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Manipulation of marine life for pics


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#1 Drew

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 11:11 PM

This being a underwater photographer's forum, I noticed there are instructions and chat about everything except the one thing I personally feel is very important for any shooter, the harassment of sealife to get a pic. I was at Beneath the Sea last year when a certain someone was giving a presentation on his photographs and was proud to describe how he pushed and nudged critters along a rock etc just for a shot. I have also personally seen publishers of magazines and "famous" photographers going ape crazy on fragile coral just to get a shot.
Many a dive guide now think it's ok to dig up a critter for a shot because they get a big tip from the shooters. Look at Lembeh, I've seen people dig up the mandarin fish rubble when they don't pose for the camera. Many a times those metal prods push inimicus, stargazers and eels out of their holes for the same reason. There doesn't seem to be an "etiquette" on what can or cannot be done.
This is not a rant but a discussion on where photographers draw the line. One of the premier photographers once told me he would do all the things I'd described but there were only 10 guys in the country who did that so the area could take a little damage and not suffer. But now with the advent of wealth and availability, so many more people have cameras and strobes and many are either oblivious or do not care about the damage they inflict for the "shot".
I personally think that strobes in particular are very harmful to fish esp critters. I've seen pygmy seahorses fall off a fan because some idiot had to take 12 shots of it, and with digital cameras he could've done 100. What's the big deal? Sure there are plenty of pygmy seahorses but can you imagine if something rare is found? How many people joke about cooking a subject knowingly? Like it's naughty but someone's gotta do it.
I'm just hoping a website and forum like this would promote some sort of ettiquette.

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#2 frogmansub

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 06:10 AM

I agree. Photographers should promote the underwater world, not damage it. I was once on a liveaboard in the Coral Sea where an individual would just lie on top of anything (coral, anemones, etc...) to get a shot. The guides had a friendly word of advice for him, but he just didn't care.

This said, I think these people are a minority. I like to think of underwater photographers as responsible people. As more and more divers take-up underwater photography, it is important to "educate" people about reponsible behaviour. The Marine Conservation in the UK has published a very good code of conduct which has been endorsed by the British Society of Underwater Photographers, the Northern Underwater Photographic Group and the Bristol Underwater Photography Group as well as being supported by the Sub-Aqua Association, the British Sub-Aqua Club and the Scottish Sub-Aqua Club. These actions should be promoted.

With the move towards digital photography, it is no longer necessary to take a great number of shots in order to secure a good image. You can take a couple of photos and the LCD screen tells you when you have the image you want. No need to fry the subject with zillions of flash bursts anymore. But using the LCD too carelessly can have serious consequences, as Martin Edge described in a recent article. In our eagerness to check the image after each shot, we involuntarily push the camera several inches away from our faces. If the subject is tiny (e.g. pygmy seahorses) and the camera lens is very close to the it, it's very easy to nudge it, perhaps with fatal consequences for the tiny animal.
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#3 Kelpfish

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 06:42 AM

This is very common for many professionsl photographer/videographers whose living is contingent on getting the footage they need. I lost a TON of respect for a very big name in videography when I went on a 5-day trip with him and his crew. At night he'd expose how he got "that fantastic footage" and I about puked. The tactics ranged from trapping animals and holding then under weighted buckets for 1-3 days until the shot was set up, capturing octopus and containing them until they set up shop, and releasing it in a moray hole to get the "moray feeding on octopus" shot. I could go on forever, but the point is I believe the line is generally drawn between selfishness and respect. The best environmentally conscious diver I have ever dived with is Martin Heyn, who recently won the POTW here. He was so careful on the reefs in Honduras that I grew a great respect for him. I chose to go where there were sand channels for me to kneel on because that gives me more control over my photography and less chance to bang up the reef (as opposed to being on a wall) Nonetheless, Martin would sacrifice a nice shot for the safety and well being of the animal, sea fans, etc, while I just avoided putting myself in that situation by staying mostly on the sand with my inexperienced wife, who does not like deep wall diving.

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#4 Detonate

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 07:21 AM

Education is the key.
I've seen more people that are overly reef conscious, than people that blatantly destroy the reef.

And what I mean by overly conscious, is that I've had some literally cuss me out for "pinching" a spot on the reef to steady myself to get a shot.

Now what the guy that was cussing me out did not know, is that the spots I choose to steady myself are carefully selected mossy areas of already dead coral.

The other thing I've seen beat to death, is the no wearing of gloves. I do not agree that wearing gloves encourages people to touch things. However, if you are wearing gloves, and you do use a finger or two to steady yourself on dead coral, the gloves protect your hand, not only from cuts, but from leaving the oils from your skin on the hardened dead area, which can be harmful to some nudi's that may wonder along that same path.

So basically, I say education is the key.

While on the Mike Ball cruise, they taught a hand signal they called "Peace on the Reef". It was a practice where if you saw someone causing damage to the reef, you could toss them the "Peace Sign" and point to what they were doing wrong.

#5 Drew

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 08:50 AM

Jim I agree education is definitely a plus. And your points are well taken. I wear a grey glove for my video white balance, have done so for 8 years now. I have no problems with people wearing gloves. What I am saying is photographers need to have self restraint. The glove can protect your hand and possibly save you lots of hydroid grief should the current get so strong or an upwelling or downdraft suddenly occurs.
On the flip side, you know many photographers wear protection for one purpose, so they can get closer to the subject without fear of hydroids etc. The kitchen glove phenomena started many years ago is still quite prevalent. One tool can be used to save lives and also ruin a divesite.
I love to get the best shot like everyone else but I've seen the damage caused by myself (no matter how careful you are, sh*t happens!). I now adhere to the rule of break something, and I don't dive the rest of the day or even the next day. It's harsh and cost me some money being on liveaboards so often. But it also makes me think twice before I leap in for the shot.
And some of my best video comes from just watching and waiting, something still photographers cannot do with some subjects because of strobes. There is no simple answer but destroying coral, poking at someting with a pointer is wrong to me.

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#6 Detonate

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 08:59 AM

On the flip side, you know many photographers wear protection for one purpose, so they can get closer to the subject without fear of hydroids etc.

Well that is kinda what I was saying.

I haven't really seen that to the extent that everyone seems to indicate.

The only damage causing incidents I've ever seen were caused by fins of inexpierenced divers. And the only "harrassing" or touching of marine life I've seen, has been caused by divemasters.

#7 james

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 09:46 AM

This is a great topic! Keep the interesting replies coming - I'd actually like to hear BOTH sides of this one, if that's possible. If someone comes in with an opposing point of view, please don't bash them.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with tweaking a crab so that it moves to the right or left a few inches for a shot. Does it hurt the crab? No. The same does NOT go for all animals.

What I feel is best to practice is the precautionary principle - if something you do MIGHT harm the reef, but you don't know for sure, then don't do it.

Our recent HUPS.org contest had a contest topic of STARS. I saw many shots with brightly colored starfish sitting on brightly colored seafans. How many times does that ever happen in the wilde? Never! Those were easy to pick out and fortunately, they did not win the contest.

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#8 Drew

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 11:19 AM

I haven't really seen that to the extent that everyone seems to indicate.
The only damage causing incidents I've ever seen were caused by fins of inexpierenced divers.  And the only "harrassing" or touching of marine life I've seen, has been caused by divemasters.


That is precisely the problem. Divemaster/guides don't do it for kicks (well some may), they do it because it's paid in big tips from photographers. No better place to see this than Lembeh Straits. The guides have developed techniques to get sand dwellers out of their hiding. I've been going for 9 years and have had to stop the guys from poking out eels, cuttlefish, octopus you name it. I ask the guides why they do it and the answer is always, the guests want it.
James, there is a fine line to what does hurt or not. I am not bashing nor am I asking you to put yourself in the crab's position. However, judgment is something some people don't show much of and one person can do a lot of damage if they don't show good judgement. It's human to believe what one is doing is right. And no one likes that some one else tells them to lay off coral or marine animals.
I've approached photographers regarding these issues and have had the most incredible responses including " a grouper or turtle does more damage?" What do you say to that?
A tough subject that requires discussion and action. No easy answers indeed.

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#9 Giles

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 01:18 PM

Having worked as a dive instructor / guide in Grand Cayman for 5 years or so I have seen this, I wouldn't even generalise who performs this behaviour but I will comment.

There are ways to interact with Marine life which is not harrassment. Like pederson cleaning shrimp jumping onto your fingers to clean them, clicking your fingers to attract agenl fish, mirros in the sand for fish to play infront of. dropping a shiny objevt through the water into the sand to watch a Barracuda chase it. Just a few examples.

However I do not know of any way that you can force a fish to mate (although there are some tricks that work on me) ...

I like to get to know the people before I criticise their behaviour. As for criticising famous photographers you could well put that into comparison of what humans do on land for their proffession ... I am not sayin it's right .. it just happens everywhere.

I personally have actually taken my boat back in during a trip and banned people from diving on my boat for blatant disregard for marine life. I always eductaed my guests an reminded them of the marine laws and the consequences to the marine life of breaking these rules.
I actually would also like to state that most divemasters don't touch marine life for photographers they touch them for the rich ignornat people, or the ladies. Most divemasters hate photographers as they make their job twice as hard work.

If you want to enter a foreign environment such as UW then you should educate yourself about what is in that environment. Such as the dangers to you and the dangers of you to it ... the problem here in lies in scuba diving education.
There is no instruction along these lines, infact a 10 year old can learn how to dive in 2.5 days. He barely knows how to dress himself .. and certainly doesn't buy his own clothes. SHAME on the DIVE COMPANIES for making that possible .. shame on you dive dads who allow you children to dive at 10.
The funny thing is they actually take a huge amount of information in at that age andtend to be better diver than their dads, which is pitiful. But what is worse is that even though they are good divers it is still outrageous that anyone would trust a 10 year old as their buddy ... i wouldn't want my life in the hands of a 10 year old would you ..... but then again .. photogarphers don't use buddies do some of us.

wow .. i got off track their ... but i love this debate .. and so funny to see where people lay the blame. If you blame anyone else other than those who teach us how to do something you will never get to the route of the problem, and when you have greedy money grabbing americans such as the PADI organisation setting the standards it is never going to be done right for the environment.
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#10 chrism

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 01:41 PM

Great topic, and Giles brings up a great point.... THis behavior is (IMHO) learned. And where is it learned? From DI's that cut up urchins to attract fish to eat it, or grab horn sharks or crabs to hold up and show the students.

Happens ALL the time in California. So students learn that grabbing (or even killing) marine life (other than for eating) is acceptable behavior. I think it's shameful what some instructors teach their students.

While I will admit to having moved a hermit crab or two in the past, I don't anymore. I don't agree with moving an animal just to get a shot. If a DM pulls an octo out of its hole, or puffs a puffer, I deliberately turn the other way and, if possible, express my displeasure later. I find it ESPECIALLY hard when you have a camera, as many DMs think I WANT to see these things and shoot them. I don't

And I feel like s*** on those rare occasions when I have accidentally bumped into, or even broken, something underwater. I have good buoyancy skills but remain, alas, human.......

I also try my best not to stress an animal just for a shot. There have been times with other photogs where they chase and chase and chase.... if the animal comes my way I let it pass (sometimes even innocently moving into the line of the "chase" to give the animal a break)

Don't say any of this from a place of being "better" than anyone else. It's just my philosphy.

That said, knocking two rocks together to get a garibaldi to come over is fun :D

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#11 Giles

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 02:16 PM

Great topic, and Giles brings up a great point.... THis behavior is (IMHO) learned.  And where is it learned?  From DI's that cut up urchins to attract fish to eat it, or grab horn sharks or crabs to hold up and show the students.


Thats not what i was saying ... who teaches the DM's and the Instructors !!!!
blame the course directors .. but who taught them ... Blame the agencies therefore that do nothing to correct this problem .. blame PADi Blame NAUI blame the people who decided they have the power to allow us to dive. Anyone can dive if you have a compressor a tnk and the rest of the kit .. all of which you can buy without training. So apart from the way societies system works .. why do we force ourselves into situations where we allow these bodies who deem what is correct to be teaching us, let teach us things that we know are wrong ?
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#12 Kelpfish

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 02:55 PM

Like I was saying in my earlier post, the living of the individual does play a role in the behavior they display underwater. No bread winner, no bread. Same goes for instructors, guides, DM, pro-photographers etc.

As far as training goes, the big missing piece in the training agencies is that they do not require a significant marine life identification lecture (do's and don'ts) and a marine life identification dive to focus on identifying hydroids, nudibranchs, octopus, etc. There may be a module on marine life, but not enough to make a difference. When I was teaching scuba at the university level, the diving officer's cirriculum required somewhere around a week studying marine life, habitats, fragility etc, a test segment on marine life and a full dedicated openwater dive to identify various marine life. PADI, NAUI, etc. would have to in their eyes drastically change their cirriculum (add to it) which is not cosher in a fast through-put operation. It also adds cost for the diver, and that could affect certifications. So, that being said, it is really up to the instructor, not the agency. When teaching for an agency, you MUST meet MINIMUM requirements, but nothing is said about going beyond the minimum, so why not? A buddy of mine teaches privately and requires 10 openwater dives before certification. Is that inappropriate? I don't think so, not when you are talking about producing excellent divers who themselves can become teachers to others who were less fortunate to acquire the right training.

When I taught privately here in California, one of my requirements was to tangle the diver in kelp and make them get out of the entanglement themselves. They need to learn from practicality that kelp won't kill them, not from a book, page 36 (like PADI told me to do after learning that I was doing this to students). I produced good divers because I went beyond the necessity of four lousy dives and an optional snorkel dive. Four cruddy dives simply does not prepare a diver to dive without supervision in many cases (but not all). The point I am making is that I believe you will never get the agencies to add to the basic class, only additional certifications that cost more money and more time. If the student is NOT FORCED to learn the necessities of reef behavior, diver behavior, marine life behavior in the basic class, odds are that they won't force themselves to take the class on marine life at their local store...some will, but most won't.

Thus we have the non-money making group ill prepared for the reality of how they are truely impacting the ocean environment because instructors either won't take the time to add cirriculum, or they are pressured by whomever they work for to turn and burn.

Joe

#13 chrism

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 02:56 PM

Thats not what i was saying


Ok then.... I brought up a great point... LOL

Point remains. it's learned behavior.

Hearing about the pros doing it just reinforces that concept. Hell, Marty Snyderman does it, why can't I? (to use an example only, not that he does).

I tried to bring up this topic on another board, and asked the question, do we, as photographers (stewards, in a way) have a duty NOT to publicly post pics of puffed puffers, stars obviously not on their native sea fans, grabing coral, etc.

I am sad to say that I was soundly shouted down (internet style), including by a moderator on this board. The gist was "who are we to tell others how to dive?"

[sigh]

But I do love karma. On a dive recently an a**hole in our grop of four was grabbing everything he could. I swam away and ignored him

5 minutes later, the instructor comes up and shows me the a**hole's hand..... huge bleeding gash from a ray he tried to grab (the instructor is at fault too, IMHO, as he grabs animals too on his dives with less experienced divers).

Best line was his excuse "I thought it was a horn shark"

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#14 Ponsui

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 03:28 PM

Interesting conversation! I think finding who to blame is not a very good discussion path. If you think about it, we have read in this post examples of divemasters, instructors, regular divers, underwater photogs, kids, etc. engaging in behavior that damages marine life. So, really it's not about which category of diver engages in this behavior (because some people in all of these categories do it), but it's more about how do we (and by this I mean all of us as part of a diving society) teach others and ourselves to respect marine life.

For me, this teaching came from both my dive instructor and the 1st. PADI course I took (project AWARE). It was very clear on the book and the dive instructor always made a point about it: Never touch or harass marine life, just be an observer.

So, as some have been saying, it is about education. Both, to oneself (learn when we have done some mistakes and try not to repeat them) and to others (explain to people WHY they should not be engaging in those behaviors. I think explanations sometimes help more than shunnings).

Another important point, as we can see, is that some people think that there are ways to interact with marine life which are not harrassment, and others think that almost anything we do constitutes harrasment. So, where do we draw the line? It's a great question to discuss. For me, the British society of underwater photographers' code of conduct reads like a great guideline (and I'm not british :D ).

My two cents,
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#15 Detonate

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 03:52 PM

It was very clear on the book and the dive instructor always made a point about it: Never touch or harass marine life, just be an observer.

That is what I teach my Open Water students, and I think it's an excellent philosophy for Open Water students to go by.

However, my own personal beliefs, and based on my own education of the enviroment, I do believe there can be interaction with the Marine animals in their enviroment, and do so safely, and without harrassing or endangering the marine life.

#16 Marjo

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 04:30 PM

Good topic!

Education and awareness is of course key, however I have noted that even divers who are very experienced sometimes overestimate their own abilities. I've come across divers who have dove 20 some years who bash "those damn tourists bulldozing the reef" but when you dive with them their fins are frequently kicking off sponges left and right. This is not on purposeor due to lack of education. Oftentimes it's people who basically have very good buoyancy skills, but less awareness of how close their fin tips actually are to that coral or sponge that their head and chest passed well clear off. They just don't realize it. I think it would be very healthy for most of us, especially photographers, to have someone video us from time to time. We might just be in for a surprise!

#17 octopus

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 06:01 PM

I would have to agree with the importance of education and awareness. I did learn in Open Water class not to poke, touch and harass the sea life. While more in depth coverage of marine habitats would be a nice addition to beginner classes, you have to consider the practicality. What should be included in that section? All types of marine environments? I learned to dive in the kelp forests and didn't make it to a warm water location for 1 1/2 years [50 dives later], so I learned what I needed to know locally. However, in my OW class we also had people who were doing classroom/pool locally, but planning on there checkout dives and diving for warm water immediately.

I have also witnessed experienced divers that are so occupied with their viewfinder that they seem to forget about where their fins are...videoing them during a photo dive would probably be very educational since on dives without a camera they are very aware. Everybody could benefit from a review of their skills now and then.

But it really boils down to where to draw the line...and that is a harder question to answer. As with anything, the extremes are easily identified, but it is the gray area in the middle that gets murky. The reality is that just by being there a diver is already causing stress for some of the fish, etc. The best course is to understand the environment you are diving in and photographing and to limit yourself to 'gentle nudges' and other intreractions that don't cause lasting harm to the subject. To that end, it seems that the code of conduct referenced above does have a really good set of guidelines.

#18 Drew

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 10:41 PM

But it really boils down to where to draw the line...and that is a harder question to answer. As with anything, the extremes are easily identified, but it is the gray area in the middle that gets murky. The reality is that just by being there a diver is already causing stress for some of the fish, etc. The best course is to understand the environment you are diving in and photographing and to limit yourself to 'gentle nudges' and other intreractions that don't cause lasting harm to the subject. To that end, it seems that the code of conduct referenced above does have a really good set of guidelines.


Therein lies the biggest problem. The gray area is where many think they are in. When does a gentle nudge become a bad bump? How many strobes can go off before a fish is blind, even temporarily? And yes, we are stressing marine life just by being there. Which is why they run from us most times. I have the philosophy of if the animal doesn't want to play, leave it be. Minimizing our prescence in their environment is the only way we will see natural behavior. EG. mandarin fish, they will mate if they feel it's safe, even with dive lights on them, like Giles said.
Education from the organizations for OWD on up is a great way to start. That deals with the puffer fish bloater types. And those are the people Jim was referring to, the newer divers who did learn not to harass by not wearing gloves or touching in general and telling him so.
The more problematic ones are the more advanced photographers who already know some marine behavior but want that shot. They get the shot that gets praises and then other people want the same shot or better. It begins a very vicious cycle that includes dive guides who accomodate for tips, resorts or boats which like the business and won't do anything.
Something like the shark feeding in the caribbean, we all know it's fed, and I personally think it's the dumbest thing. But as long as it's localized in a small area I don't care. I do care if they use sticks to hit the sharks because they want to keep the customers safe, especially since they drove the sharks to frenzy with feeding in the first place!
My best advice to photographers is wait and be patient. Doug Perrine's shots of the baitballs in the sardine run didn't come easy, he put in his dues. But what he got was nature at its purest! That is photography... not some lame shot of animal behaving outside its realm... like a pegasus seamoth on a widedome with the sun in the background.

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#19 octopus

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Posted 15 December 2004 - 11:21 PM

I absolutely agree with you...and by gentle nudge was referring to the earlier post on getting the crab to move. Perhaps one of the problems is patience..I have found that by sitting still and just watching the area around that was at first seemingly sparsely populated begins to fill again as the local residents accept you as non-threatening and then you may get a chance for some spectacular shots...but it is not guaranteed and for some that is the problem. Your philosopy of it doesn't want to play let it be seems good to me.

However, the problem of 'anything to get the shot' remains. On a recent dive trip my buddy and I watched a photagrapher sprawl in the coral trying to get a macro shot of something...somehow I can't imagine that his picture was so important as to justify the damage he was doing rolling around. When our group discussed it later, one of the members surprised me by saying that a photagrapher that he had taken a course from said it was sometimes unavoidable to touch the reef if you wanted to get a good shot. Now while I am pretty sure that laying on the reef was not on his mind, however when I asked he said it did mean more than a finger placed on a dead patch to steady yourself. Personally, I am not sure that any shot I would possibly take would justify deliberate damage to the environment.

#20 blackbird

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Posted 16 December 2004 - 07:33 AM

I have been on many underwaterphotography trips with Martin Edge, he has introduced a short document which is given to everybody on the trip including the the Resort. This includes many of the points covered by the Marine Conservation document with tips on bouyancy, subject selection etc.

On our recent trip to Wakatobi Lorenz and the dive guides jointly praised all 14 of the group for being so careful with our photography, we all came back superb pictures.

"It just takes a little care"
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