This is probably the single most frustrating clip I have ever shot when I look back at it. IE: I screwed it up big time! Not only had I scratched the port of my video camera two days prior, I also got greedy and tried to take still photos with my right hand on one camera while recording video with this video camera in my left! Wouldn’t you know it, neither the stills nor the video came out all that great which is a darn shame as it could have been amazing footage of 30 or more Manta Rays mating in a frenzy right in front of me! Mi’il Channel, Yap, Micronesia
This photo is one of a series of photos from one of the best manta interactions I have had in the last 10 years. It was the 27th of Dec 2013 and I was in the Raja Ampat region of Indonesia at a site called Manta Sandy. The group of people that I was with were a large family of snorkelers who were super excited at the chance of encountering a few mantas if they were lucky (little were they to know!). We all jumped in close to the “cleaning station” at this famous dive site and drifted along the coral reef while interacting with a group of 5 or 6 mantas that were actively swimming only a few metres away from us. The water was full of small jellies and other planktonic goodness that the mantas were feeding on and they didn’t seem to mind our attention at all. After being in the water for around 30 minutes, and encountering at least 10 different mantas, the group tired of the swimming and decided to jump back on the chase boat for a few cool beverages while talking excitedly about the great manta action they had just witnessed. While the family basked in the sun, myself and the resident dive ops manager of the boat, Alex, kept a sharp eye out on the water surface to see if we could see any further manta activity. Sure enough, as the boat drifted across the channel from the manta cleaning station, we could spot plenty of manta wing tips breaking the surface. After a few minutes of watching the manta activity from a little ways away, and noticing that the guests were not in any hurry to head back to the mother ship, Alex and I asked if we could jump in the water again to “investigate” the mantas that we could see in the distance (Being the photographer that I am I of course brought my camera as well). Within seconds of jumping off the boat we were surrounded by what must have been a minimum of 30 mantas rays feeding at or near the surface scooping up the rich plankton and jellies in the water. Of course we immediately told everyone on the boat to jump back in the water and everyone had the most incredible experience of being surrounded by these magnificent creatures in a once in a lifetime opportunity! I won’t forget that snorkel anytime soon and every time I head back to Raja in December I am constantly looking to repeat it!
Nikon D7000 in Aquatica Housing, 10.5mm lens, f8, 1/250, ISO 400, natural light
Recently I was sent a Floatogear wrist lanyard to try out with my photo gear to see what my opinion is about this new product. Thankfully I received the lanyards 2 days before heading out on a big trip to Ambon and Raja Ampat for a couple of Underwater Tribe photo workshops and I thought they would come in quite handy. The first thing I noticed about these lanyards were that they were quite “thick” and should be able to help keep smaller items afloat. The other thing I noticed was the BRIGHT yellow colouration of the lanyard which of course was designed to stand out underwater or at the surface. Now I must admit I am not really a big fan of lanyards, I don’t use them to attach my camera to myself, never have. The reason for this is that with a big bulky DSLR housing I am constantly switching hands with it, holding it in different ways, manipulating the strobe arms etc. therefore, a lanyard would just get in the way. However, obviously the Floatogear lanyard was not designed for an SLR housing anyway but rather for smaller cameras and other accessories instead, for this function I felt I did have a few uses for the lanyard. First stop on the trip was a photo workshop in Ambon at Maluku Divers Resort, on this course I would be always carrying a dive light with me in order to help the students backlight or focus on their subjects, this was the first tool that I decided to try it out on. I was very happy with the quick release lanyard solution included with the Floatogear lanyard, it allowed a quick loop on to the light without having to make any weird knots or anything. Once I hit the water the first thing I tried was to see if the “float” would be strong enough to lift the light, although not a large light, the float did not lift it from the bottom. However, to me this was actually a blessing, as I wouldn’t want something I put on the bottom to float to the surface anyway and that is not what they are meant for anyway! But the lanyard did fit very snugly on my wrist without having to tighten or loosen it and it did give me a feeling of confidence that the light wouldn’t drop off my wrist.
The next item that I attached the lanyard to was my pokie stick and this proved to be where it stayed for the rest of the week. Although the lanyard was capable of floating the stick to the surface (I didn’t want that to happen obviously) it was not for that reason that I was using it. What I was using it for instead ended up being the visuals of it. When I am muck/critter diving with photography students I can often find a subject that I want my student to shoot but that student is currently busy shooting something else. When that happens I will often stick my stick into the sand to mark the location and then I swim away to work with the student on something else. However, sometimes it takes me a few minutes to find that stick once I start looking for it again! Once I attached the Floatogear lanyard to the stick I didn’t have that issue anymore, the bright yellow material stood out from a mile away and I was always able to find my stick and subject very quickly after that.
Although not really made for a diver with a DSLR, I think these lanyards are well suited for are folks who are using smaller cameras and accessories in a marine environment such as paddle boarders, kayakers, swimmers, and snorkelers. These robust lanyards are secure and can “float” compact cameras and GoPros without an issue and give good piece of mind to people using cameras in or near the water. I am happy with mine and will definitely be using it again in the future, especially when shooting with my GoPro at the surface.
As Floatogear is a new product they are also announcing a 30% discount when purchasing it on Amazon at the following link: Floatogear Amazon page and enter MVeitch1 as the discount code. If you are someone who uses equipment around water quite often then this is a great deal!
Raja Ampat on the Mermaid II with the Underwater Tribe
We have just recently finished an Underwater Tribe group trip aboard the Mermaid II liveaboard in Raja Ampat and there is no way to describe other than the word FANTASTIC! When we planned this trip almost two years ago, we looked at the calendar to decide what dates would work best in terms of tidal and moon phase as well as the optimal time of year for weather and we decided that the end of March would be perfect, and boy are we happy that we chose those dates! The weather and sea conditions could not have been better, the water was crystal clear, and the currents were mild which made life easy for our group of divers. We spent the vast majority of our time in the Misool area enjoying the incredible dive sites that the area has to offer including Fansea, Nudi and Tank Rock, Whale Rock, Magic Mountain, Bo’o, and the Daram area along with a few other sites thrown in as well. In the Dampier Strait area we dove Cape Kri, Blue Magic, Arborek, Manta Sandy and Sardine. As can be expected from Raja Ampat, the fish life was prolific and the incredible amount of colourful corals was just mind-boggling. For those looking for macro subjects there was certainly no shortage of pygmy seahorses as we saw Denise, Bargibanti, and Santa Clause (the red and white Denise) on pretty much every dive. We had plenty of turtle encounters and we were also very lucky with mantas both in the Misool region as well as in the Dampier Strait. The diving could not have been better as everything worked out perfectly. When not diving we also enjoyed several cruises investigating and photographing the unique karst limestone formations that can be found in the Balbulol and Wayil area and also had the chance to wander around the island of Arborek and enjoy a very well performed dance by the kids. Of course we also presented our patented Underwater Tribe photo seminars each day and answered questions about photography for those interested.
We were very impressed with the Mermaid II, the boat was quiet and the ride was smooth, the food was excellent and plentiful, and of course the crew and guides were absolutely outstanding! We are already planning our next trip aboard the vessel and are looking forward to another week with the Mermaid II. Special thanks for everyone who joined us on the trip, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did and we are looking forward to seeing you all again soon. Enjoy some pics and stay tuned for a few short videos as well!
Alor is one of the most underrated destinations in Indonesia, in fact, the entire area east of Maumere is home to some incredible geography with plenty of belching volcanoes, healthy reefs, and traditional cultures. Although many divers head to the area to take advantage of the superb macro photo subjects, the wide angle photography opportunities are also very rich. One of the more unique areas is the island of Pura, a large volcano thrusting 1000 metres out of the water in the strait between Pantar and Alor. On the south eastern shore of Pura lies one of the more interesting dives in Alor, basically several kilometres of never ending bubble tipped anemones and their resident clownfish. Although the endless spread of anemones is a cool site to see, it’s the chance to encounter local kids in the water at this site that can often be the highlight of a dive here. Quite often the young boys from the village can be found playing in their small boats or swimming in the water with their hand made spear guns. It’s quite a sight to look up from the reef to see one of these young men peering down at you from the surface while wearing home made goggles. With this particular shot I spotted the guys paddling out toward me in their small outrigger while I was near the surface. Next thing I knew, the two young fellas both popped their faces into the water at the same time! I think they did this not only to check who was down there but also to see if I had a camera, because the next thing you know they both jumped into the water at the same time. Why did they want to see if I had a camera? Why did they jump in the water? They wanted to perform for my camera of course! While one of them kept diving down and posing in a zen like state, the other was swimming along with his spear gun trying to impress me with his fish killing prowess (I ignored him because of that..) I spent 15 or 20 minutes with these kids taking quite a few photos of them but it was the first photo that stands out the most. I was extremely fortunate to capture their happy smiles and the obvious eagerness as they were waiting to “clown” for the camera.
Alor, Eastern Indonesia, Nikon D90 with Aquatica Housing, 10-17mm lens at 10mm, f8, 1/250
The view from the peak of Wayag, Raja Ampat, Indonesia
The signature shot of Raja Ampat, Indonesia is usually one featuring the panorama overlooking the incredible lagoon of Wayag, one of the northernmost island groups in Raja. To get this photo involves a short walk/climb to the top of one of the highest peaks in the island group and the hike itself is no easy feat! Taking about 30 minutes from the beach to the top, the hike starts with a fairly easy jungle covered slope that evolves into a steep climb that involves having to pull oneself up a time or two. However, the view from the top of the karst mountain is well worth the effort as it provides a brilliant view in all directions of the beauty of Raja Ampat. With dozens of small rock islands surrounded by incredible blue water, the lagoon is the epitome of what Raja Ampat offers. For photographers, the colours are brought out best in the late afternoon or early morning with the soft available light working wonders. This photo was taken in the late afternoon and looks down to the SE toward the south lagoon mooring and a Super Yacht that is anchored in the area.