When I moved to Singapore in 2010, I picked up both scuba diving and underwater photography. As many divers do, I began traveling with my local dive club. It was a great group of Singaporeans and expats and I loved each and every adventure. While it was good fun, I eventually realized traveling with groups that weren’t focused on photography was not ideal. Once able to attend a dedicated underwater photography trip, I was better able to appreciate the difference in the quality of my images as well as learn and test all sorts of imaging gear. My learning curve was defined, and ultimately accelerated as a result.
In comparison to many standard dive travel options, underwater photography trips can be relatively pricey. A good alternative to underwater photography workshops is to search for a trip that has a nice mix of underwater photographers and non-photographers. You can do this by joining trips offered by camera shops rather than dive shops. For example, I organize an annual trip to the Sea of Cortez in this way. As the itinerary is offered through a camera shop but marketed to all divers, the mix of shooters and strictly divers/snorkelers has always been well balanced. Over time, as you grow your network, you may want to create your own pack of traveling underwater photographers.
For those new to underwater photography, here are just a few reasons why traveling in packs makes sense:
- Dive Guides: Dive guides like to have a plan and stick to it. Most scuba divers know all too well how dive guides like to keep the group moving throughout a site at a decent pace. If you keep stalling the group for photos, you will definitely end up on the dive guides naughty list, and likely irritate your dive buddies. Having constant nagging from a dive guide is super frustrating and not helpful when trying to create good images. When you join trips with other photographers, the organizer will explain the needs of the guests upfront so groups can be properly divided. By doing so, dive guides can plan dives a little differently and move throughout a site much more slowly.
- Spare Parts: Another reason to travel in packs is for spare parts. Whether you forgot your allenwrenches, need some extra batteries, or if one of your strobes floods, underwater photographers generally have lots of spare equipment with them. While it might not be exactly what you need, you’re more likely to find spare parts and equipment if you are with other underwater photographers. Luckily, scuba divers have many more camera options than they did in the early 2010's—when I began.
- Troubleshooting: Oftentimes, underwater photographers end up shooting in some pretty remote places that don’t have cell service or access to the internet. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have seen other photographers sort out their camera or housing issues because another photographer had been through the same ordeal. Whether it’s a flooded housing or a strobe that isn’t firing, having other underwater photographers around can mean the difference between shooting and not.
- Feedback: Of course, there is always the ability to get feedback on your images and exchange ideas and techniques. You won’t find that with a group of strictly divers. It can be good for a new underwater photographer to bounce ideas and questions off more experienced photographers.
- Models: Lastly, underwater photographers tend to make good models as they usually understand what a photographer needs—assuming you can get them to put their camera down and model for you!
Without discounting the points above, an entire dive group of underwater photographers can get a little cumbersome when everyone wants the same shot. It's therefore critical to give other underwater photographers sufficient space and ensure everyone gets their turn on a point of interest. How do you ask? In case you missed it, I put together an article on proper underwater photography etiquette that you can check out here.