It is day 2 of my underwater photography course and keeping in mind the previous day’s lesson about shooting subjects head on where possible, I carefully frame my first macro shot of a nudibranch. It is after a couple of thoughtfully composed shots, that my instructor, Alex, gently shows me that I am actually pointing the camera at the nudi’s back end!
I have embarked on a 15 day Dive Centre Pro Photographer Diver course, a PADI specialty, written by Alex Tyrell, MSDT, especially for people like me, who aim to become a dive centre photographer. Alex’s company is Dive4photos, based in Koh Tao, Thailand and he also offers one-on-one custom made courses.
My course was run over three weeks, with 30 dives at a maximum ratio of 2 students:1 instructor and 45 hours in the classroom.
The price is 62,500 Baht (approximately £1400) and includes all the camera equipment needed, although obviously it is best to have your own.
I chose this course because there didn’t seem to be anything else suitable for someone like me: someone who had absolutely zero knowledge of photography, yet who wanted way more than the PADI DUP course could offer.
So, I am armed with all the gear:
Sony RX100 compact camera
Inon closeup lens
Inon wide angle lens and dome port and float arms,
All on advice of my friend Steve Warren. All the gear, and as the saying goes: no idea. I have become the exact sort of diver I used to privately snigger at…
Another friend, a pro land photographer, told me to become proficient with the camera before I even considered taking it underwater. This, of course was excellent advice, but as I didn’t get the camera until three days before my trip, it wasn’t advice I could follow!
The first five days started with using the camera and the TTL (Through The Lens) function on the strobe and then day 2 adding the macro lens and using the manual setting on the strobe. It took two days before I even learned the basic camera functions, but with patient tutelage, I managed to produce a few good shots. It felt as though everything I was told just further underlined how much I didn’t know! But by the third day, I felt it was coming together: instead of focusing on the shots, I was focusing on the learning and it was starting to make sense.
Having been an MSDT for twenty years with several thousand dives, I naturally considered my buoyancy and situational awareness to be very good. However, hovering next to a wall, shooting a 1cm crab on a whip coral from six inches away, with a negative camera set-up, I felt more like an open water student! Over the first week, I managed to bump into a sea urchin while contorting myself into the necessary position to get a shot and I also found myself regularly neglecting to pay sufficient attention to my air consumption and NDL’s – something I have spent years warning my customers about.
The PADI mantra, as taught on the DUP course, is SEA – Shoot, Examine and Assess. It almost seems too obvious to say, however the temptation is to just keep shooting; but it isn’t until you look at the shot and assess composition, focus and exposure, that you know what needs adjusting to improve the shot.
Another good piece of advice of Alex’s is that you are looking for a good subject, in a good location, in a good mood!
Finding the subjects was something Alex helped with; he would get me set up on one and then go off and look for the next, saving me time; frustratingly, subjects would often not be in a good position and I would have to move on. The good mood? Well, that was another thing to learn, to assess which subjects were not worth wasting your time on!
My evenings were spent using Lightroom (also covered thoroughly on the course), editing, making my homework portfolios, but mostly deleting! On average I was deleting 80-90% of my shots each day!
By day 5, I felt reasonably confident and comfortable, experimenting more with apertures and depth of field.
But then the macro lens was packed away and out came the wide angle…..
The next five days were all learning the wide angle lens and dome port. Here the lighting became more complex as I learned about lighting the shot using both the strobes and ambient light. This is also when I started to play more with the ISO and shutter speed settings. The course also included two days using magic filters and learning white balance – another of those terms I’d heard of, but had no idea about. It was halfway through the first filter dive, that I realised I’d forgotten to do the white balance – thank goodness for post processing!
There was an option for the final five days; to focus on either marine life or photographing divers. Alex pointed out, fish don’t buy photos, but I decided to focus on the marine life thinking that divers can’t be that hard to shoot (I was wrong, especially when they are student divers). I was surprised how much Alex taught me about the marine life that helped me in taking pictures, such as the shrimp goby shaking his tail right before he’s about to dive back into his hole.
By the end of the course, I was amazed at how much we had covered and after 30 dives with Alex on Dive Point’s boat, I was sorry to leave; I’d become especially fond of the boat cat Mr White.
Do I feel like a pro photographer? Well maybe not quite yet; but I have all the tools and information I need now. A little more practice and I’ll soon feel confident enough to claim the title!
Apart from the course content, I also learned how easy it is to get tunnel vision; so much focus is on the camera and the shot, it is easy, (no matter how experienced) to forget the very basics, such as checking NDL’s and air consumption!
I learned to be patient, to wait for the right shot and finally, which end is the business end of a nudibranch….
Check www.dive4photos.com to check for course dates and more information.
Lucy first worked as a Scuba instructor in the late 1990s, and to date has worked in Bali, Thailand, Malaysia, the Cayman Islands and the Turks & Caicos islands, where I met her years ago.
After 10 years back in the UK Lucy was fed up with the cold and has returned to Asia to pursue a career in underwater photography. She zips through countries so quickly it’s hard to keep up with her, but you can see what the sea has to offer wherever she is on Instragram