Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat

For the last part of my trip report I want to show you the photos from the northern area of the Dampier Strait. We dived many quite a few different sites here (including Arborek Jetty which I’ve already posted about).

Mantas:

Here we saw a host of amazing creatures, larger ones such as mantas & woebegones, and smaller critters such as pontohi pygmy seahorses, snake eels, robust ghost pipe fish and more. Without further ado here are some of the photos that I liked most from this area.

Two (mating?) woebegone sharks, I love how they just look like bits of old carpet!

Pontohi pygmy seahorse:

Many of these images were taken on the Olympus OMD EM1 camera which was lent to me for review so tomorrow I’ll post up a bit more about my experience with it and the pros & cons verses my own little EM5.

Arborek Jetty, Raja Ampat

This might be one of the most photographed jetties in all of Raja Ampat but it is truly a great place to go and take all types of photos. And it changes year on year, here is the link from last year. There is usually some sort of school of fish swirling under the jetty, then there are the beautiful soft corals on many of the posts (I concentrated more on that last year than this), then there is the giant clams (and I do mean giant) and of course the lovely macro subjects. Also, I enjoyed snorkelling there to take some split shots (see below).

Candy crab on the soft coral on the jetty pillars:

In fact with an eagle eye’d dive guide you may even ‘see’ one of these:

Its a hairy shrimp, the damned thing is so small it looks like a tiny spec, not even big enough to look like a bit of fluff! I’m pretty good at spotting (I often even find my own pygmy seahorses) but I had trouble seeing these guys even when pointed out. I cracked out Alex’s subsee +10 (to put on my 60mm which is already equivalent to 120mm) and then cropped in!

The schooling fish:

Its interesting at night, lovely stars above (if the weather is with you):

And an interesting night dive below, here is a toadfish I found:

Other creatures come out at night two, we saw a walking shark and these little tiny skeleton shrimp:

We saw mating Nudis (i think this may have even been a threesome not that you can tell from the photo):

and Adorable frogfish:

Above & below tiny fish stream by:

To see more of the cool stuff we saw at this jetty & other photos from the trip head over to my Raja Ampat gallery. And to see an image Mike took when we went onto the island see his blogpost here, you can’t take the street photographer off the streets for long. I’ll continue my trip photos tomorrow with more from the Dampier Strait.

Mangroves, Raja Ampat

We went again to the same mangrove area as last year in Yangeffo. They arnt quite as cool as they blue water mangroves we visited in 2009 but we didn’t fancy facing the crocodiles so here we are.

This year I had the presence of mind to take in a macro lens so I got some more close up shots of the smaller subjects such as this flower floating on the surface and of course the archerfish:

The mangroves are an incredible nursery for young fish and several times I saw a juvenile blacktip shark cursing up and down, sadly no photos of him as he was practicing creeping up behind me rather than posing for photos

If you like these photos of the mangroves there are more over in my full Raja Ampat photo gallery. Stay tuned, coming up on my trip report is the amazingly diverse Dampier Straits area (including Arborek jetty again, which we saw last year) and a review of the Olympus OMD EM1.

Crossing the line

Crossing the line

Continuing on from my recent posts about our Raja Ampat trip, today I want to tell you about some of the antics we got up to when we crossed the equator. We crossed by boat and also underwater. Not many people have dived across the two in one dive, we dropped down on the southern hemisphere and swam to the northern hemisphere. What was more fun though was participating in the traditional crossing the line ceremony where King Neptune himself came aboard to preside over the festivities of those who were once slimly pollywogs becoming honourable shellbacks.

The ritual, in which previously inducted crew members (Trusty Shellbacks) are organized into a “Court of Neptune” to induct the Slimy Pollywogs into “the mysteries of the Deep”. Physical hardship, in keeping with the spirit of the initiation, are tolerated, and each Pollywog is expected to endure a standard initiation rite in order to become a Shellback.

King Neptune:
King Neptune

Davy Jones introduced King Neptune aboard and carried out the ritual shaving (with foamy soap water) and general rousing of the pollywogs.

Davy Jones:
Davy Jones

But first the King had to preside over a beauty pageant, to decide who to award the wig of beauty…

The lovely ladies of the pageant:
Beautiful Ladies

An honourable shellback holds aloft the Wig Of Beauty:
The Wig Of Beauty

The slimy pollywogs then had to eat this spicy tofu…
Spicy!

…and get ‘shaved’ by Davy Jones. Here’s Mike and I getting treated to this:

Suzy gets turned into a Shellback

Suzy gets the bucket of water over the head

Mike gets turned into a Shellback

Mike gets the bucket of water over the head

So after our ordeal (initiation), it is certified that I am a trusted Son of Neptune

Cert.

Of course during all of this the crew looked on in bemused fascination. After this we took our dive at Equator Island, some folks even took beer down (to pose for the pictures) and horrified the dive guides by cracking them open and drinking them at 10m! Apparently they were a little salty – teehee.

Here are a few images of our crossing the line underwater…

This is me (taken my Jarret with my camera), I like this one because it looks like my bubbles are ears!

Here is Jarret

and Peter:

Note: Topside photos in this post © Michael Walker-Toye & Alex Mustard.

Aljui Bay, Raja Ampat

Instead of Pele which I posted about yesterday, we went to Aljui bay on the first trip and I was disappointed not to go back there on the second trip. Its quite a lot further north than most itineraries usually go though. I was kicking myself for not doing more wide angle dives there, they had some pearl frames dangling from the jetty which I didn’t photograph (because I had my macro lens on). Paul Rosenblum got a lovely shot of them here (go team Olympus)!

Here are some shots I did get from the area though…

Debbie:

Green frogfish:

For more images from this trip see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Pele, Raja Ampat

Following on from yesterdays post on Misool. We only visited two sites in Pele, Kaleidoscope & Toblerone. Most itineraries for Raja dont come out this way but Toblerone tunnel is kind of interesting too see again (we stopped by there in 2009). I took down my off camera strobe to see what I could make of the sea fans on the tunnel floor (see above).

Its a pity the weather wasn’t better when we were here because it was a bit murky for wide angle on Kaleidoscope but it was like fish soup! Amazingly fun dive site just to go and watch them all swirling around and around

It was also interesting to see how big these sponges had grown in that time… here they are from 2009:

There is a little air pocket in the top of the tunnel, here’s Alex come up for a breather

For more images from this trip see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Misool, Raja Ampat

Following on from the previous post at Daram, We spent quite a bit of time diving around the Misool area so I might end up splitting this area into two posts. Its great for both Macro and wide angle so you couldn’t go in with the wrong lens.
We went to Yillet Kecil, Magic Mountain, Boo Windows, Boo East & West, Tank, Whale & Nudi Rock and lets not forget Wedding Cake.

Everyone loves to take photos of the famous Boo Windows but the macro there is amazing, I watch some squids laying eggs and found a couple of Misool Pygmy seahorses.

These little red & white pygmy seahorses are only found around the Misool area.

Nudi rock, so called because it looks like a Nudibranch:

for more images of the divesites at Misool see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Daram, Raja Ampat


I think the best way to show you the different beautiful areas of our Raja Ampat trip is to split it up somewhat based on my little route map, first stop Daram. Here we visited Andiamo and The Candy Store divesites. Please click on the images to see them larger on phase.

The image above shows the silversides racing back and forth just under the surface of the water (chased by the jacks pictured here).

We dropped down on our first dive (on the Candy Store) and I found this little chap sitting in a fan at about 18m. For those who don’t know, He’s a Bargibant pygmy seahorse (this one was about 2cm tall).

The image below is of a scorpion fish blending himself in with the reef.

This area has some of the biggest sea fans I’ve ever scene, much bigger than a person (and impossible for me to light), here are two biggish ones.. these are at the limit of the lighting I have with the tiny strobe arms on my camera.

for more images of the divesites at Daram see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Back from Raja Ampat

Since the end of Jan we’ve been floating around the sea in an area called Raja Ampat. After last years trip, We did two Alex Mustard workshops back to back in this amazing area. See the route for trip 1 in red and trip 2 in green on this route map below:

route map

I’ve put this as best I can into a google maps so you can click the points to see the list of divesites we visited:

As you can see from my photos from last year this area is very diverse for photography and I have lots of images to go through & post in the next couple of days (and I need to upgrade my LR catelog to work with the new Olympus OMD EM1 files – review to follow shortly too). We had a great time, met some nice new people, saw many critters, pygmy seahorses, toadfish, pipefish etc etc. We also celebrated Alex & Mikes birthdays, and crossed the equator underwater (not many people can claim that)! So stay tuned to the blog!

10 years taking photos underwater

It’s been 10 years (last month) since I starting diving (and taking underwater photos). 10 YEARS! Wow, that flew by. And I still use the same fins I started with. I’ll ruminate on a top ten photos in the coming weeks but here I wanted to look back and reflect on my time and photos with you.

Camera History
I knew I wanted to take photos underwater from the get go, but I needed the buoyancy skills first (the reef has always come first). I started off with a little plastic disposable camera, my photos were bad. Really bad. Pictures of a flash of a fish tail as he swam out of frame. *Sigh*. I upgraded to a digital compact in 2004 and kept that until I flooded it and was persuaded to upgrade to DLR in end of 2007 (when I started this blog). This year I’ve upgraded to a Mirrorless camera and am the happiest I’ve ever been with a underwater rig.

Here is my stroll down memory lane. Thankfully the photos get better as we go along!

Memory lane:

This photo of a lionfish was taken in my first week underwater with my compact, in 2004, In Jordan, Red Sea:

Mike quickly realised that life with me would require some training, here he is in 2005 learning buoyancy control for his PADI open water.

My image quality started to pick up when I bought a strobe in 2006:

2007, my first taste of muck diving in Lembeh. Pregnant Pygmy Seahorses, flamboyant cuttle fish hatching, wonderpus, blue ring octopus, oh my! Also where I flooded my camera. Doh! Luckily I was able to borrow someone’s spare.

This is my first underwater SLR photo session – in the pool with Martin Edge and my Nikon D300.

And first photos in the open ocean with it in Cebu, Philippines

Also in 2008, we saw Masked puffer fish schooling in the red sea, so cute & en mass:

In 2009, I saw my first stargazer (Lembeh, where else)?

As part of the same trip, we got our first taste of Raja Ampat. What an amazing place! Unexpectedly (even though I had my first Manta experience), if you discount the mangroves, the highlight for me was the teeny tiny bobtail squid (another first).

Of course you can’t discount the mangroves. This was by far and away the most magical place I’ve ever visited underwater. I couldnt do it justice with my camera unfortunately.

We liked to try and get back to the red sea every year (in fact I think 2007 was the only year I missed since 2003). In 2009, we saw the schooling snappers and other fish for the first time.

In 2010, the water was eerily calm but we didnt seem much schooling action.

Also, in 2010 we went on our first Grand Cayman Alex Mustard workshop. Sharks, Rays, off camera lighting, it was a very interesting trip.

We went back in 2011 to see the newly sank Kittewake wreck (while it was still white):

We chased that one with a snorkel in the hot springs in florida with the Manatees – awesome creatures! I totally had manatee madness. I still wear the manatee yoga pants I bought in the diveshop :) This trip was a tester to see if I could get over my fear or snorkelling (the springs were only waist deep). See here for an adorable manatee video.

We went Cayman to Orlando via a quick stop to dive in Blue Heron Bridge – wow their critters get big! The biggest arrow crabs I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t quite fit him all in as he galloped towards me!

Our red sea trip in 2011 was down to the south, where we played in the caves and the wrecks and saw a lot of clownfish

After the successful manatee snorkelling I decided to go for broke and snorkel in the open ocean with the whalesharks last year. Boy am I glad I did! Here is a selfie I took

While we were over in Mexico we had our first experiences of diving in freshwater caves – the Cenotes were amazing. I’m not a caver so I didn’t go too far off the beaten track.

We squeezed in some macro fun in Bali last year too

Also, started off my video channel on vimeo with this one from my gopro
 

 

That brings us to this year, where we lost all our luggage on the way to Raja Ampat and I borrowed Alex’s Olympus for the trip. Hopefully next time it will arrive in time to use it.

And the red sea trip where we had amazing schooling action and lots of fun photographing the Thistlegorm wreck.

Thanks for taking a trip down through the years with me. I made so many amazing friends along the way! Perhaps some of you could do this too? A rundown of your diving adventures since learning to dive and post links into the comments below so we can all see them?