Grand Cayman Underwater

I wanted to tell you all about our Photo Workshop with Alex Mustard in Grand Cayman.

As usual, click on the images to see them at a larger size (& they are copyright to Suzy Walker or Michael Toye so please do not use without permission).

Overall I enjoyed the diving very much. It’s not like Egypt where the reef goes right to the surface, the more interesting dives are quite deep with the interesting bits at the bottom so we used Nitrox to allow us more dive time. We went to cave areas with glass fish and great swim-throughs, we did an off camera strobe model shot that Alex set up for us, we saw sharks, we saw (lots of) sting rays and I even got my macro on for a dive or two. I did notice there wasn’t as much fish life as I’m use to (we usually spend time in Indonesia or Red Sea) but I think that’s a Caribbean thing rather than a Cayman thing since there seemed to be many more fish than we saw at Bonaire.

Alex provides an excellent level of photo workshop (He runs this trip every year and there are quite a few repeat trippers), he explained a lot about light this workshop during evening lectures (take a jumper for these – I was cold) & image critique and on the boat and during the day. He even spent all day in the freezing cold pool showing people strobe positions (I skipped out on that since I was too cold from the 26 degree sea water to brave the pool as well)! This was our 1st trip of the year but not the first workshop we have taken with Alex so we knew what to expect from the workshop.

The pace is quite fast, you couldn’t possible fit any more into this trip but it was so relaxed that you could decide to skip any of it if you wanted to just chill out and enjoy the holiday. We went specifically to dive for photos and learn from the workshop, however the cold water & rocky boat (take you sea sickness tablets with you!) got the better of Mike and I spent a lot of my time diving with a nice American lady, Ellen, who also found herself with no buddy too.

We stayed at Ocean Frontiers (Compass point) in the East End of Grand Cayman. I didn’t actually know it was self-catering until we got there (it came as a surprise since we’re so used to liveaboards now). I cannot say that I’m a great fan of self-catering – we’re spoiled and when we go holiday I don’t like to worry about going to the supermarket and feeding ourselves, but the facilities of the room were good and we probably

saved a bit of money (since everything on Cayman seemed very expensive even at the supermarket – and I live in London so that much be saying something!!) We ate out a lot at a ear by restaurant (5min drive) called Portafinos which was pricey but delicious. We had a teeny tiny white car included in the holiday price that drove like a go kart but it was enough to get us around the island – we worked out after a few days that the speed signs were Miles per hour and speedo was in Kilometres ;)

The dive centre was great – we didn’t have to take care of our gear at all the whole week (which is always good when you have so little time and so much camera gear to get ready).

Off Camera strobe Model shot

and you can see the rest of my images here:
http://www.pbase.com/suzy_walker/cayman2010

North Red Sea 2009

I wanted to tell you a little about our recent trip to Egypt (as promised).

As usual, click on the images to see them at a larger size.

This is our second trip with Alex Mustard this year (our 1st was Raja Ampat in Feb) but this one was a full on photo-workshop.

We Flew to Egypt on Monarch (groan) into Sharm El Sheikh, luckily we didnt have to stay there, our liveaboard was waiting for us at the Military port. MV Whirlwind of the Tony Backhurst fleet was a very comfortable boat.

Alex runs this workshop trip ever year at this time to try and see the huge schools of snapper (& other large fish) that come to spawn in the area on these weeks. It was a little daunting as these fish are HUGE and because of the properties of the fisheye lens I was using I had to get very close to them! Also, strangely for this time of year the visibility wasn’t that great. Usually in the Red Sea the water is gin clear and you feel like you can see for miles. In amongst these snappers I feel like I was in a snow flurry so I am surprised I actually got any good photos of them.

We also head over to Tiran Island for a bit (since we weren’t having as much luck as usual with the Snapper). This trip was primarily a wide-angle trip but those who know me know I don’t go on any underwater jaunt without my trust 60mm macro lens. I tried to “go-wide” with that too this time to shoot some fish portraits but I couldn’t resist the odd tiny macro fish or occasional abstract.

We also saw a rather large amount of shipwrecks (this is the North Red Sea after all) including the Ghiannis D, Thistlegorm & Yolanda.

This was actually a treat (even though I’m not fussed about wrecks usually) because Mike has never seen the Thistlegorm & I’ve not been back since I first learnt to dive. I enjoyed seeing all the Motorbikes, trucks & things but I was still really spooked by the wellies. It was nice on the Ghiannis D too since we had Mr Alex (Magic Filters) Mustard himself with us to give us guidance on how to use them effectively. I still dont think I got the hang of it properly but it was good fun to try something new.

One of the things I really like about going on photo workshops in a group is you tend to meet really nice people. Everyone helps everyone else out. Julian ended up giving a load of us a Lightroom tutorial or two (and also taking me under his wing for my 1st snapper experience) so many thanks to him. Also, I’d like to thank Robin for being an excellent model & stand in buddy. And many thanks of course go to Alex for giving us such a great trip.

The only thing I was disappointed in (apart from getting really sick on the last day when we stayed in Sharm) was the poor moray eel I found who had a giant hook in his mouth :( C’mon people this is supposed to be a protected marine area! I guess the usually vigilant Egyptian authorities must have missed this one (or else he swam into the area from outside).

my full underwater gallery can be found here. Mikes above water gallery can be found here.

Ultimate Indonesia – Raja Ampat

Well, what can I say but what a holiday! There was laughter, there were tears, there was awe, there were men with guns and there are photos. We stayed on the seven seas liveaboard with Alex Mustard and Graham Abbot for 12 days and nights of fantastic diving in Raja Ampat. Raja Ampat is a marine protected area in Indonesia west of Papa New Guinea.

Alex Mustard

Most people in underwater photography circles have heard of him, author of a couple of books (I really liked reefs revealed), numerous articles and judge on some major underwater photographic competitions.  In person, Alex was friendly and relaxed. This was a group-lead photo tour rather than one of his specific photo workshops but he was still happy to give advice when asked (which I think we all took great advantage of) and he seemed to genuinely like sitting going through peoples photos with them. I found that it was fascinating to watch a professional photographer at work, from ideas, to subject selection, to shooting technique and finally image selection and rejection. It was good fun to dive with him, he and I almost missed lunch because we were mucking about for too long in the mangroves! As a tour lead he did a great job, especially in the airport to and from Sarong to Manado (the only place where we checked in en masse).


Graham Abbott

We were lucky to have Graham from diving4images.com as our dive guide throughout our stay on the Seven seas (I didn’t actually get to dive with the seven seas dive guide, Tommy). Graham planned the route we would take and what dive sites we would go on and in what order to get the best of our photographic time in Raja Ampat. He has a fish & critter Id book inside his head and is an amazing spotter with eyes like an underwater hawk! He showed everyone what they wanted to see and was very patient when everyone took turns to take photos of the same tiny things. He is a very funny guy, I know that Lena was especially impressed with his underwater modeling and eye crossing techniques.

Seven seas

The liveaboard was one of the most luxurious we’ve been on. The rooms were quite large (for a boat) and ours had ample space underneath the tall king-size bed to store the baggage and useful drawers for clothes and gadgets. The food was very nice, they seemed to have no problem catering for peoples dietary requirements (Alex and I dined on chicken when they served up seafood meals for example) and I never went hungry as there was a steady supply of snacks throughout the day. It seemed like there was a lot of space, it never seemed like there were too many of us. There were several spaces for us to spread out and attend to our cameras on without having to take them down to our rooms.

Diving

The diving operation was very slick. All managed by a lovely American guy called Stuart. He took video throughout the trip that we could buy at the end. The were crew great with handling the cameras and the diving gear. We had three dive boats to dive from (two tender boats and one rib). The tender boats were easier to dive from (they had ladders) but the groups on them were large. There was only ever four divers on the rib – maximum, so I was glad to be on that one with Alex, Mike and sometimes either Stuart or Graham.

The crew were very dedicated, sometimes sitting in the boats in their bright yellow rain macs waiting for us for over an hour. They seemed to know where we were at all times and when we ascended they were there on hand to help us up into the boats. Seeing how ludicrously bad I was at getting into the rib they supplied a little ladder for it which I thought was very sweet :-)

Critters

Well, this holiday certainly had critters galore! I’ve never seen so many fish and such lush and amazing coral in one place. The few days in Lembeh were supposed to allow us to get the macro out of our system. Raja Ampat is billed as a largely wide angle paradise, and while that is most definitely true (I took more wide-angle shots in those 12 days that I have in my life) it didn’t stop the macro lenses creeping back on throughout the week when the two words ‘pygmy’ and ‘seahorse’ were mentioned. I didn’t get to see the Denise ones but I’ve never seen weedy pygmy sea horses before so was especially please to see them. It was also a nudibranch hunters dream, with all different varieties on each dive.


Also, it was the first time Mike and I had ever seen manta rays! It was very exciting to see them and they came so close and they are so big! I think I must be the only person in the world to be intimated but such a gentle creature but they are very, very big.

Mangroves
I loved the day we had in the blue water mangroves. It was such a different and special environment (I wish we’d spent a little longer really). I haven’t processed all the photos from the mangroves yet so I will do an additional blog post later on for that.

Men with guns
We travelled overnight sometimes to get to a new area. One particular morning we had arrived at a new spot, the sea was very calm and it was just past dawn. Speeding across the water was a small boat with 3 or 4 men in it, one toting a rather large machine gun. Not something that one usually sees over breakfast so it made me sit up and take notice. They pulled up and boarded, pirates I thought? Apparently not. Stuart told them to leave the gun in the boat (which they did). Apparently we were rather too close to their pearl farm and they’d had some robberies, they thought we were pirates and had come to check us out lol. Satisfied that we were just a bunch of tourists and not stashing a large oyster string on our boat they moved us on.

Tears
Well almost, I got bitten by a large angry trigger fish that snuck up on my while I was photographing soft coral in the shallows of the ‘The windows’ divesite, his shallows apparently. I was very glad I was wearing wetsuit that day! And no I didn’t take his picture, I was too busy trying to smack him with my camera while he menacingly swam at my head – eek! Luckily for me he didn’t break the skin and a got away cleaning with a massive bruise on my knee and the fright of my life.

Topside

While on a trip such as this one you don’t expect there to be much to shoot above the water (well I don’t anyway), however the landscape was so beautiful I just had to get my camera out of that housing once in a while. Stuart gave us a couple of excellent opportunities for tender boat rides around the small islands between diving. The landscape was just so very green and lush. When I looked carefully I saw a fleeting glimpse of a bright green bird and a brilliant pink bird high up in the trees. We stopped for a minute or so on a small beach with a hut, although I don’t think anyone actually lived there. It did give me a change to try my hand at another 360 panorama but when I loaded all 31 NEF files into photoshop to try and stitch it, it unsurprisingly crashed! ;)

With thanks for a great holiday to Alex, Graham, Stuart & the crew of the Seven Seas, Divequest and everyone on the trip.

click on the following to see the full set of images in each galley:
:: Raja Ampat underwater images ::
:: Raja Ampat Mangroves ::
:: Topside ::
:: Mikes Topside photos :: EDIT: Mikes cancelled his pbase so this gallery may no longer work.
:: Lembeh Strait underwater images ::

All images in this post are clickable to see larger versions and all images are copyright Suzy Walker or Michael Toye.

Lembeh Underwater Gallery Complete

I’ve finished uploading some of the weird and wonderful creatures you can see in Lembeh straits, in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Its amazing what the guides find amongst the rubbish in the black volcanic sand! The visibility was not as good as I remember from the previous trip in 2007 but it was certainly great to get back there.

Full gallery here: http://www.pbase.com/suzy_walker/lembeh_strait_indonesia_2009

This was the first few days of the Ultimate Indonesia photo trip with Divequest, lead by Alex Mustard. I’ve started my above water gallery for the whole trip too, although I’ve only loaded the Lembeh photos so far. The topside photos are in this gallery: http://www.pbase.com/suzy_walker/lembeh_strait_and_raja_ampat_indonesia_2009

We stayed in the lovely Lembeh Resort which I managed to snag a few photos of this time…

Its under slightly different management than last time but the food and service are still fantastic.

All photos in this post are clickable but do check out the rest :) Next up Raja Ampat ….