Maldives Orion Photo Trip Report November 2012
Wow! talk about hit the ground running. After an flight from the UK to the Maldives via a smooth and rapid changeover in Sri Lanka, we found ourselves ensconced in the luxurious and spacious surroundings of MV Orion, and in what seemed like no time we were being briefed for our first check dive of the trip.
Check dives in most places are normally uneventful affairs, with the chance to get your weights trimmed and any new equipment given a try out. My advice as trip leader of this photo trip, was to take it easy, and maybe just take the housing down on its own, to make sure it wasn’t leaking.
Normally sage advice given on most of my workshops.
On this occasion though I incurred the wrath of a couple of our number, who on taking this advice,and given in good faith, were joined on our check dive with no less than a dozen or so Manta’s, so whilst they enjoyed the incredible spectacle they weren’t able to record it.
From a photographic point of view this trip was conducted as an expedition as opposed to a more conventional photo trip. The difference being with my normal photo itineraries where I aim to perhaps concentrate on going to dive sites that favour gentle currents and the ability in some instances to repeat dives to try out techniques etc. With this trip here though it was more about getting our group in front of some impressive marine life, and the interactions, sometimes in strong currents would take precedence.
This presented different challenges from a tuition point of view, and my aim was to get people up to speed as quickly as possible to enable them to get successful shots in these diving situations.
With having such a cross section of abilities on board, I made myself available all day every day to answer questions and, give one to one’s and small group tuition as and when it was required.
We had DSLR, Mirrorless System Cameras and High End and Basic Compact Cameras on board. So the whole range of equipment and also abilities was represented on this trip.
Regardless of kit owned though, the general advice in the conditions we were in, with the subject matter we were hoping to encounter was broadly the same. And that was to “get close”.
This is because the visibility wasn’t always gin clear. Manta and Whale Shark don’t get to the huge sizes they do in the Maldives, on a calorie restricted diet.
The viz is compromised by all the tiny plankton and associated nutrients that these creatures, whose weight is measured in tonnes, eat.
These nutrients and plankton are brought to the dive sites on currents, that also have an effect on how photography dives are conducted. So different techniques to work with, rather than against the water are important to consider in these conditions.
It’s no use getting frustrated with the currents in these places, spoiling your photography, because if it wasn’t for those very same currents we wouldn’t have so many large animal encounters.
This is where exemplary guiding comes into the equation and these guys on Orion were some of the best I have come across, they managed to balance the groups abilities with the conditions, and were consistently able to give us all great diving, whilst still keeping everyone safe and sound.
Their ability to plan ahead and read the conditions was put to test on several times, but on every occasion bar one they got us into the water and onto the dive site with efficiency and ease. Maximising our time and making sure we didn’t burn through our gas too early.
The only time they slipped up and it was entirely forgivable, was at a wreck dive site they considered predictable enough not to check the current, and Mother Nature being her capricious self chose that day to buck the trend, and so we ended up fighting a bit of a current.
No mind though the next day things were back on trend and we completed the Kude Maa, a purpose sunk wreck without any lairy water play.
Another example of them coming up trumps was after an early morning dive we did in one of the many channels. The dive itself was a bit of a gamble current pending and we were going to be deeper than usual at 35m. The gamble was that if the current was running inside the channel then we could possibly encounter a larger than normal group of Grey Reef sharks, well into double figures. As these things are a bit fifty fifty this day we called wrong.
We nonetheless had a great dive and saw some very large tuna and a couple of Grey Reefs with a few Eagle Rays thrown in for good measure, but as we had been teased with the potential of seeing a multitude of sharks, some of our number were a little disappointed.
So back for breakfast we headed, but our route back to Orion appeared a little long winded, and very soon the reason for that became apparent as we happened upon a sizeable pod of dolphins
that we had jumping and cavorting on the bow wave for a good twenty minutes, nothing like a few dolphins to cheer folk up!
It didn’t stop there though as our meandering route back for brekkie, took us via another channel that had some huge Manta feeding on the surface. So snorkels and masks donned we joined them, and they were huge, and we got a good few passes and pictures aplenty.
At this point when we were getting back on our Dhoni, something quite funny happened. Swearing and foul language from all and sundry rang out across the channel, and normally quite reserved folk were cussing like Liverpool dockers, myself included. Had we all developed a sort of aquatic Tourettes? No, our profanities were caused by hydroids, tiny stinging creatures that reach the parts that others cannot reach. As we had got back into the water without our suits on, our exposed flesh and easy to reach nooks and crannies, was at the mercy of the hydroids, and it felt like little hot needles being poked into you.
This was not going to dull the memory of a great pre breakfast dive trip though, it wasn’t even 9am and we had seen dolphins, mantas and the odd shark too. So hungry but replete with good experiences we got back on the Orion and fell upon the pancakes, pastries and coffee.
I am pretty sure that Mario and crew knew that even if we didn’t get exactly the dive we had expected, that they could console us with some exciting dolphin and Manta action. Nice one fellas.
What I remember most about the rest of that day was everyone showing each other pictures of Manta, and I spent a lot of time going through photos and helping to crop and edit shots for people.
I tried where time allowed to give daily presentations, covering available light, lighting, and exposure control. With some other presentations covering the use of Adobe Lightroom. Time between dives was spent on a more one to one, or in small groups basis. Looking at specific camera models and their use underwater.
Unlike the Red Sea trips, night dives aren’t the norm every evening on a Maldives trip, however when they give you a night dive, they really give you a night dive! And on our second day onboard we were scheduled to do a night dive called Maya Thila, boy oh boy is this a night dive. This isn’t a slow potter about looking for shrimp, crabs and Spanish dancers. This is high energy stuff.
The Thila, which is a small submerged roughly circular reef, is a place where lots of the sharks, morays and rays come to feed on a nightly basis. When you have descended and got yourself settled, in no time at all, in your torch beam, is a reef shark circling. On a mission. It’s oblivious to you, all you are is a source of light to aid in its hunt. Illuminated by you and the other divers, reef sharks, Giant Moray,s and big rays congregate on Maya Thila to feast on the smaller reef fish. Its exciting stuff and is definitely not a dive to be missed.
A highlight for us all towards the end of an exciting week was a talk given by Simon Rogerson, Underwater Photographer, Author and current Editor of Scuba Magazine, who had joined us for the trip.
He had agreed to give us a talk on large marine animal photography, and we were treat to an amusing and entertaining lecture about shooting all manner of large beasts from all four corners of the globe. Simon is an engaging and humorous speaker and his lecture proved he has a passion and a skill for the subject, that he is able to communicate with ease to others.
I have tried to present a flavour of what these trips are about from my perspective, and with this trip report, I have deliberately kept away from doing a day by day, blow by blow account, with all the dives listed in date order.
However for those folk that like that sort of thing, we covered the Northern Atolls from Male heading south and working our way back up north as the trip progressed. As mentioned before, our guides gave us some great dives and managed a group of hugely varying abilities, always smiling and with no fuss.
Orion is a wonderful boat, great food, and she even has a Spa onboard. Lots of room to chill out and relax, with comfortable rooms and facilities.
Most importantly though the guides and crew were very flexible and amenable, recognising that we were a photo group, which is a godsend for this type of trip.
I had a busy but thrilling and fun packed week. A lot of this is down to the guests, who help to maintain a fun vibe, and so I thank all of you onboard Orion for helping to keep things jolly, it makes my part of the job so much easier.
Cheers and I hope to dive with you all again in the future.