The Mentor

Mentoring Your Photography.
By Mike Veitch.

Bought all that fancy new gear but having trouble putting it together? Blinding yourself with the strobe instead of illuminating fish?

It’s time to seek professional guidance to further your photography habit.

Workshops often occur in places with fantastic photo ops.

You’ve spent hours on the net scouring websites and chat rooms for ideas and inspiration; you have assembled your new gear time and time again; you have even read the instruction manual from front to back! But does the idea of getting in the water and taking pictures seem like a daunting task? Not to worry, you are not alone! What options do you have to make the idea of plunging into the ocean with your new setup less stress inducing? Fortunately, there is an easy answer to that question. How about spending time with a mentor to guide you along the confusing world of shutter speeds and f-stops?

With a world of workshops and instructors out there, it’s hard to choose where to begin. The first step is addressing where you are in the learning curve and finding a situation that will give you the most benefit. If you are new to photography then winning prizes at a “photo shootout” may be a bit much to hope for. Similarly, shooters with several years of photography experience may find a “beginners” class too basic for their needs.

Here I break down 4 popular options to better understand the “pros and cons” of each in order to invest your time and money wisely.

PADI Underwater Photography Specialty.

As the world of digital photography exploded in recent years, PADI didn’t sit on its heels to watch it go by. A brand new Digital Photography course is available, designed specifically with new photographers in mind. The course follows a simple yet effective mantra of “Shoot, Examine, and Adjust”, a perfect match for the instant feedback available from digital cameras. The thoughtfully designed workbook guides the photographer through basics such as composition, adjusting camera settings, and computer work. Coupled with an experienced photographer/instructor, this course is a great way for the new photographer to get comfortable with their camera. One major benefit of the class is the chance to have a lot of underwater time with an instructor on hand helping to set up shots and guiding you though proper adjustments. As an added bonus, the PADI Digital Photography course can be taken just about anywhere! Most PADI dive centers around the world will have a photo instructor on hand who will be only too happy to help you get started.

What to look for: Choose your instructor well! Ask to meet the instructor ahead of time and offer to show him/her your camera equipment and manuals. A good instructor will want to know all about your camera, offer him/her the opportunity to take the manual home a day or two in advance of the class in order to be well prepared to meet your needs.

On location photo workshops.

Tim Rock instructs a class about the finer points of underwater photography.

Not too thrilled with the idea of jumping into your local pool or quarry in the middle of winter to learn photography? No problem! Throughout the year many of the world’s top underwater photographers offer “on location” workshops. Not only will you get the chance to learn from full-time photographers, you get to dive in the top destinations in the world! Workshops are a great way to take your photography to the next level as you have the chance to learn from folks who actually do it for a living. Basic and advanced workshops can be found and cater to the needs of novice and experienced photographers. Basic workshops start from the beginning and explain everything a new photographer needs to know to get them shooting top quality photographs in no time. With a weeklong course, there is plenty of time to absorb the information and put it to good use while churning out a stunning portfolio of images. Advanced workshops are geared to those who have the basics down but want to learn tricks of the trade and further their personal skills. Workshops typically consist of diving in the morning with group lectures in the afternoon and the evening reserved for critiquing sessions and entertaining multi media presentations. You will also enjoy diving and socializing with a group of like-minded individuals who want to discuss photography and learn at the same time. Watching the improvement of your fellow students throughout the week is almost as satisfying as seeing the benefits of “putting theory to use” on your own photos.

The social aspect of workshops and photo shootouts ensures a good time for all!

What to look for: Research and communication ahead of time is important. Professionals who put the students first conduct the best workshops. They spend their time underwater with you and not with their camera. This means they are giving 100% of their attention to the students and offering guidance underwater, not working on their own portfolio!

Photo shootouts with celebrity judges.

Workshop judges hard at work discussing the winning photos.

One of the more popular events today is the Photo Shootout. These come in several forms: from one-day local events to one-week extravaganzas. Typical shootouts attract a large number of photographers all vying for extravagant prize packages. Although not really a learning event per se, many shootouts host a panel of judges who give informative and helpful discussions during the evening. These professionals are open to give advice on questions of all sorts, from how to get a certain shot at a particular site to the latest Photoshop techniques. Shootouts offer a fun and relaxed environment to meet new people, dive great destinations, and the chance to win camera gear and dive trips!

What to look for: Experienced photographers with all the latest and greatest gear sign up for these events specifically to win the big prizes. If your aim is to improve your photography significantly, the learning opportunities of these events is limited compared to a workshop. However, if you know your camera, you enjoy a good time and meeting new folks, and really want to win some prizes; then these events are for you.

Shootouts have a lot of sponsors and offer some very enticing prize packages.

One on one pro photography courses.

One on one instruction maximizes the learning curve for the student.

With their “workplace” as the ocean, many of the world’s best underwater photographers live in amazing seaside locations. Oftentimes, these photographers are available for “one on one” photography courses. What better way to master the art of photography than to spend a few days with a personal mentor? The advantages of an individual class are many: tailored to meet your needs no matter your experience, no “slow” students to slow down the class, the opportunity to spend as much or as little time on particular subjects as you want…the list goes on and on. Even better, the pro is with you every step of the way watching your composition and offering critiques based on shots he/she watched you take. The learning curve of a “one to one” class is much faster as the instructor does not have to split his/her time among a group of students, it’s just you! This option may cost more money than others, but if your goal is improving your photography to its utmost, then this is the option for you.

What to look for: Location, location, location. Having an idea of what subjects you want to shoot and where they are located is key. Once you have decided on the area you would like to visit, do some research into who may live there. Odds are, if the area offers superb diving, an experienced professional lives near by. Even if he or she doesn’t market classes to the general public, don’t be shy! Pros are open to helping out those who want to learn and will go out of their way to help you along the way.

Living in the Indo Pacific area is special in many ways, one of which is the abundance of good diving. And with great diving come a lot of top-notch local photographers; so get out there and take advantage of one! Workshops, classes, and shootouts are on offer all over the region. Plan your calendar accordingly and sign up for one now, not only will you reach your goal of improving your photography, you may even win a new camera!

About the author: Originally from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Wetpixel moderator Mike Veitch is a professional underwater photographer and trip leader. After spending many years working on boats and resorts in the Indo-Pacific region, Mike has settled in Indonesia where he spends his time photographing the worlds richest marine bio-system and conducting photography workshops and leading trips throughout the country. For more information please visit his website.

Mike is a frequent contributor and field editor to Scuba Diver Australasia magazine where he wrote the “how to” underwater photography column, “In Focus” from 2006-2009. This series is a collection of his “In Focus” articles that originally appeared in the magazine during that time, the format and photos have been updated for Wetpixel.