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DoubleH

Group dive dynamics

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So I've been doing ok with my Sony RX100IV, Fantasea housing, no strobe, no wide angle, modest expectations and letting the camera do most of the work.

Some pics from Curacao

This year for a trip to BVI I wanted to step it up, so I added the Fantasea UWL-400F wide angle lens and the Sea&Sea YS-03 TTL strobe.  Studied up on concepts, settings, etc.  

My pics weren't nearly as good this year, frankly not unexpected though, as I felt rushed, to get a good shot before my subject's movement makes it impossible and for not wanting to linger too long to take multiple shots with different settings.  I also was very unsure about how to position the strobe for each shot, and felt rushed in that regard too. 

Since my photographic interest is in marine life (as opposed to, say, corals), and with everything always moving, including the people I'm with and don't know very well....I'd love to hear some thoughts and suggestions on improving as an UW photographer in these generalized vacation-diving settings where you may be the only one on the dive with a camera and strong interest in quality photos.

Thanks,

Howard

 

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Yeah, tricky, Howard.

I've always thought one of the issues of being a serious u/w photographer is having a buddy to dive with! Someone who is either talking their own pics - or is prepared to hover close-by whilst you sit for ages (I'm sure it seems to the buddy) snapping away.

As you say, on a dive trip, maybe with a DM, with people you barely know, it's difficult. Maybe you could discuss this with the DM and see if he can buddy you up with someone who wants to do something similar to you. Or the DM can stop at places where you indicate you have seen something - and then show the other divers something close by. But yeah, when its one of those all-swimming-along-in-a-line dives..... oy!

After that, get a bespoke buddy. I'm delighted to say mine is fabulous. And comes in VERY handy as an u/w model for those reef shots :crazy:

In some ways I'm not surprised that you were a bit disappointed that the pics with the additional gear were not what you were hoping for. You added a faire degree of complexity and having got used to the vanilla flavour, moving to strawberry takes a little time to get used to. You might want to have a look at one of the excellent books - if you've not already - on u/w photog and working with strobes: Martin Edge's book - or that of our very own Alex Mustard.

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Hi Howard,

Guided group diving and taking photos is indeed difficult to combine...

Best solution (as Tim already suggests) is to bring your own dive buddy, who likes to go with you, and dive independently. Very hard to find (I was such a patient buddy and diveguide to my wife, before I started UW-photography by myself).

Second best (situation now for me and my wife): both take pictures. Second best, because sometimes buddies are a little far away:pardon:(even more inmportant to have perfectly serviced equipment). The dive experience is less social: before we enjoyed diving and all encounters together, now everybody is diving, most time more or less, on his own, looking for photos...:mellow:

In case you cannot bring such a buddy with you, you can look for another UW-photographer (or a very patient diver, difficult to find) when you are at the vacation...

Nowhere we had problems with this kind of diving, so far: we just tell the guide that we are going in with the group, go with them until we know where to go and then we go our own way. When the dive is very difficult (e.g. strong current) we stay of course with the group, but this is seldom happening. It is, however, very important to return at the maximum allowed divetime and not later...

 

Wolfgang

 

Edited by Architeuthis

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Thanks for the replies guys, good stuff.  My personal logistics make it difficult currently to take all the sage advice but seeds have been planted for sure.   My 'studies' to date consisted mostly of online articles and such, I wasn't aware of the books by Martin and Alex and will check them out.

Thanks again.

 

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Many dive centres will provide you with a private guide for an extra cost. If you tell them exactly what you'd like re photography, taking time on a particular subject etc, most DMs are delighted getting that job.

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Quality photography (UW or above) necessitates the ability to do your own thing. Being beholden to other people, beyond a patient and dedicated companion, mostly doesn't work.

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This is going to vary among dive centres, if you go to Lembeh in Indonesia, many of the dive centres offer two divers one guide as standard and they are used to people taking their time over images.   Do your research on what type of guide to diver ratio is provided at different venues.  Certainly in Indonesia there are many centres that have very good guide to diver ratios. 

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Wanted to add two other considerations... 

In addition to picking destinations (and dive operations) that cater to underwater photographers (and therefore keep the diver to guide ratio low - like 2:1), you can also (in many locations) hire your own guide - it is more expensive, but we got hooked on this mode of diving while at Wakatobi. Even with my wife not shooting (she occasionally carries a GoPro) having a private guide made all the difference for us. The guide would find a subject or two for me to shoot (taking as much time as I needed) while he showed her some unique behavior or other subjects. Then rinse and repeat... Guide had to work very hard - and we tipped him well.

The other option that I've used multiple times is to specifically join an u/w photo workshop trip. Guide to diver ratio is usually 1:2 or 1:3 and everyone is there shooting so no issues with people waiting on me. I've worked it out with my wife that as long as I take her wherever she wants to go on vacation during the summer she'll let me take 1-2 shorter trips during another time of year w/out her just to focus on u/w photography. It's a costly solution (because she shops when I'm gone, but it's not a bad balance).

 

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Hiring a private guide is not really an option financially for all people. That said, there are locations or dive centers that naturally offer lower guide/diver ratios. They are not always more expensive than others, although naturally this is often the case.

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I am of the opinion that renting a guide is only valuable when you need the experience of someone local to find the subjects or to navigate a wreck
When you go to south east Asia everybody is critter hunting the problem you have are people hogging a subject guides tend to cater for small groups that are photo orientated
When it comes to wide angle especially in tricky conditions there is no issue spotting a school of fish but then you get locked into the situation where the rest of the group is doing the 'tour's and you simply don't have time to close the shots as you need to stay with the group here a dive buddy together with knowledge of the sites help but I have found the biggest issue is the schedule that is generally done visiting different sites each time. This is not conducive to getting good shots and the reason why I ended up arranging a boat myself that will do what I say maximising photo or video opportunity
In terms of costs my boat of 12 people max will cost €1250 vs average €950 for a larger 20 pax boat visiting a different site each time. A workshop would cost €1400 and you will have some form of tuition not at individual level of course and still be 20 on the boat.
Now you need to think is it worth to spend the additional €300 to be on a smaller boat and maximise your opportunities or would you rather spend less and have almost the certainty you will be lucky to pull 3 good shots? Likewise would you leave it to compete for a critter or hire your guide for few hundred dollars?
With the cost of equipment involved if you have a gopro or a little rig you may want to go with the crowds, if you have invested 1000s in equipment those additional hundreds are totally appropriate because is not good to have the gear without a subject as you found out
Obviously this is my personal opinion
By the way I still have spaces for my 2020 red sea trip...


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Edited by Interceptor121

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Guided group dives are a PITA for wide angle photography. I've had better success getting a more detailed personal briefing from the guide in advance, so I know if there's a reason we have to swim around at 5 knots or if I can hang back without missing something important. It also helps to discuss with the guide what would help - a slower swimming pace, not stopping to point out shrimps when I'm toting a 14mm lens, distracting the rest of the group with shrimp so I can photograph the jacks... 

Unless the guide has dived with a similar-sized camera system themselves or regularly guides other photographers, they are unlikely to know how to assist you. Guides who carry a GoPro on a stick and prioritise footage for the shop Facebook page over my shots are to be avoided.

Once in the water you need to be either at the front of the group or the back of the group to avoid flailing limbs in every shot. 

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