice with a last chance to perfect capturing their favorite subject – be it beautiful scenery, schooling fish, big fish, tiny fish, unusual fish, ugly fish … up to you!
Many thanks to our Rachel at DiveQuest for bringing us such lovely guests, to our photographers for sharing the fruits of their labour, to their non-photographer friends who joined us onboard and dived with no less enthusiasm than the rest of us, and to Shannon for his invaluable tutelage. And last but not least, many thanks to the crew of the S/Y Indo Siren for their attentive service complimented by unwavering enthusiasm and playful spirit. Fantastic work, everyone!!