The first week focused on macro subjects and our dive-base was Lembeh Resort, which provides a lovely environment for workshops, photo critiques and post-dive relaxation at the pool bar or in the spa.
The diving is run by Critters at Lembeh Resort and the experienced dive-team appreciate the requirements of underwater photographers, because part of their training involves diving with a camera. They even run competitions to find images for the annual resort calendar.
Lembeh dive-sites are mostly black sandy slopes with rubble bottoms and names like Hair Ball, Bianca, Slow Poke, Police Pier and TK 1, 2 or 3.
The randomly distributed corals, rocks and debris across the seabed offer homes to weird and wonderful creatures small, tiny and microscopic.
As the dive-sites are nearby, it’s easy to return to the resort between the two morning dives to relax by the pool, drinking tea and eating freshly baked cakes and cookies.
Above, clockwise from top left: Shrimp on soft coral the size of a broccoli floret; pygmy cuttlefish lit with a constant light source; juvenile frogfish; soft coral crab; flamboyant cuttlefish still in their egg-casings.
Afternoons are devoted either to workshops or photo-critique sessions.
Lisa would teach us a technique, and we then had the next couple of days to practise it. Topics covered included strobe positioning, bluewater/blackwater backgrounds, bokeh (that funky effect in which a critter’s eyes are in focus but everything else is blurry) and creative lighting using torches to give softer, more atmospheric effects.
Linda, Stuart and I were diving in a buddy three, and our guide Opo Kecil would direct one of us to a subject and suggest an angle from which to shoot its head rather than its rear – particularly helpful for subjects half the size of your little fingernail. Once Opo was sure we were happy he would proceed to find subjects for the other two.
So we all had a creature to take time over practising the different settings and lighting techniques we had been taught.
Opo used a combination of tank-taps and low grunts to shift us between subjects when we were ready, while keeping an eye on our air and bottom time – the details you might overlook when engrossed in capturing that perfect image!
He was also happy to help with holding snoots and helped me to creatively light a snake eel that had a shrimp jumping around its eye. The spotlight effect of a snoot is a great way to avoid lighting noisy backgrounds, but does need precision and more than two hands.
He would even intuitively shine his torch to help my camera focus properly on difficult-to-light subjects. I never felt rushed, and if any of us needed to spend 10-15 minutes capturing a subject, Opo would patiently wait until we were ready.
Lisa would divide her time among the group with in-water coaching on shooting angles, strobe-positioning and settings.
We could use her slate to ask questions, so that problems could be resolved mid-dive rather than surfacing to a disappointing collection of images.
Dive, Eat, Sleep, Photo-critique soon became the routine. The image review and critique was invaluable.
At the start of the week this was a blind submission of unedited images so that the group felt comfortable sharing and commenting. After a few days we had all got to know each other, so happily shared our images and opinions.
Other divers might have used a different shooting angle, or composition, and hearing their views was helpful. Lisa also shared her opinion on each image and reviewed the settings used, explaining how changing the ISO, shutter-speed or f-stop would have given a different effect.
This coaching meant that the next time we jumped into the water we had an understanding of how to improve.