What happens on an UW Photography Workshop?
Reviewed by Duxy
Duxy our Photography Travel Specialist
has many years background evaluating camera kit for use underwater,
and his reputation as an UW photo geek precedes him!
This is a question we get asked a lot of times because folk often have reservations about booking onto a very specific photo orientated dive trip.The main concern is usually…
What sort of people book onto a photography workshop?
"what if everyone else is more advanced than me, and has fancy camera kit that is better than mine?" This is a well founded concern, as very often people have been on trips with folk with loads of high end photo kit, and maybe some people have been a bit full of themselves and bragged constantly for the whole trip and inflicted their pictures on all and sundry. Unfortunately you would remember people like this for all the wrong reasons, and if they had been quiet,retiring and unassuming in their hobby you would be unlikely to have remembered them. This is unfortunately the way of the world. The good news is that blowhards like this are not generally found on a trip with lots of other photographers, because then its hard for them to dominate proceedings, and their selfish impact is somewhat diluted.
Folk choose photography workshops for lots of reasons, but a recurring theme I have found with mine, is that the group dynamic is extremely positive, and very encouraging to the newbies. As lots of my repeaters have been in that situation themselves initially and just want to be on a boat with a great vibe going on. Another common reason to come on a photo trip, is that we do things slowly and at a relaxed pace. So if you like your diving unhurried, chilled out and easy going, then a photo trip is perfect for you. We will often itinerary depending, repeat a dive site, this is so you can re-visit a place giving a second bite of the cherry and perfect your technique. This also allows you to appreciate how time of day and the lighting can make a huge difference to the look and feel of the place.
When I started running trips I actively targeted the compact camera users, as I thought that they would benefit the most from structured advice. On the whole this is still true. It's just that a lot of these newbies are not beginners anymore, and they still want to come along. Personally I love this because, I am a big believer in the teaching mantra of "see one, do one and then teach one yourself" So I find that often one of my regulars is showing a newbie a technique they learnt on a previous trip. And I'm not precious about this at all. This is not just so it cuts down on my workload, I think that sometimes some people are better than getting the message across than me and based on their own learning experience, are able to identify when someone in a similar situation to them is having a problem that they themselves can solve. I learn something new myself every time I go on one of these trips. Which helps keep it all fresh for me, and maintains my personal enthusiasm levels.
We normally find that we have a much broader split of abilities and equipment ownership onboard, in fact on recent trips, we are seeing a lot of GoPro's so I am writing up specific course modules for using these to their best potential.
We will also get a good chunk usually around a third of people with more traditional compact cameras, and I have established teaching modules in place to quickly show people how to get the best from these cameras. A lot of our compact users have moved on from using these, to buying into the new Mirrorless cameras which are taking our little corner of the photographic world by storm. So these are starting to appear in significant numbers too.
We also have a fair few traditional DSLR owners that usually join us too. So there is no such thing as a typical trip goer as far as the equipment is concerned anyhow. The flip side of this is, "what if I am the only user of a high end camera and the course is too basic for me?" I have over the course of the last 4 years running many courses and workshops, been lucky enough to use all manner of camera kit, I am a self confessed photo geek, and there is very rarely a camera set up that I either haven't used or am unfamiliar with. From GoPro's to high end Gates Broadcast cameras, and DSLR's in most flavours. So cameras of all shapes and sizes are my lifeblood. I am currently rocking an Olympus EM5 micro4/3 in a Nauticam housing with a variety of lenses, but prior to that I used Canon DSLR’s and also loads of different compacts.
One unifying thing about all of this is, that whatever camera you use, the core advice remains the same, and I can usually help, whatever the specific problem or area of expertise you need help, or just a few pointers and tips you may not have thought of. So its rare that you won’t gain some technical benefit from a workshop. You may just want to hang out in a very relaxed diving environment with like minded souls and take your time underwater which brings me back to the initial question, of “what happens on an underwater photographic workshop” From a practical and literal standpoint, and I will base this on a standard liveaboard itinerary,our land based trips aren't radically different in their content and tuition. Here goes.
Before the trip
About three weeks or so prior to the trip, I usually send an email out to everyone onboard, asking some basic questions. About your diving experiences, and photo experience to date. I also ask what kit you have, and what you want to achieve from the trip and areas for improvement etc. This is a vitally important step for me, as I can start to get to know you, I may ring some of you up to clarify things, and if you have specific equipment based questions we have enough time for me to make purchasing recommendations if needed. I will also ask you to send me a recent picture, as this helps me to put names to faces. None of this is obligatory by the way, and I will completely understand if you would rather wait until we were onboard. I will also send you a few links to helpful stuff like free downloads of photo editing programs if you don’t already own them. If we are leaving from the same airport, I will arrange to meet up, and we can start to make some introductions etc. As far as I am concerned your trip starts there and you can ask me anything.
Start of the trip
When we get to the boat, I won’t interfere, in any way, with the normal boat protocols. So we will get briefed by the guides and crew about the boat and safety procedures etc, and we will fill in any paperwork required at this stage. Depending on the time of day, they will usually feed us next, and again I am always available for questions. At this point I will usually give a brief overview of the weeks proceedings and when I need everyone together to give them a rundown for the week.
During the trip
On the first diving day the crew will give us boat and dive briefings before the check dive. This can be necessarily lengthy as they may have a bit to cover. So we will do our first dive, without any photo input from me. This is a very important dive, as it is the best chance for you to make sure that you are correctly weighted and trimmed, and this will make a big difference to how you dive with your camera. I normally suggest that this dive is not only a great time for you to check yourself and your kit, but also to maybe take your housing for a test dive without a camera in it, so as to put your mind at rest that it isn't leaking. After this first dive if time allows I will gather everyone for a short talk, of around half an hour, to let you know what is going to happen during the week, and about the various topics we can cover. A particularly important area I look at in the beginning is our responsibilities as underwater photographers, and how good diving practice is important. The important thing that I like to show on day one, and that no questions are out of bounds, and that I am there to help you, from the first thing in the morning until the last thing at night. With everything covered from setting up the white balance on your camera, all the way to advanced strobe positioning, to how best to back up your pictures, or even mundane but important stuff like battery charging, housing maintenance etc. After the first day is done, and any initial diving or photography teething troubles are ironed out,we then settle into a regular daily routine of three day dives and sometimes night dives. I will normally do a talk or presentation after the third dive, on a number of different topics. Sometimes these will be general photographic topics or on more specific subjects. Largely dictated by the sort of questions being asked. This routine is also roughly the same when on a shore based itinerary, the main difference being that the shore based long haul trips, usually last longer than 7 days so there is an even more relaxed protocol.
Here is what one of our clients said after a trip to Indonesia last year on one of these itineraries:
"Duxy works tirelessly to ensure you to get as much photographic or camera kit advice as you wish. His approachable personality, choice of locations and work ethic ensure you have the ideal learning environment. He provides plenty of opportunity for one to one (He really does mean JUST ASK) and delivers group sessions in the bar usually accompanied by a beer ( the host receives the right not to pay for these…). Duxy recognises you are on holiday and he makes it quite clear its ok to miss a presentation to sneak off to the pool or grab a couple of hours shut eye, we know as we tested his patience…. Duxys manner from his pre trip contact to his behaviour throughout leaves you in no doubt his trips are about delivering learning in the right place, at the right level for you and in a way in which it should be fun. Any preconceptions we had of being out of our depth with a bunch of camera pros were quickly dispelled because in reality i have no idea of the level of experience of most of our fellow guests, advice was mostly tailored to individuals i,e me when we wanted it. During the week occasionally I saw some great pictures others had taken and some nice camera kit (plenty high end compacts) and some individuals were using very creative techniques suggesting enthusiastic amateurs but thanks to Duxys help my wife and i also have some great photos (unfortunately hers still better than mine). The support gained from a Duxy trip isn’t just about the trip it starts when he makes contact just after the booking to find out what kit you have, to get to know you and establish your needs, goes on through the trip and seemingly doesn’t end as he makes it clear he is there for advice on kit or techniques by emaill when you need it. Thanks for a great fun photographic trip. Russ"
So as you can see these trips are suitable for all abilities of diver and photographer, and provide you with the very best opportunity to learn with like minded souls, we will provide all the support you need, pre, during and post trip. We aren’t cliquey, and there is no such thing as a stupid question, we will give help when you need it, and a light touch when you just want to take your photographs in an unhurried relaxed style. There is a very good reason why we get such a lot of repeaters.
So, don’t be shy hop onboard, and see why these trips can be good for you and expand your diving experiences. Here are some of the happy faces from one of our recent workshops.