Despite a major Typhoon in Hong Kong the group eventually arrived at Scuba Seraya in Tulumben Bali 24 hours late, tired but in good spirits.
We flew with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong in order to enjoy the 40kg of luggage that you get with them on this route. Very useful for those carrying heavy photographic equipment!
Bali is a very beautiful and unique Island and Province of Indonesia. Its busy Capital Denpasar where the airport is located is situated in the southern part of the island where the majority of the tourism industry is based.
Bali is a lush green island paradise famed for its art, culture and recreation. The island of the Gods with its hills and mountains, rugged volcanic coastlines and sandy beaches, rice terraces and temples.
Famous for its friendly people, religion, colourful processions and ceremonies it really is a very different place to visit.
Scuba Seraya is an established small dive resort on the East coast in the Tulamben region. It takes about 3 hours drive to get from the airport to Seraya but once there you very quickly get into the much slower pace of life. Despite all of the diving and photography activities it really is a serene place to stay.
The accommodation either in bungalows or rooms is surrounded by beautifully kept lawns and gardens with loads of flowering shrubs, neat pathways and literally right on the beach.
The resort has about 12 rooms so is never that busy. The dive shop is staffed by a large number of guides and helpers and the service they offer is second to none. They all understand photographers and carry your camera and equipment to and from the boat so all you have to do is don your suit and literally walk into the water where help is on hand to kit you up.
After a relaxing sleep and breakfast, the group were ready to immerse themselves into the diving that the area has to offer. Our first dive was on Seraya Secrets the superb house reef right off the beach. Here the expert guides on a two to one ratio slowly meandered over the black sand finding all sorts of wonderful critters for us to photograph. From a variety of different cleaning stations, it was possible to shoot reef fish such as Coral Groupers and Emperor fish being cleaned to Marbled or Honeycomb Morays yawning wide having their teeth cleaned. The resident harlequin shrimps at 13m were huge and everyone got several chances over the workshop to spend quality time with them, shooting using the different techniques that I showed them during my evening slide presentations. There is a huge array of different subjects on the house reef and after that first dive, we had to tear ourselves away to dive from the boats slightly further afield during the rest of the trip. However most afternoons we returned to the House Reef and the group managed to take some outstanding images.
We quickly got into a routine of two-morning boat dives returning to the resort after each dive to change a lens or battery and enjoy a decent surface interval. After a relaxing lunch and break, we mainly dived on the house reef. You have the option to dive unguided but everyone went with a guide who really was amazing in the way that they spotted the different critters, some extremely small.
The diving here is easy in most cases little or no current. Most of the critters are at 15 m plus so Nitrox is a sensible route to enjoy the good bottom time.
Tulamben is home to the famous Liberty wreck. This is a former US Army transport ship that was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942 on its way to the Philippines from Australia carrying railway parts and rubber. Originally launched in 1918 it spent the interwar years as a cargo ship but in 1940 was taken up by the US army for defence services.
After being damaged by the torpedo the Liberty was limping down the coast of Bali when it had to be beached and there it remained until 1963 when Mount Agung erupted and the ship (conveniently for us divers!) slipped off the beach and now lies between 7.6m to 30.5m.
Length 125.43m Beam 17m 1x 6” gun and 1 x 3” gun. 13,130 tonnes.
You have to get up early to enjoy the Liberty as it is a very popular dive site but I have to say it is well worth waking at 5.30am and diving as the sun rises. The early divers to arrive each morning witness the large shoal of huge bump head parrot fish that otherwise hide during the day. They are very photogenic and a rare sight indeed.
The soft and hard coral and the fish life on the wreck are simply stunning. I dived there first about 11 years ago and it is as good today as it was then despite the heavy pressure of divers. By diving early the sun is in a good position for wide-angle photography and even with a full fisheye lens, you can avoid other divers and bubbles. During our workshop, we dived the Liberty three times and we found different shots to take each time and also had the opportunity to return to specific places on the wreck to perfect the image we had in mind.
There are some excellent sites around Seraya all within a few minutes boat ride. We were able to photograph a huge array of different subjects from minute hairy shrimps, through Sean the Sheep Nudis and pregnant Skeleton shrimps to a wide selection of rare nudibranchs, Mantis shrimps with eggs, Cardinalfish, jawfish, Morays, hinge beak shrimps, Harlequin shrimps, tiny frogfish, tiger shrimps, Octopus, whip coral gobies and shrimps, Seahorses, Ribbon eels, sea pen gobies with eggs and loads more.
A 15-minute boat ride took us on two occasions to Amed. A sleepy fishing and resort village. Here we dived in a strong current over a large gathering (never seen this before) of blue spotted rays and then over a site known as the Pyramids a man-made collection of crates (although they were so festooned with coral and fish life it was difficult to see their origin.) The second dive was shallow and we found the most amazing collection of pristine fan corals and soft and hard corals and were able to frame these and include beautiful sunrays against a gorgeous blue background. From time to time a huge shoal of what the locals call diamond fish swam past filling the frame with their glittering silver bodies. This was an amazing photographic opportunity. The following day we returned just before dusk to photograph the same subjects in a softer dappled light. The entire group managed to get some great shots of this spectacle before us.
It is unusual to have first class macro and wide angle available at the same destination and this is a definite plus factor for diving in the Tulamben area.
Some of the group went to Nusa Penida in the south of Bali to dive the famous Crystal Bay in the hope of seeing giant Mola Mola. Unfortunately, they didn’t turn up for us although had the previous morning and did the following day. (When have you heard that story before!)? We did, however, go to Manta Point on the south of Nusa Penida and it did what the label said and here a few of us were able to get some Manta shots.
During the workshop, I presented a different short slideshow or shows each evening. These covered subjects such as Critter behaviour and subject choice, and getting the peak of the action through equipment choice, composition and then quite a bit on macro and wide-angle lighting including using a snoot. We covered subjects such as how to get the best blue or black background, dealing with sun balls and silhouettes, snells window, super macro and the use of wet lenses. Being aware of backgrounds and how to deal with muck.
We did some image reviews where people put up a couple of images to openly discuss with the group or for me to live process and also reviews of images on Laptops.
I was at hand underwater to help with snooting or setting up strobes for wide angle shots and by the look of the images at the end of trip slideshow people had taken some of the tips on board and in some instances, there was a quantum leap in the quality of images being taken.
Scuba Seraya really did perform for us. With every aspect of our stay, we were truly looked after whether we were chilling, diving, eating or watching presentations. A couple of the dive guides on one occasion even came back after work to cook some Satay and fish on the beach for us, which was a very memorable evening. The fact that most of the guides have been there for 12 – 18 years is in my view testament to how much they themselves are looked after and also that they enjoy their work!
After the workshop closed most people either stayed on for a few days or moved to a different place to experience the culture that Bali has to offer most of which should not be missed!
If you like the sound of this workshop and location I am running another in October 2018 and also Scubatravel is in the throes of organizing dates for me for August 2019. And several places have already been booked!
See more about my Bali trip in 2018 here
In March 2018 I have a trip planned to Anilao in The Philippines, which is challenging Lembeh for Critter photographic opportunities.
See more about my Anilao critter hunt here
We are also going to photograph Blue Sharks and hopefully Mobula Mantas in the Azores in September 2018 find out more here