A couple of weeks ago, I spent the weekend at Anilao Photo Academy in the Philippines. It’s a great experience and I very much recommend it to anybody who wants to dive and shoot. It was my second trip there and it reminded me my love of their guides and why a dive guide is a good thing to have. I’ve dived with both Jason and Doodz there.
I’ve also used a couple of macro guides in Tulamben (Darmada and Yansu and at times some of their friends) and have a ton of respect and love for them also.
I’ve also guided my friends in Pulau Tioman, Singapore, Japan, and even a little bit in Massachusetts. Since I can find some creatures, I’m reasonably decent at taking the “swim fast, scare fish” crowd and turning them into “go slow and see things” macro photography divers. And some of them are getting really good.
Guides are officially Dive Masters and as such they are there to keep you safe and get you back to the boat alive. However, a good macro photography guide does a whole lot more:
- Finds you subjects quickly
- Finds a subject while you are busy taking photographs so that you have less time hunting
- Knows where to find the rare and unique subjects
Working with a Guide
There are several things that you can do to work with a guide better.
Tell Them What You Want. Before you dive with your guide, have a quick conversation with them about your skill level in diving and what kind of macro experience you want to have. If you want to find a specific creature, tell them that and they will usually find it for you.
Show Them Your Pictures. They usually like photos, or are at least too polite to tell you that you suck. =) But really, show them some photos off your phone so that they understand what kinds of photos you are capable of taking. It will help them understand a little bit more about how you think and what kind of shots they can set up for you. If you have decent skill, they will show you some of the harder subjects.
Learn How To Hunt. At the beginning of the dive and when you finish with a subject and the guide is busy, you still have to hunt and find your own subjects. While it’s great when you’re working with guides, you still have to have your own capabilities.
Know When to Leave a Subject. If you’re working a very common subject or one that you have lots of photos already, the guide will probably find something better while you’re busy. If you’re still taking pictures of that common subject, you’re losing time that you could be working something awesome, and dive time is always limited. So get a couple of good shots then move on. This could be clown fish, hermit crabs, skeleton shrimp, or even Pikachu when you’ve shot a lot of them on that trip.
Be Responsible for Yourself. Get better at diving. Monitor your gas consumption. Retreat to shallower areas when you are running low on NDL or gas. Learn the frog kick and don’t kick up sand and nudies when you move. What this does is let the guide worry less about your survival and worry more about finding good macro subjects.
Take Good Photos. This one is fairly obvious, but not in the way that you would think. Guides want you to take good pictures, that’s how you tell your friends what an awesome time you had. It also leads to referrals and tips. However, the important thing is that you learn how to take good underwater macro photos before you book the guide. Attend a workshop. Do some dry macro photography. Do macro dives at home.
Show Them Your Camera Setup and Techniques. By this, I mean This has 2 main benefits. The first is that if they know what the capabilities of your photography setup are, they can help you find the right subjects and angles. For instance, they will know what size of subject can you shoot: how small can you go. Or how close you have to get to the subject to be able to focus on it. The second is that it helps the guide to know how to help other photographers with similar gear and techniques.
Be a Good Customer. Give them tips at the end of your trip and don’t be cheap. These guys usually grew up in the area and pay money back into the local economy. Common tip for 2-4 days is $50USD and a week’s worth of diving is $100USD. Credit and tag them in your photos so they can build a sort of online portfolio. And most importantly, when you talk to your dive photographer friends and they like your photos, give them contact info for the guide so that they can get the business.
See You Underwater!!!