Bali – diving with Underwater Tribe May 2013

Some people say there are two types of Australians – those that take holidays in Bali and those that don’t.  Personally, I reckon, if you could be bothered, there are better ways to categorise Australians (league-v–rugby–v–AFL–v–soccer; for starters) but it is true about Bali.

And … well, I am in the “those that don’t” camp. On my one and only holiday trip there more than a decade ago, I fell into the “exhausted, needs to loll by a pool and be looked after until a sufficient level of coma is achieved” group. These days I would rather spend my holidays underwater and if I need to be comatose, I’m happy lazing around here on a beautiful far south coast beach where the sun is strong, the sand is crunchy and soft and the ocean is refreshing.










For me Bali is a frustrating mix – affordable beachside luxury for when you need to be comatose, but with about a million other tourists gaggling around. Glimpses of a colourful rich culture, but only superficially available at best. Hot, crowded, noisy and far too many Aussies in unflattering Bintang singlets behaving badly. I’d seen beautiful footage of diving the Liberty Wreck (for example, google Bubblevision) but understood it was usually super crowded and the Mola Mola dives at Nusa Penida looked pretty good but potentially treacherous with the wrong dive operator.

I had come to think of Bali (well Denpasar to be more accurate) as one of those necessary evils, along with excess luggage fees and the push and shove of boarding small planes, that you learn to just flow with on your way to a wonderful Indonesian dive trip.

Look how dreadful it turned out to be, damn that tree

Then a couple of diver/photographers I respect started talking about Bali as a credible dive destination – perfect to add on to the start or end of a trip. I was joining a group of local dive friends on a trip through Komodo on Phi Siren, so organised a couple of them to join me – adding a few extra days to the start of the trip to sample some Bali diving.  I arranged a couple of quotes and signed us up with Mike Veitch and Luca Vaime’s new dive/travel/photography company, Underwater Tribe, for a six day Bali diving safari. I had no idea what to expect but figured, based on an earlier trip with Mike to Cenderawasih Bay, these were people I could trust. And I am so glad I did.

I wish I could say I handed planning confidently over to Luca and Miho (Mike was out on a boat somewhere) but to be honest, I was a little nervous about dragging three friends out into the unknown, so there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing over the emails. I needn’t have bothered. Luca and Miho put together a fantastic itinerary that took us from Sanur, our pick up point in the south, up to the north west coast to dive Menjangan Island, then along the north coast (in an easterly direction) to Lovina, Tulamben and Amed, finishing up with a night and day in Ubud for those of us travelling on. A chance to dry our gear before meeting up with our Canberra friends (in Kuta – sigh) ahead of the flight to Bima.

Not too shabby

Underwater Tribe took care of everything – we had a fantastic dive master from Manado assigned to us, Niko, and a very capable driver (essential in that crazy traffic), Julian, who also knew a lot about the areas we were travelling through and the various ceremonies we were to encounter and a great sense of humour. Accommodation was taken care of, and really, all we had to do was roll out of bed and follow them around. As a particular treat, Mike and Made Dwi Suarsana (I know, how lucky was that!) travelled with us as well. The first long day of travel was easier than I expected – broken up with stops for breakfast, a walk (through torrential rain) to a pretty speccy waterfall, stops at beautiful mountain lookouts,

Waterfall at Civet Cat Poo Coffee Farm

and a stop for those who find monkeys endearing (I’m not in that group either).

Luckily I had completed the Rabies shots

Diving started with a full day, three boat dives at Menjangan Island – part of West Bali National Park and the first of what would turn out to be many wonderful surprises – healthy hard and soft coral, massive gorgonian fans, schooling fish, caves and an array of macro subjects. The island is a popular day trip destination for snorkelling tourists, wrapped around pool noodles, but we seemed to be the only divers.

Water taxies lined up ready to make the trip to Menganjan Island


This Gorgonian fan was enormous – beautiful wall dive

Rust-spotted guard crab

Trapezia rufopunctata

This island is also home to the very impressive Puri Gili Kencana temple. Terrible photo, complete with water droplet distortion, but gives some notion of the size and elaborate design of this temple. I googled the name of the temple and found that along with the other three temples on the island, this site is favoured by couples hoping to start a family and that someone has apparently left a Geocaching token in the main temple. I know I’m an old lady but that struck me as a pretty disgraceful thing to do.

Part of the Puri Gili Kencana temple

Throughout the day a stream of the water taxis arrived with pilgrims, creating quite a traffic jam at the island’s jetty. Fun to watch while we enjoyed a boxed lunch. Along with snorkelers with noodles we also spotted some wild Java deer on a beach. But really it was the diving that had brought us to this beautiful remote part of Bali. What a treat to be back in warm tropical water and with friends. Three boat dives gave us a chance to dust off our diving skills, get to know Niko little and begin to relax, even if the boat seemed to have quite a lot of holes in it.

From Menganjan we travelled down to Lovina and from here on in the diving was shore entry style, either across black sand beaches or rocky shorelines. All the entries were pretty straightforward, although we each did occasionally embarrass ourselves and I was glad to have bought open heel fins and boots. In Lovina we dived twice at Puri Jati, these were classic black sand muck dives and I loved it.

Long arm and coconut octopus and a first me, sea horse, ghost pipefish, pipefish, pegasus sea moth, juvenile lionfish, really most things you’d expect to see on this type of dive. Watching a Balinese cleansing ceremony on the beach was an unexpected addition to the day. Our presence didn’t seem to intrude on proceedings at all.

That is a pretty sad photo but it was the first mimic octopus I have seen. Now I’m hanging out for a Wunderpus and a Starry night, oh and a Hairy. From Lovina we travelled down to Tulamben and spent a very happy day and half diving the Liberty Wreck and great little shore dive, Coral Gardens, which also turned out to be a pretty interesting muck dive. The Liberty Wreck was fantastic – so beautiful it is easy to see why so many people want to dive it. It was busy while we were there, but not so that it was a bother. My photos of the wreck are especially bad so I suggest you google it. There is a great video by Bubblevision on YouTube. Sweetlips, clouds of Glassfish, Trumpetfish, extremely friendly Surgeon fish, a variety of beautiful soft corals and the light filtering through gaps in the wheelhouse is especially beautiful. As you would expect, this wreck is deteriorating with time so I recommend, if you are thinking that one day you will dive the Liberty Wreck, that you don’t leave it for too long.

Leander plumosus

Donald Duck Shrimp

While two of our group returned to the Liberty Wreck for a late afternoon dive (and apparently had it almost to themselves), two of us waddled our way into the ocean in front of our hotel to the dive site Coral Gardens. I really wasn’t expecting much – hotels line the narrow strip of pebbly beach, there are dive operators in shacks all along the road, so I anticipated high traffic damage. Wrong again. Not that there was much magnificent coral, there was though a really good little muck dive. Once we got passed the coral, Niko led us to an area where some underwater sculptures are attracting interesting marine life. This was such a good dive – Crinoid shrimp, mantis shrimp, Corallimorph shrimp, Ornate ghost pipefish, Ribbon eels, Glassfish, Peacock mantis shrimp, pygmy seahorse and best of all a Donald duck shrimp. Honestly this was the most unexpected, sweet little muck dive, I would have happily spent another day split between the wreck and Coral Gardens.

From Tulamben we travelled further south along the coast (or east, I’m not sure) to Amed, another area of Bali I hadn’t heard of and it too was a fantastic surprise.  The coastline reminded me of the Amalfi coast, lots of bays and high cliffs. The area seems to be favoured by either the very wealthy with beautiful cliff top compounds or raggedy hippies hanging out in cheap home stays. Here we dived the Japanese wreck, very shallow and after getting past the rocky beach and traditional fishing boats the first white sand of the trip. It created that lovely milky aqua water. Along with the wreck covered in soft corals, this site offers a variety of macro subjects for keen eyed including fire dart gobies, loads of nudibranchs, leaf fish etc.. Schools of fish hang out under the wreck and while fun to try to shoot, I have to conclude that a single strobe (in my hands) and the inside or under of wrecks isn’t that great but this gives an idea –

Our final two dives were at Cafe Garam further down the coast.  What a great way to end the diving part of this trip.

Pterois mombasae

Mombasa Lionfish

These last dives were terrific. Classic start – acres of grey sand, suddenly turns out there are dozens of blue spotted sting rays in that sand and then when you reach some tyres used for mooring boats and the place comes alive. Amongst other things three beautiful juvenile emperor angel fish a perfect foil for three fat ugly stone fish.


A great way to end a trip that was characterised by dives ending with huge smiles and lots of chatter about what we had seen and the passing around of cameras to view the evidence.

One of the best things about this trip was travelling and diving with good friends. My last trip with friends was back in October 2011, Sipidan/Mabul with my lovely Indepth Scuba. Straight after that trip I headed off on my first solo dive trip (with Wetpixel Ultimate Indonesia 2011). Between then and this trip eighteen months later, I had been travelling solo. Not to be misunderstood, I love the freedom of solo travel and have met some really fantastic people I wished I lived closer to and look forward to diving with again. But there is something easy and comfortable about diving with friends and it is really nice to have people back home with shared memories you can relive over a glass or two. And it’s true, sometimes you just have to be Australian to get the joke.

For me, an added bonus was having Mike and Made schlep around with us. These are such good people, great divers and Mike is such a good photographer there is plenty, always plenty to learn from both these top blokes.

Top Tips –

  1. Add this on to the next time you are travelling to Asia
  2. Dive Bali with Underwater Tribe.  It is clear from the itinerary, staff etc. that these people are photographers and will know what you are looking for. Not so the Phi Siren but that’s a different story for another time.
  3. Take open heel fins – the entries were pretty easy but I was glad to have dive boots.
  4. Take plenty of insect repellant – the higher the proportion of DEET the better
  5. Make the most of the driving. Julian and Niko were more than happy to stop at photogenic locations even if it did mean falling behind that dratted truck again.
  6. Don’t leave your exotic disease immunisation shots to the last minute – this didn’t work so well for me
  7. Bali is a pretty lovely place after all, but I still strongly recommend you avoid Kuta at all costs
  8. Get washing done whenever the opportunity presents, particularly if you are travelling on
  9. Depending on the time of year – adding Nusa Penida with Mike and Luca would probably work very well.
  10. There is absolutely nothing that an expert, Balinese massage can’t cure.

Big shout out to Luca, Miho, Mike, Made, Niko and Julian. Thank you so much for introducing us to the wonderful diving opportunities right at our door step.

Fun on the road


Chadwiki – Made to Measure

Made Dwi Suarsana


Born Made Dwi Suarsana, sometime late last century under a gemini sun, in Bali, back when it was the Island of the Gods, Made is considered by many to be an exemplar, and possibly protonym of the dive professional category, Made to Measure.

The first serious attempt to apply classical categorisation theory to dive professionals was undertaken in late 2012. Following extensive study and drawing on Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory, researchers propose an axiomatic system that allocates dive professionals into one of two partitions – Off the Rack and Made to Measure.

Off the Rack ordinal level groupings include:-

  • king of the kids inane, found preening primarily on the crowded beaches of Thailand, only of concern when they venture further afield,
  • ageing ex pats  jaded, love of the ocean and warm weather finds them trapped in exotic locations far from home,
  • sincere  annoyed, not quite jaded but beginning to show visible signs of frustration.

Largely harmless, Off the Rack dive professionals are most easily identified by the following distinction sets – inability to tailor personal style/behaviour to different audiences; reliance on well worn itineraries and accompanying spiel; and a limited range of interests and active friendships outside the dive industry.

In stark contrast the second partition, Made to Measure, captures a much rarer breed of dive professional:-

  • King of the kids  genuine love of sharing the underwater world with others,
  • Gorgeous Ageing Expats  have other important things to do but can sometimes be enticed into leading one more dive trip,
  • Sincere  feel unhappy/unwell/unsettled if away from the ocean for too long.

A joy to go diving with, Made to Measure dive professionals are most easily identified by the following distinction sets – ability to present a steadfast core and fit seamlessly into a diverse range of groups; flexible/adventurous; capacity to find the new and lead from behind.

And then there is Made Dwi Suarsana. Those in the know rank Made amongst the highest order of Made to Measure dive professionals and some whisper of the curative powers of his laugh.

Sadly, Made’s indisputable status does not guarantee a reliable ability to accurately read and report on the strength of oceanic currents.

Made and Pam after quite a few unexpected current-y dives


Guess you can’t always have everything

Kami semua sedikit jatuh cinta dengan Made (We are all a little in love with you)

Cheers big ears,  J

Wetpixel Indonesia 2012

Hello, I’ve tried using a new gallery function. I quite like it but it does occasionally cut off the edges of some photos and seems not to work well in Windows or Reader so I became less enthusiastic as the report went on. If you are keen you can click on the photos to view those edges, meanwhile hovering your mouse over the photo reveals the captions. Apologies in advance if none of that is working.

2012 Wetpixel Indonesia – Gosh everyone’s American

This is the trip I booked almost as soon as I arrived back from Wetpixel Indonesia 2011. Settling back into a routine was tough. It took a while to ditch that horrid boss and booking the next trip was an important part of the deal I made. Shows worrying signs of a possible lack of imagination? In my defense the 2011 trip had been spectacular and the 2012 trip covered parts of Indonesia I hadn’t dived yet – haha – early 2012 and most of Indonesia would fall into that category


2012 Indonesia was made up of three trips – Ambon to Kaimana in Triton Bay; Triton Bay through Raja Ampat to Sorong; and then the classic Raja Ampat 11 day Sorong to Sorong. I signed on for the first two and settled back, squirrelled away my pennies, ticking the weeks off on my whiteboard as 2012 drifted rather pleasantly by. An unexpected trip in July turned out to be a real treat and also meant that when it came to getting organised for this end of year extravaganza, I pretty much felt like an old hand.

Surprisingly easy trip preparations this time














Three breakthrough additions to my dive kit – running skins and top to dive in (these were genius, thank you Mandy for a great idea), Mare full foot fins (also genius especially in the strong currents we were diving in a lot of the time) and air integrated dive computer (which I am now officially in love with). I also added some stackable diopters but these turned out to be more frustrating than useful.

Getting there is never easy …

There is just no way around the awfulness of travelling to remote dive locations – wonderful but that bloody awful travel. I had two options for getting to Ambon, 12.30am flight from Jakarta or 6.30am from Denpasar. I hadn’t enjoyed the long wait at Jakarta for the midnight flight to Sorong in July, so chose the Denpasar option. Normally an easy flight from Sydney, I had not reckoned on it being Schoolies. Long, long flight.


I also didn’t properly calculate that the flight to Ambon would still require an ungodly 4 am wake up call or that getting to Ambon included changing planes at Makassar and an extra endearing “every man for himself” boarding scrum. I know it’s not personal, but it’s confronting to be pushed out of the way by both men and women and to find yourself, eventually, giving as good back. Then there’s the scramble for overhead locker space – seems to me that most domestic passengers are running import/export businesses on these flights and surely there are more places to buy donuts than Makassar and Denpasar. Luckily I can squash my backpack under the seat in front,  but really – people!

I would have happily snoozed my way from Makassar to Ambon, except that my neighbour on the plane periodically crinkled and crackled a loud plastic bag all the way. It was torture – each time I would start to nod off, she would scrabble around in the bloody bag.


Enough whinging – sure the travel is a pain, stopovers in Bali a trial, frustrating to sit in a hot car for an hour while the agent who collected me at Ambon tried to find a Sim card for someone on the boat and kind of weird to arrive alone while the others were happily under water. Oh dear, more whining, I’ll stop now.

The soothing rhythm of setting up dive and camera gear worked its magic and as soon as I met the other guests I knew the effort, and more, would be worth it. And so it was. These two trips covered a fascinating range of marine environments, from the pretty nasty muck of Ambon harbour through to the clear fishy dives at Cape Kris in Raja Ampat. And while the diving was fantastic, equally wonderful were the people I had the fun of travelling with. Disembarking in Sorong three and half weeks later was very, very hard.

Trip 1 – Ambon to Triton Bay, My new first best Californians

So this is a part of the dive map I hadn’t been to yet, both iconic in their own way and I was very happy to discover we would also be diving in and around Banda Island along the way. I think this meant we would be diving in the Banda Sea, Ceram Sea and Halmahera Sea – how exciting, not that I’m counting but fun to add these to Flores, Bali, Savu, Celebes, Sulu, Solomon, Tasman, Arafura and Coral Seas.

Ambon harbour is counted amongst the very best muck diving sites in Indonesia. Quite a few people in our group had dived Ambon before and were pretty excited to be spending two days diving the harbour.


Our skilled dive masters spotted plenty of interesting creatures, mimic (I missed that one) and long arm octopus, cuttle fish, leaf scorpion fish, pipefish, frogfish, harlequin shrimp (first for me) and even one Paddle flap rhinopia.

My feeling though is that we didn’t see Ambon at its best. A storm a few months earlier had washed a significant amount of sediment into the harbour and this seems to have disturbed some of the usual residents or at least made it much harder to find them. I had quite of lot of difficulty getting the right camera settings and when I look at my photos in grid mode in Lightroom (I know, practically a professional now), most are a pretty awful green/yellow hue. On a serious note, anyone reading this and planning a trip to Ambon, you need to be aware that I am a rank amateur wielding a Canon G12 – others in my group took some remarkable photos.

And there’s clean muck and dirty muck and then there’s really disgusting health hazard pollution – on our last dive a surprisingly strong current blew up and swept some of us under Air Mannis Pier and some large fishing boats and it was definitely a health hazard under there, although I think a bit of the Molucca Sea may have been pulled in on that current!


And despite all that, it was pretty clear that Ambon will be a great place to go back to. I think 5 days diving Ambon ahead of a trip to Raja Ampat would work really well. I have no idea how those flights might go, although I am now fully committed to midnight flights out of Jakarta.

Ambon Harbour

Elegant Crinoid Squat Lobster










After two and half days in Ambon we needed to start making our way towards Triton Bay. This would take 5 days with stops at Nusa Laut, Banda, Koon and Mommon.

Having motored in the very early hours of the morning from Ambon it was a shock, and joy, to back roll into the clear blue waters off Nusa Laut. The pleasure of the blue was written on every face as we emerged. From here on the dives were all blue or milky blue and when we weren’t searching for (and finding) various types and shade of pygmy seahorse, we were watching streams of fish, rivers of fish, clouds of fish. Swim throughs, beautiful walls and reef tops. I was happy to put the diopters away and proceeded to take quite a few very classy photos of my strobe and lens shade.


A very good photographer shared some important advice with me a little while ago, he said “Jenny, don’t show your shit photos to anyone”. Generally I’ve been following that advice, in part because it would just take too long, I am though sharing this next rather dreadful picture to demonstrate just how fishy some of these dives were. Such a large school of Batfish seems impossible. I followed it down to about 33 metres, trying to get a decent shot but eventually my computer insisted I give up the chase. Apparently while I was busy with the Batfish, a hammerhead shark cruised by at about 25 metres.


Enormous school of Golden spadefish











Diving on the way to Triton Bay turned out to be anything but time fillers.










And not just fish, beautiful soft corals of every shape and colour imaginable open to the currents. I got so accustomed to them I started to feel peeved when, on the occasional dive, they were closed.


In amongst all this fishiness we launched the great Pygmy seahorse hunt and between arriving at Mommon on the west coast of Papua and farewelling Trip 1 at Kaimana, managed to find Bargibanti, Pontohi, Coleman, Severen and Denise. Actually, I think the Denise were found in Raja Ampat.


Diving Triton Bay was fascinating. Milky pale blue viz for the most part and quite a lot of current, we covered most of the well known sites – Namotote Wall, Little Komodo, Tim Rock, David Rock, GT Rock and Noname Rock. Rumour has it that David Doubilet lost track of a very expensive camera set up at David Rock somewhere. I kept a sharp lookout but no luck finding it. We did though find beautiful Pygmy seahorse, a large school of bumphead parrot fish, blue/green tunicates endemic to the area, fields of black tree coral, wobbygong shark and masses of fish.


Really – everyone was Californian

On Trip 1 most of the others had travelled and dived together before but it didn’t take long to settle into that easy, relaxed camaraderie that develops on these trips. I had half expected not to get so lucky twice. It seems that the effort involved in dive trips to exotic locations weeds out the half-hearted and half arsed.

Mind you I often find Americans completely baffling and sometimes incomprehensible and on Trip1 – they were all Californians (I include world citizens Douglas and Emily) and compared to me, a little driven, in a good way. What can I say – intense conversations about where to find the best ice-cream in San Francisco, an obsession with green coloured food, “reaching out”, “being hosted by”, “sodder”, at times I felt I came from another planet.

While we didn’t have the heart stopping excitement of being seen off by Komodo dragons, nor the perfect sunset over a pink beach, Kozy’s yoga classes quickly became a highlight, as was jumping off the sun deck railing in the hope that Eric’s photo of the underwater landing would end up in one of Kozyndan’s remarkable panoramas. A shore trip to Banda, and particularly a wander through the local food market, was great fun. Dan did a credible job filling the show tune gap left behind by Phil, Chris and Julie shared the entertainment of a battery operated ear dryer (I’m probably the only non-Californian in the world who owns one of these now, although I wouldn’t be seen dead with it) and I just loved being asked by Douglas “so Jenny, what new thing did you see that dive”, it really made me very attentive.



As trip leaders Douglas and Eric were very generous with their time. I managed to master (sort of) the blurry background and came to appreciate the thrill of getting a macro shot with a blue background. What’s not to love about Emily and I got to meet a very successful, kooky geek. How much more Californian can you get!

My assumption that most people would stay on for at least the first two trips turned out to be sadly misplaced and before I knew it, and much sooner than I preferred, it was time to farewell my new first best Californians.

That’s a lot of camera equipment weighing down the skiff

Trip 2 – Kiamana to Sorong – through Raja Ampat, 

The turnaround of guests took a day and it was fascinating to watch the boat crew reprovision. No surprise here, but every crew member worked flat out to get the boat provisioned, cleaned up and organised.

And that was the last time I saw the new supply of Nutella

I was pleased to be distracted because the worst possible thing had happened on the last dive of Trip 1. Well maybe the second worst. Desperately trying to catch a shot of a pinnate juvenile batfish under a rock ledge, I managed to overheat the batteries in my one and only Inon Z240 strobe … I know, I know, wrong battery brand, should have known better. That awful tell tale metallic smell back in the camera room. I tried valiantly to rub off the corrosion that had immediately formed on the contact points. Nothing worked and then, as the Trip 2 divers were unpacking their cameras, Simon the Cruise Director noticed water droplets behind the front screen of the strobe. I had to accept that it would probably never work again.

This second trip would take us back to Triton Bay for a few days and while I figured macro would be out of the question, I had probably had enough photographing tiny Pontohi to last a while – I told myself. I could just enjoy diving in those weird currents, conduct a proper search for the Doubilet camera and maybe there would be opportunities for no strobe wide angle photography in Raja Ampat.

No more of this -

That’s what I told myself. I put on a brave face but really I was pretty upset. While all of this was going on in my head one of the new guests reached into his large camera bag, passed me a new (still in an unopened box) Inon Z240, and said “Here use this one, try not to flood it.”  Wowsers, what a generous gesture. I was completely gobsmacked and just a little nervous every time I took it underwater, but nevertheless deeply, deeply grateful, and happy to report I was able to return the strobe two weeks later in full working order. Turns out there is always one more pygmy seahorse shot to try for and I would have missed this one.

Thrilled to only shoot polyps open now

Back in Triton Bay I found I really had had enough of trying to photograph tiny Pontohi seahorse while holding a steady position in various strengths of current, so I would either potter off to investigate other parts of the reef wall or reef top –

Network pipefish

or chase batfish around –

Longfin spadefish

or spend most of a dive trying to get a good enough shot of anemone fish so that in the future I could just happily swim by with a friendly wave. No comments please, I like to think I don’t have to take photos of these beautiful, but enormously frustrating little buggers any more.

False Clown anemonefish

False clownfish – don’t think I’ve seen an actual Clown anemonefish yet

And I was especially pleased to have another look at Leopard anemones and to have a chance to get a better shot of the one and only Leopard anemone shrimp in the area –


and although I can still hear Simon telling me the edges are a bit soft – I’m pretty pleased. I spent a lot of time with Ornate ghost pipefish –

Ornate ghost pipefish – female variation

Soft coral candy crab

I wish I could link a map to show the parts of Raja Ampat we travelled through. My notes tell me we spent three days in Triton Bay and then motored north to Raja Ampat via Pulau Pisang. Two days in and around Misool, then Daram, Batanta (for a bit of muck diving), Arborek and finishing up in Salat Dampier.

What can I say about diving in Raja Ampat that others haven’t already. Fish, loads of fish, currents, remarkable soft corals and rock formations, beautiful topside landscapes, diversity – from spectacular oceanic Manta ray to Spiny tiger shrimp, rivers of bluestripe snapper and fusiliers, almost every variety of sweetlips and clouds of glass fish. So many firsts for me I won’t bore you with a list, it would be too long but would include – mushroom coral pipefish and crinoid clingfish, not the best snap, but still –

Crinoid clingfish

Despite many sightings (and these are also a regular on NSW South Coast dives), Tasselled wobbegong shark were endlessly fascinating. Sadly, I missed the Raja epaulette shark but then I’m not a really enthusiastic night diver.

Tasselled wobbegong

Finding photos that weren’t just another reproduction of someone else’s creative idea was really difficult – Boo windows, one tree rock, children diving off Arborek Pier, soft coral with Snell’s window looking up to mangroves. It’s interesting that as photographers we are so conscious of guarding the rights of photographers to their photos, but not so much the original idea of a shot – we seem to happily rush off to see if we can reproduce it and I worry that in doing so, we unintentionally devalue the original photo.

Swarms of glassfish

On the other hand there are only so many ways you can capture the essence of a place – Boo windows and one tree rock shout out “This is Raja Ampat”, like the Eiffel Tower shouts Paris – whereas my photos of a variety of gobies on various corals could have been taken anywhere. I guess this is one of the boundaries that separate the enthusiastic amateur from the skilled, creative professional. So, for what they are worth, here are my photos of some iconic Raja Ampat, along with cheers to those original photographers –

Boo Windows

Arborek Jetty

Here’s my version of the One tree rock split shot


And the inevitable children at Aborek Jetty – it gets pretty chaotic but the children are charming and beautiful. Sharon came prepared with a sets of swimming goggles to hand out.

This trip to Raja Ampat ended with two remarkable, unforgetable dives. The first at Cape Kris, counted by some keen marine biologist as amongst, if not the, most fishy dive site known to man. Happy to report it lived up to its reputation. Intriguing to watch schools of fish streaming across the top of the reef, as individual fish tried hard not to be either left behind or at the front. We dived this site in current, a reasonably gentle drift along the edge of the reef and ended with a safety stop, hooked onto a rock, swaying in the “breeze” watching the fish – now that is a happy place to go back to. This dive is the first time I’ve managed to take my camera setup down without the camera in – whoopsie. On a sadder note the current also created a pretty shocking plastic rubbish gyre and a couple of divers emerged covered in a slick of dark oil.

Rosewater’s egg cowrie – Yiliet Kecil Misool

Our last dive, and Emily’s expertly timed 1,000th dive, was Magic Mountain. In keeping with the good luck we had experienced throughout this trip – we had the pleasure of watching both reef and oceanic manta ray. Again, hooked onto some rock, swaying in the current, I could have stayed down there all day watching the manta ray at the cleaning station. If only I had gills. For those who could drag them selves away from the manta ray and through the current, there was a large school of impressive barracuda hanging in the current further down the wall.

Quite a contrast to the Gobies I had spent quite a lot of time trying to master –

The Goby shot of the trip really went to Chris from Trip 1 – you can see on the Wetpixel website trip report. And these were very sweet –

Decorator Crab

Bubble coral shrimp

My particular thing this trip was taking photos of the boatman as they came to collect me

The boaties came to expect this and got to be quite good at modelling for me. As you can imagine I have probably about 60 too many of those shots.

Gosh, everyone’s still American

Trip 2 brought together another great group of people, all fantastic photographers, but no Californians – Indiana, Colorado, Washington (Pacific North West) and Florida. Mind you by this time I was reasonably well acculturated so hardly skipped a beat when Greg kept referring to himself in the first person singular as “bubba”. Got to be quite endearing really. Sharon from Seattle spoke excellent Bahasa which led to a morning language class from Simon ahead of the first dive briefing. Much to the amusement of the Indonesian crew we were soon asking politely for kopi putih terima kasih. Lucky by this stage they liked us.

Douglas shared some really interesting presentations on his work and it was terrific to hear from Lupo about the very serious work underway ahead of the CITES vote on the future status of some species of shark and manta ray. On this trip we also had the fun of travelling with a surgeon. Came in handy as he expertly removed (with scalpel) an urchin quill.

It is such a pleasure to hang out with people who care deeply about the marine environment, those actively working to protect it as well of those who focus on communicating it’s wonder through photography. I come back from these trips inspired.

I even tried hiding in a cupboard

And suddenly that was it. Time to motor into Sorong harbour. A final dinner, this time under the stars on the top deck, the very sad task of packing up camera and dive gear and worse – saying goodbye and heading through the security scanner, into the departure room at Sorong.

If you have time, you really should take a look at the trip report in the Wetpixel forum


It gives you a view of just how talented these people were, and the two videos, Eric’s from Trip 1 and Sharon’s from Trip 2 provide an excellent view of the environments we travelled through.

So top 10 tips –

  1. A bit obvious really, but, if you are an underwater photography enthusiast, of whatever level of skill, treat yourself to at least one Wetpixel expedition. I am struck by the wonderfulness of the people these trips attract.  It is so good for the spirit.
  2. Try diving in running skins, it was a revelation. So much easier to put on and take off than a 3mm wetsuit; wearing less neoprene means carrying fewer weight bricks; and an added bonus, you can have them laundered and thus avoid that awful skanky “neoprene in tropical sea water for a couple weeks” waft.
  3. Do not leave home without antibiotic ear drops.
  4. If at all possible, take a spare strobe and maybe even a spare camera body. Clearly I am on the slippery slope now, but had it not been for the exceptional generosity of one of the Trip 2 guests, I would have been in a state of complete frustration for two weeks diving Raja Ampat without a functioning camera set up. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.
  5. Indonesian Tim Tams are a disappointing imitation of the real thing.
  6. If not included in the trip price (which I welcome as far less troublesome), bring cold hard cash for the crew tip, Simon created quite a kerfuffle about this at the end of Trip 1 as some of the crew were disembarking as well.
  7. If you haven’t dived in Indonesia yet, my advice is to knock off some of the other great dive locations on this side of the world first –  Palau/Yap, Solomon Islands, Anilao, etc. because unless you have unlimited time and money, once you dive in Indonesia, chances are you will find it very, very difficult to spend your precious dive trips anywhere else.
  8. If you are a single woman travelling alone on an Indonesian dive trip, regardless of age, when asked, as you inevitably will be, it is better to say you are married to someone who can’t swim, hates boats and is too busy and important to get away from work. Sad but true.
  9. Three and a bit weeks on a beautiful boat, with fantastic people, diving on some of the most beautiful and interesting sites available will not be enough so try to have the next trip planned before you disembark.
  10. Whatever contribution you can make to the conservation of our precious oceans, big or small, personal or public, do it now. It is beautiful underwater but fragile and clearly under pressure.

So shout out to my new first best Californians and fabulous Americans from Trip 2, I really enjoyed travelling with you all. I’ll leave you with two photos – they are each of an endemic to the areas we travelled through –


– Flasher wrasse – endemic to Triton Bay

– Tail spot goby – endemic to Raja Ampat

And finally – here it is, reward for my $1.2 billion idea, actually $1.6bn recurrent last count


PS. I haven’t finished putting in scientific names but if I don’t get this report up now, I may never. I’ll come back and fill in the gaps later.


Photoworkshop with whale sharks and Mike Veitch, July 2012

I was a late addition to this trip – someone had to cancel and I was able to wangle some last minute leave. Now that the trip is done and I’m cooling my heels in Jakarta waiting for my flight home tomorrow, I can still hardly believe my luck. What a fantastic trip – terrific bunch of divers, good boat and great crew, some pretty nice Raja Ampat reefs, wobbegong sharks, a nesting leatherback turtle, manta rays, pilot whales, beautiful, beautiful whale sharks, and of course, the fab Mike Veitch. Really, what’s not to love about Mike.

This was my second liveaboard dive trip and second outing with my Canon G12, Fisheye Fix Housing and single Inon Z240. The first trip, last year’s Wetpixel Ultimate Indonesia, also on Damai II, was fabulous, but left me with a pretty long “what I wish I had had with me” list. This time I was better prepared – laptop plus Lightroom, external hard drive, USBs, extra memory cards, whizz bang battery charger and most importantly a new Sola focus light and new 0.41x ultra wide angle lens for my G12 Fish Eye Fix housing (thank you nice bloke at Note to self – 28 rechargeable AA batteries may have been a little excessive.

So well organised and through the awful stress of packing I headed off for the long 21 hour travel day to Sorong, Papua. On this trip the transfer to the domestic terminal in Jakarta was a bit of a nightmare and it’s not much fun killing 5 hours in the domestic terminal waiting for the midnight flight out. Definitely need a better plan next time.

The itinerary – embark Sorong, 5-6 dive days in the northern part of Raja Ampat then a couple of days diving and motoring around to Manokwari, stopping on the way to check out a rare leatherback turtle nesting site. Down through Cenderawasih Bay to spend the final two diving days and last day snorkeling with the whale sharks, disembark – Nabire, fly to Jayapura, Makassar, Jakarta and home.

This dive trip included a photo workshop with Mike and my aim was simple, try to improve wide angle shots, without backscatter and preferably not green.

This is why, plenty of room for improvement

Sounds like a plan? Well, it’s a boat and it’s a boat in a remote location. I arrived, suitably frazzled, 7am Monday to find the Damai II Captain had been taken ill and a replacement needed to be flown in. The harbour master would not allow the boat out of the harbour until the new captain arrived and presented his credentials. Fair enough – but, the ban also included taking the skiffs and divers to nearby reefs. While we managed to get one dive in on Tuesday morning, we were pretty much boat bound for the first two days. Just one of those things, but losing 2 out of 10 diving days was not a great start. The delay put a bit of a dent in the itinerary and we seemed to be playing catch up for a couple of days. On the positive, the ill Captain will recover and the replacement Captain got us through long crossings and to each new dive area without a hitch. And despite the messy start, Mike and crew put together a good mix of dives as we travelled from Sorong towards Cenderawasih Bay. Soft coral bommies, reefs, a World War II wreck, pier and mangroves.

Damai II
Weather and viz were patchy throughout the trip and with low ambient light some rubbly sites didn’t quite live up to the Raja Ampat reputation (sheesh listen to me now, low ambient light). Regardless, plenty of beautiful soft corals open to the passing currents, healthy hard coral gardens, cuttlefish, manta ray, wobbegongs, blue spotted sting ray, needle and archer fish in the mangroves, robust and juvenile ornate ghost pipe fish for a treat and a nice array of shrimp, crabs and nudibranchs and one blue ringed octopus to keep us happy. While clouds of small fish surrounded every bommie; medium and large fish were a rare find. We did spot a school of big bump head parrot fish and others on the trip less obsessed with bracketing, saw the odd reef, bamboo and epaulette sharks.

Low ambient light makes for beautiful clouds at sunrise

Once underway we settled into a smooth tempo. First dive 7.30, breakfast, photography workshop, second dive 11, lunch, workshop or rest or photo review, dive again at 3, and then either night dive at 6.30 or beer, dinner,  presentation and sleep. I mostly chose beer – still not quite recovered from the ruck and scrum of night diving on last years’ Ultimate Indonesia trip.

Mike spent time underwater with each of us in turn, demonstrating adjustments to aperture, shutter speeds, strobes (who knew TTL was so clever!) etc. Slowly as the days drifted by, we each began to achieve the results we were looking for. Well, others did, I’m still at that stage where my photos rarely resemble the image I have in my head. The occasional good shot is a total pleasure and enough to keep me smiling through the inevitable backslide to less than ordinary results.

Travelling from Sorong around to Manokwari provided plenty of time for bracketing, bracketing, and more bracketing, adjusting the camera settings and strobe positions, trying to get shots without backscatter, trying to get just that right (well any) shade of blue, it’s a bit like laying down a muscle memory. The new 160wide angle lens took a bit of getting used to. I managed to take quite a lot of photos of my strobe and various parts of the lens shade thingo appear in just about every photo. Much to my surprise I did start to produce the odd scatter free (or few spots) wide angle shot. I also learnt a great deal more about the various shades of blue and the magic of minus 1.

Here’s some of the more successful attempts –

Mike, waiting at the station

Under the pier



This Damai II itinerary also includes a stop at a rare leatherback turtle nesting site. Guides are collected from one village, dropped off at another along with some of the boat crew and once the sun sets they go off in search of a turtle. Guests stay safely tucked up on the Damai II until the message comes through that a turtle has been found. On this trip, four of us decided that was just a bit soft, and opted to go schlepping along with the guides. We were warned – the beach landing could be a bit hairy, there would be sand flies, we might have to walk 5 kilometres, without lights, quietly and still not find a turtle.

Meh. Undeterred we set off and so, so glad we did. Not only did we get to watch a massive leatherback turtle haul herself up the beach (imagine standing on a dark beach, Milky Way blazing above, watching a boulder move out of the water and slowly up to the dry sand), dig a nest, lay eggs and haul herself back to the sea, we also found two little hatchlings which we shamelessly photographed before letting them scamper off. What is it about watching baby turtles make their way to the sea – everyone suddenly becomes a mother turtle and gives a spontaneous hoorah followed by a gasp of despair as they get buffetted by the wavelets.

One of two baby leatherback turtles we watched scramble to the sea

This was such a highlight. Mind you we worked for it – we walked for miles and miles along 3 beaches, across two rocky headlands, over a slippery jungle track reminiscent of the Kokoda Trail, in a tropical downpour, in the dark. The call went out to the boat as soon as the turtle was settled and the others arrived in time to watch the turtle cover up the nest and haul back to the sea. Cool, but just not as.

On a more sombre note – we left quite worried that this precious site seemed poorly protected. Mandy counted at least 20 sets of tracks and as many marked nests. But she also found evidence that nests were being raided – broken, still soft shells, pig and dog prints in the sand. I’ve written to WWF and hope that helps rouse a response.

At last we arrive at Cenderawasih Bay and the reason for taking the long 21 hour travel days, the whale sharks. Most people now know about the phenomenon, juvenile whale sharks attracted to the night lights on the bamboo fishing platform. How, over time, the fishermen have taken to feeding the sharks. Most of us have seen the pictures.  I had, but I simply can’t describe what a sensation it was to be in the water with these wonderful fish. They are big, and beautiful, graceful, powerful, individual and unique, and, well, slightly dopey.

On the first morning we were so excited to hear there was a whale shark already at the platform. It seemed huge until a bigger one turned up later in the day.  Day 2, there were three whale sharks and on the last day, five. It was fascinating to watch the bigger ones bully the smaller ones out the way, and the smaller ones come rocketing in whenever there was a clear space. The fishermen on the platform keep the whale sharks interested by pouring water from the platform, dipping a smaller net of fish rapidly in and out of the water and throwing scoops of small, cut up bait fish. The whale sharks circle around the platform, going up to the feeding point, at times holding themselves in an upright, tail stand position. Occasionally there is a bit of push and shove but often they give the appearance of politely taking turns.

At first I was a little nervous – these are big, solid fish and I didn’t fancy being swiped by a tail, but as the first day progressed, it started to feel quite normal to swim up to these huge creatures, get the camera up close to try capture the water rushing down through open mouths and bubbling out of gills.

Or to swim underneath one trying to capture a silhouette shot.  Blinded by the sun, mask flooding and sea water pouring up my nose, trying to get one of these cliché shots – I have never had so much fun. I have a large collection of “just off” whale shark silhouette shots if anyone can think of something useful to do with them. Thankfully, on the last afternoon, Mike signaled the settings to use; practically placed me in the right position and I managed one, not so bad shot, complete with beautiful sun rays. Well come on, I was a paying customer! Hope you don’t mind me including your photo Mike.

In an attempt to avoid divers and bubbles appearing in every shot, we tried to be organised. This meant staggering the dive groups. Our group of three also tried to stay on the same side or further out, taking turns to go in for closer shots and generally to be aware of each other and where our bubbles were. Excitement and getting carried away in the sheer spectacle of it all meant that this didn’t always work. We all have plenty of photos with collections of divers at strange angles, odd fins and bubbles. Overall staggered groups in the water over the two full days of unlimited diving worked well, despite the fact that you just can’t have too many photos of whale sharks. A word of warning, it would be a real stretch of patience and goodwill to dive and photograph in these conditions with more selfish or insensitive types.

I found I just couldn’t change the settings on the G12 quickly enough to move from shooting up into the light, to shooting straight on or down as the whale sharks moved around the platform. A better strategy for me was to choose a setting (light metering, who knew!) and then just wait, as patiently as possible, for a whale shark to be in the right position. While this meant I got some good shots, it was pretty frustrating as I found it all too irresistible and ended up with loads of either overexposed or underexposed images. Mind you I also missed plenty of shots as my nerves failed me and I ducked or swam out of the way. Even managed to squeal like a girl as I came close to being entangled with three whale sharks.

Two circling the platform

Whale shark, Lester and bubbles

Tail stand

Topside view

That Shot

So, top ten tips for this trip –

  1. Go.
  2. Go now before it gets out of control.  We were so lucky to be the only boat about, but there is a resort within striking distance and other boats are beginning to take an interest in this itinerary. And there was a German TV travelogue film crew there!  Nooooo.
  3. Prepare for long internal flight days, expect delays, take some energy bars and find a pal to have a drink with in Jakarta.
  4. Don’t sweat the high excess baggage costs, just be prepared with plenty of rupiah. It’s worth it to have the right gear with you and really it represents a small proportion of the overall trip costs.
  5. Go the Sorong to Nabire route – it was terrific to end the trip with the whale shark highlight and the first week is a good time to get the camera dialed in and dive skills dusted off.  The reverse itinerary could be a bit disappointing.
  6. Three switched on people in this group added a short stay in Lembeh Straits on the way through to Sorong – genius – wished I’d thought of that.
  7. If on offer, don’t skip the Leatherback turtle side trip and do the walk with the guides.
  8. Once you get to the whale sharks, try not to be a bore. Sure it’s exciting and you may never go there again and you can’t have too many photos of whale shark, but, same goes for everyone else you are travelling with. Trust me, you can afford to be relaxed and polite.
  9. Chances are you won’t need 28 rechargeable AA batteries.
  10. And go with Mike Veitch!
I’m home now, unpacked and back at work. It was minus 4oC last night. Nothing left to do but embrace the suitcase within, bracket a glass of wine and hang out for November, except maybe buy a new camera, oh and start a list.
Shout out to Mike, Mandy, Shallum, Cheryl, Jeffrey, Grant, Dimitry, Lester, Eliana and the Damai II Captain and crew.  It was a pleasure travelling with you.


Wetpixel Ultimate Indonesia 2011 Step Four: Go see Norm

It has taken me ages to write about this trip. In part due to the shock of being back at home and work after such a long break (longest ever for me actually). And I find I’m a little prone to post holiday melancholia. It didn’t help that I had a Dementor disguised as a man working for me and a difficult boss. It didn’t help that I had something like 4,000 holiday snaps, most of which were ordinary, and none of which I knew what to do with. It really didn’t help that I was now in a permanent “wish I was somewhere else” state of mind. And it didn’t help that the cat was acting like a psycho.

Whithering look from Cat

So I did what all right thinking people do – I spent time in the consulting rooms, with Norm ( I don’t know what it is about Norm but just hanging out with Norm can make things better.

Norm, just makes things better

Like the long, hot trip back from Apo Island

Norm with Josh, who also makes things better

Who, at that time, were making my first dive with sharks better. True I had to be wrangled into the water –

Wrangled by daughter

Well, it was hair raising. It was gloomy down there and, to get to the entrance of the cave, we had to cross a channel that 30 or so grey nurse sharks were patrolling. But that’s all a different story. How was I to know that diving with sharks would turn out to be one of life’s great pleasures. Norm knew.

This is how Josh makes things better –

Thanks Josh, I feel way better now

This is how Norm makes things better –

It really was a dark and stormy night at sea

Turn it into a pyjama party – sweet

It worked a treat. Underwater, those Felix the Cat pjs glowed the most beautiful luminous purple I forgot all about the dark and stormy sea.

That’s Damo kneeling down in front. He makes things better by telling you to go eat some concrete.

This is how Phoebe makes things better –

Haha – drink concrete Damo

And really, I was in a complete post holiday funk.

I felt like this all the time, not just Mondays

Sigh. Norm makes things better by smiling and saying things like “How good’s that Jenster!”. Slowly, quality time with coffee, portuguese tarts and Norm worked its magic and I stopped being such a cry-baby. I decided it wasn’t so bad that I’d discovered diving so late. I decided it wasn’t so bad that I had a job, that paid enough to go diving. I gave the Dementor what-for in his performance appraisal and I decided to be the best 2iC that boss ever had (and then leave Bwahahaha). I bought Lightroom and spent a long time trying figure that out. I decided I never did like that cat much anyway. And I booked onto another dive trip.

I love you Normie.

But look, it’s passed midnight and I still haven’t written about the Wetpixel trip.

For the avoidance of any doubt, the Wetpixel Ultimate Indonesia 2011 trip was fantastic, the people were not just sensational photographers and knowers of all things oceanic, they were great people, funny, generous, easy to be with (and that’s my highest compliment), the itinerary was to die for, the boat luxurious, the cruise director (the now famous “The Mighty Bevan”) a total scream and the guides had eyes in the back of their heads.

Sigh. I’ll have another crack at a trip report on the weekend (maybe I’ll sub-title it “How Come My Photos Just Got Better“) and leave you with an Indonesian sunset to go on with.

World famous photographers know when it is the right time to start climbing a hill so as not to miss the light, I miss them


Postscript – I’m back dating the publish dates of this so that it appears in the right order. Shoot me. It’s my blog, made by my daughter Claire, because that’s how she makes things better.



Wetpixel Ultimate Indonesia 2011 Step Three: Trip Report

This trip was a while ago now, and yet, the absence of a report seems to be causing anxiety. In part the difficulty I’ve been having has been working out how to write about it without gushing. This trip turned out to be a bit of a game changer, so not gushing is very difficult. Apologies in advance.

Btw:  No “oldmanslideshow” I will not go on holidays with you, so stop bothering me.

Wetpixel Ultimate Indonesia 2011 – How Come My Photos Just Got Better?

Having rather sadly waved my Indepth dive friends goodbye at Kuala Lumpur, I head down to Denpaser for a day of rest and recoup before joining the Wetpixel group. And, to be honest, I was starting to get a little nervous. I had no idea who I would be travelling with, and a month on a boat, with the wrong people, could end up to be a very long and lonely time.

This was my first dive trip without Norm; first liveaboard; first serious go at underwater photography; and first time diving with strangers. First time here:

Not that I haven’t been diving with strange people before … here’s one

PADI Dame Edna Everage Speciality

I had researched Eric Cheng a bit and he seemed like a nice enough fellow, but as for the others, I didn’t even know names. So slightly apprehensive, I checked into a quite nice resort in Sanur, complained about the room (Chadwick Stress Management Strategem Number 4 – Unleash the Princess Within), moved to a much better room and headed for the spa.

Layovers are a bit of an art form and I’m not always that good at them when travelling alone and I’m never sure what to think about Denpasar. Bali is warm and colourful, the Balinese are so cultured, but Denpasar is hot and crowded. The traffic is just awful, the whole place is packed to the gunwales with tourists, not all of the attractive variety, and I always have to look up how to spell it. So, apart from an excursion out to find an Indonesian/Australian electrical plug (which turned out to be completely unnecessary on such a luxury liveaboard as the Damai II), I pretty much stayed in the resort.

This turned out to be a good call. A day lolling by a beautiful pool, a couple of practice goes at putting the camera set up together, rested, buffed and polished, I found I was quite excited to meet up with the Wetpixel group.

Concessatio quietus locus – Tempat peristirahatan

Which was lucky because it turned out that not only was the group mostly made up of world famous underwater photographers, it was a group of world famous underwater photographers who knew each other very well. My heart sank a bit as I wondered how I was going to go being the odd one out, the stranger amongst friends. Apart from eat concrete the best I could do was frame my thoughts around relaxing and enjoying what was on offer and being grateful I wasn’t at work with the Dementor. As it turned out I needn’t have worried. This was a lovely group of people. Add a genius Cruise Director, the now famous The Mighty Bevan, great crew, stunning itinerary, what could go wrong?

The Mighty Bevan’s answer to an unliveable cabin

Well the air conditioning for starters – repeatedly broke down and my downstairs cabin became unbearably hot and airless. Sleeping under the stars with a big red full moon turned out to be fabulous, except when a change of wind threatened to turn my sheet into a spinnaker.

Trip 1 – Mauremere to Wetar and back

This Wetpixel trip was actually two back to back trips. Starting in Maurmere, Flores the first trip took us east along the Indonesian archipelago – Alor, Sumba, Beangabang (I didn’t keep a good record of island names so have no idea really) but we went as far east as Wetar from where you can see East Timor on the horizon and then back to Maurmere. The focus on this part of the trip was macro photography and mostly muck style – that is, floating over the sandy or pebbly sea floor, on the lookout for strange marine creatures. On this trip we had two superb guides, one of the many benefits of travelling with world famous photographers. I spent these two weeks being made breathless by their spotting abilities and how happy nudibranchs can make me and how quickly I started thinking “meh, just another Phyllidia”.

Phyllidia ocellata – Ocellated Phyllidia

Not a great snap, but this is what a muck photography dive usually looks like –

Cor poised expertly above something fascinating

Everything can look pretty bleak and barren until you get your eye in and then suddenly a whole new world opens up. I just wasn’t experienced enough to find anything but the most obvious of creatures on my own, so I stuck pretty close to one of the guides, Agus.

Octopus sp.3 – Long arm octopus

Phil found me to make sure I didn’t miss little rarity –

Octopus mototi - Poison Oscellate Octopus, relative of blue ring

Julie calls that composition “the big schnoz” but I was too nervous of this very poisonous critter to get down low with it for a better angle but check out the scared little scorpion fish in front. And while this next one is a very ordinary photo of a bobtail squid, I can’t believe I was there to see it (who knew such a beautiful thing existed) and, that it is very nearly in focus, gives me great pleasure.

Euprymna berryi – Bobtail squid

Amongst other things, world famous photographers measure dive trips in terms of “productivity”. This means that they organise trips to be in the right place, at the right time for the particular photographic style or subject they are after. Between them, Eric and The Mighty Bevan delivered fantastic dive site after fantastic dive site. One of the many benefits of travelling with a group like this is having the flexibility to adjust the itinerary. If we stumbled (apologies Bevan, I’m sure everything was expertly planned) onto a great site the group could simply decide to stay right there for a day or two and we did this a couple of times. As everyone had a shared interest, balancing competing priorities was simply not an issue.

Underwater, the general rule was “if the guide finds it, 5 or so shots and then let someone else have a turn”, or “if you found it yourself, knock yourself out for as long as you need”. While this meant I rarely got to “knock myself out”, it didn’t matter as my best strategy turned out to be “stay ahead of the pack”.

Caloria indica – Indian Caloria (maybe)

Agus would find something, quietly signal me over, I’d fire off a couple of shots (that’s take a few snaps to you and I) and then skeedaddle out of the way.

Bergia major – Great Bergia

Chromodoris reticulata – Reticulated chromodoris

Cuthona sp.1 – Undescribed

Oxycirrhites typus – Longnose hawkfish

There was the occasional ruck and scrum and some very undignified races to the get to the guide first, but on the whole the strategy worked well. Which was lucky because I have neither the patience to wait in a queue of three world famous photographers nor the underwater navigation skills to reliably double back and find the same small rock.

Here is a Allogalathea elegans (that’s Elegant crinoid squat lobster to you and I, and say the latin slowly, it could be Elvish, not that I’m a nerd or anything), I did manage to find myself

Found all on my own

And besides, another remarkable thing about world famous photographers is that they are, themselves, tremendously good spotters. This meant there were seven sets of finely tuned eyes on every dive. And while productive, focused and determined, this particular group was also very, very generous. Each of them would call me over to see some incredible thing or another that they had found. Julie double backed to make sure I didn’t miss this one –

Phyllodesmium jakobsenae – Jakobsen’s Phyllodesmium

Julian showed me this one –

Hoplophrys oatesii – Soft coral crab

And Eric showed me frogfish I would otherwise have swum straight past, including this whopper –

Antennarius commersoni – Giant frogfish

While the “stick to Agus and stay ahead of the pack” strategy worked well during daylight dives, it was a complete failure on night dives. At night guides signal to you by flashing their torches and there just isn’t a way of doing that quietly, so I was often on the wrong end of a scrum.

For a couple of dives I tried the “stay above the pack” strategem. Here are some things I found on my own at about 10 metres –

Cuapetes tenuipes – Red claw cuapetes shrimp, free living variety (love that)

Periclemenes ianipes, Astrochalcis ludwigi - Basket star shrimp on a Basket star

I was so excited to see a basket star open for the first time I nearly missed the shrimp. And this is so completely sweet –

Octopus Bocki – Bock’s pygmy octopus (maybe)

However, despite the outrageous claims I had made to Dan, until this trip I hadn’t dived without a buddy within reaching distance, so this “above pack” strategy, in the dark, got to be a bit of a trial. In the end, given my own poor spotting ability and repeated equipment failures I opted for the alternative – bean bag and glass of wine under the stars, which in the scheme of things was not too shabby. And besides not too many people can claim to have been fin smacked in the head by a world famous photographer.

This next one was taken by torch light as my strobe kept failing. Bit of cropping and I could pretend I had used a snoot (I even know what that is now!).

Lactoria fornasini – Thornback cowfish

Even though I was new to the whole underwater photography thing, it was pretty obvious that we were seeing and photographing a most incredible array of marine life. I mean, eighteen different Rhinopia; vast number of frogfish including tiny baby ones; Julie alone captured over one hundred nudibranch; cephalopods everywhere; shrimp and crab of every description … you name it and someone on that trip probably got a photo of it (apart of course from whales and big sharks, although The Mighty Bevan did rustle up a leopard shark).

Rhinopias eschmeyeri – Paddle-flap scorpionfish

Not a great snap but here’s another type –

Rhinopias frondosa – Popeyed weedy scorpionfish

and a load of frogfish (my peeps here tell me Australians call them Anglerfish, go figure).

Antennarius pictus – Painted frogfish cream phase

Antennarius pictus – Painted frogfish pink phase

Antennarius maculatus – Warty Frogfish brown phase

Antennarius maculatus – Warty frogfish juvenile

Towards the end of this first leg, the photographers got wildly excited about super macro. The guides joined in and to be honest, being waved AWAY with a “too small for you” signal did start to get a bit old after a while. By this stage though I was starting to get better at spotting things and amused myself trying out different approaches with familiar subjects – notably Nembrotha chamberlaini and Neopetrolisthese ohshimai (that’s Porcelain crab to the uninitiated) and such like.

Nembrotha chamberlaini – Take me to your leader or the brittle star dies

Even unassuming porcelain crabs can be loads of fun –

With my x-ray goggles I can see your underwear

Ordo composito

Oncinopus sp.1 – Orangutan crab

Goby with isopod parasite

and some oldies but goodies, although I’m looking forward to mastering the blurry background.

Nemateleotris magnifica – Fire dartfish 

Bryaninops yongei – Wire coral goby

And here’s the real thing about diving with world famous photographers, just being around them makes your photos better. Seriously, who knew I could do this with a G12!

Cyproidea sp. on a Didemnum molle tunicate – Ladybug Amphipod on tunicate Not super macro but I was chuffed

Poor little thing, I must have looked terrifying –

Quadrella serenei – Serene’s Black coral crab

or this

Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos – Bluestriped fangblenny

or even

Lauriea siagiani – Hairy squat lobster


Trip 2 – Maurmere, Komodo National Park to Labuan Bajo

That first leg finished back in Maurmere where we waved goodbye to Dimitry and hello to Frank. I was pretty sad to see Dimitry go. Like me he was a ring-in and I knew I was going to miss his calm, confident presence, not to mention his beautiful Russian accent.  Frank also turned out to be a long lost friend of the world famous photographers, and a bit world famous himself.

Desiderium ut existo hic

This second leg took us west from Maurmere, Flores around to the Komodo National Park and all the iconic Komodo dive areas – Rinja, Pardar, Banta and Sangeang (I just Googled those names so I could be wrong), and all the classic Komodo dive sites. After the macro mania of the first leg, the real treat in Komodo was the schools of fish, healthy corals, beautiful sea mounts and walls and the focus for photography moved to wide angle.

I can’t seem to identify these fish so apologies, no latin.

Here’s a funny thing – the “great photographer effect” doesn’t work on wide angle photography, well not for me anyway. While my macro photography did a great leap forward (low base remember people), my wide angle was as bad at the end of this trip as at the start. I only have four blue snaps I care to share – who knew I was so vain?

Henichus acuminatus – Stelletinopsis isis – Longfin bannerfish near  barrel sponge

Lucky for me diving in Komodo turned out to be some of the best, most interesting and fun diving I have ever done. Still loads of macro subjects to play with but, even so, my photo count per dive dropped dramatically. I’m enough of a novice to still enjoy plain old diving. Hooking onto a lifeless rock, in a current, watching schools of fish swirl around or line up like so many aircraft waiting their turn at a cleaning station. Drifting along a wall and looking out to the big blue, using my camera as ballast. Diving in Komodo is wonderful.

Raining fish, wide angle, sigh


Gymnothorax meleagris – Whitemouth moray

Ambassis macracanthus – Largespined glassfish

And who knew this was actually a sea cucumber …

Pseudocolochirus tricolour – Red sea apple

Frank found me to make sure I didn’t miss the swimming juvenile frogfish –

Antennarius maculates  – Juvenile Warty frogfish
And Julian chased me down to show me this at Yellow Wall, Horseshoe Bay, beautiful Komodo -

Phyllodesmium longicirrum – Solar-powered phyllodesmium

And The Mighty Bevan, this time Lighting Designer Extraordinaire, waited with for about twenty minutes for Eric to be finished with this Lissocarcinus laevis -

Lissocarcinus Laevis, Cerianthus sp. – Harlequin swimming crab in a tube anemone, sometimes known as tube guardians

And did I mention Manta ray (Manta birostris for the record)? OMG! Another first and I thought I was going to cry. My snaps of the beautiful, beautiful manta rays are hilarious. Not just bad wide angle, I was so excited they are blurred and mostly I’ve snapped only a small proportion of these lovely things. If I knew how to, I’d make a mosaic out of them. They are very bad, but put together, they would remind me of how exquisite that first dive with mantas is. It’s a feeling worth remembering.

Manta birostris – Heart bursting with joy

Between dives, on both legs, we just simply had loads of fun. Where else will you get to see a 3D movie of your last dive while waiting for dinner to be served; build a float for the enticement of fishing eagles; be chased by Komodo dragons; have dinner under an active volcano; investigate sargassum sea life; stroll on beaches made of pink sand; climb hills and watch heart stopping Indonesian sunsets; loll about in bean bags under a beautiful tropical sky and laugh yourself senseless.

3D Movies Premiere


Other side of the Komodo dragon lens


Eric’s excellent shoes with the making of a pink beach

and two versions of the “OK” signal –

Phil was a complete nutter but could sing a mean show tune

Frank in pursuit of Histrio histrio

And Ildi found these –

Three Veitch Devices

something interesting

Where else can you stretch out with a Surya Namaskara and this view –

So how come my photos just got better? Sure they have a way to go still, but the change was significant. I’m not sure I’ve worked out the full story. In part it’s because being with world famous photographers, I was in the right place, at the right time, diving the right way for photography (compared say to being hurried along a reef by a bored DM who is anxious to get back to the boat). And this group knew such a lot about all things oceanic, my knowledge grew. Before trip description –

Goofy goby type fish in a hole in a yellow spongey thingo

Some of it must come from just watching what the photographers were doing, how they go about things. Some of it is looking at their images (that’s photos to you and I) and pouring over creature and fish ID books back on board with them. The sheer quantity of dives and photos on this trip must also have made a difference. And I suspect some of it is because being around world famous photographers made me try a little bit harder.

In the end though, I conclude that some of the “great photographer effect” is just inexplicable magic.

Sepioteuthis lessoniana – Bigfin reef squid

On the downside, travelling with world famous photographers comes with risks. It can get under your skin and leave you obsessing about when you might be able to go diving with a camera, preferably with great photographers, again. I’ve been on one unexpected diving spree (with another world famous photographer) since this trip. I’m getting ready for another one later this year and have three others lined up for next year. Maybe this is a common thing, but for me a huge shift in priorities. Kitchen renovations are on hold, as is recovering the couches, and I ask questions before accepting work assignments.

Worse yet, travelling with world famous photographers can make you speak funny. For example, “Yo .. sup”, and “shut the front door” (still have no idea what any of that means). And what about “Look, there are at least three Histrio histrio (Antennariidae) in my bucket of sargassum weed.” … What tha?

Seriously, three sargassum frogfish, a filefish and a shrimp

So top 10 tips –

  1. Stop buying every latest expensive twiddle for your camera set up, save your money and go on a trip with the most world famous photographer you can find. A workshop is an excellent option (see remarkable wide angle results from unexpected diving spree with Mike Veitch). Seriously, just being on a trip with great photographers can make your photos better.
  2. Stop buying all non-essentials, save a lot of money and do two trips back to back. In addition to the “great photographer” effect, a long trip creates space for the exponential great leap forward. It also means you have enough time to be relaxed and not sweat the small stuff.
  3. Quality bean bag time can work wonders on feelings of frustration and despair and if all else fails, use your camera as ballast for a couple of dives.
  4. Just in case, dear reader, you are a complete novice like me, make sure you take a lap top computer and USB sticks.
  5. Split fins and muck diving are not a great combination.
  6. You can ditch the 50 bar rule but only if you can take responsibility for your own dive safety. I’m not a bad diver, but these guys just don’t need to breathe underwater so I was always the first person to make a move towards a safety stop. And I had to make that move on my own.
  7. Repeat number 6. The guides are great because they are great guides and spotters and not dive masters setting limits on the dives or focusing on how much air you have left – or indeed where you are.
  8. You cannot be too polite to the hardworking crew of a liveaboard.
  9. Do not, under any circumstances, take yourself too seriously. Based on my sample of six, world famous photographers are just a little bit peculiar but, for the most part, hysterically funny. Especially Eric Cheng, whose jokes are hilarious. Seriously, his jokes are LMFAO standard.
  10. Try your best not to gush, it’s just not good for them.

You can check out Eric’s video trip report, here, and really, what is left to say.

And, galleries from my personal group of world famous photographers. (Haha, you will have to find your own)

I think I failed the gush test, but there you have it, at last …. THE END.

Shout out to my new first best friends and world famous photographers Eric, Phil, Cor, Julie, Frank, Julian and Ildi; Cruise Director of the Century Garry Bevan and fellow ring-ins Dimitry and Steve, and of course the captain and crew of Damai II.

Postscript: Since this trip I’ve dived with Dimitry again and have to report his photos are now pretty much world class as well.  Soon there will only be me left here in the B-Team – quick where’s my bean bag? You there, get me Norman on the phone, NOW.