Reef Photo Anilao Workshop - Days 8+

The 2019 edition of the Reef Photo and Video Anilao Underwater Photo and Video Workshop wrapped up last week. This was the 6th annual Reef workshop in beautiful Anilao, Philippines. Each year we’ve been treated to some of the best diving in the world, with an astonishing assortment of underwater creatures for subjects. Our host was the idyllic Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Chris Parsons filed daily reports from Anilao about the Workshop. 

Table coral, Verde Island. Shot with the Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens at 8mm, Nauticam housing and Zen DP-100 mini dome with removable shade.

Table coral, Verde Island. Shot with the Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens at 8mm, Nauticam housing and Zen DP-100 mini dome with removable shade.

Days 8+ (Bonus Days)

The track from Aiyanar to Verde Island and then on to Puerto Galera.

The track from Aiyanar to Verde Island and then on to Puerto Galera.

This year I offered an optional extension for those who wanted to stay on in Philippines a bit longer. On Saturday, 7 of us traveled by speed boat over to Verde Island and did a two-tank dive. Our luggage tagged along in a separate boat. The reefs at Verde are amazingly beautiful and are absolutely covered in fish. Our Aiyanar guides then dropped us off at Atlantis in Puerto Galera where we spent a few more days enjoying Philippine diving.

CP190527-5252.jpg

For those guests that can only take a week off at a time, a one week workshop fits the bill. But for those who want to maximize diving time and exploring in a new country, an extension like this is ideal. Some of our Anilao guests went to Tubbataha on a liveaboard, others stopped for a few days for a land excursion in places like Hong Kong or Dubai. For anyone interested in traveling with me in a smaller group, I generally add on an extension like this to my trips.

A pair of Flame Gobies.

A pair of Flame Gobies.

Reef Photo is offering another international workshop this year, this time in Lembeh, Indonesia. Let me know if you are interested in joining this trip and doing an extension.

CP190526-5182.jpg

All good things come to an end, and I write this from my airplane seat on the way back home. Great trip, great diving and lots of new friends.

CP190524-4653.jpg

Reef Photo Anilao Workshop - Days 6 & 7

IMG_0021.jpg

The 2019 edition of the Reef Photo and Video Anilao Underwater Photo and Video Workshop wrapped up last week. This was the 6th annual Reef workshop in beautiful Anilao, Philippines. Each year we’ve been treated to some of the best diving in the world, with an astonishing assortment of underwater creatures for subjects. Our host was the idyllic Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Chris Parsons filed daily reports from Anilao about the Workshop. 

Days 6 & 7

Dragon Shrimp

Dragon Shrimp

This years workshop is drawing to a close, with today (Friday) being the last official dive day. Anilao didn’t fail to deliver today though, as seas were flat calm most of the day with the best visibility of the week. 

Our guests seemed to have a great time, and I think they enjoyed having Phil and Lee along this year.

CP190522-3619.jpg

Our friends at Aiyanar put on a outdoor BBQ and party for our final evening, complete with underwater photo themed cupcakes. I ate a seahorse cupcake myself. Aiyanar has been such a gracious host for each of these past 6 years and we all feel pampered if not spoiled by the amazing staff. 

CP190526-5201.jpg

Today’s highlights: Skeleton shrimp, bubble coral shrimp, a third species of cardinal fish with eggs, snake blenny, snake eel, giant cuttlefish, a butterfly nudibranch, thumbnail size lionfish and a six foot long pelagic tunicate. 

Reef Photo Underwater Cupcakes :)

Reef Photo Underwater Cupcakes :)

Hope to see you next year in Anilao!

CP190527-5410.jpg











Reef Photo Anilao Workshop - Day 5

IMG_0020.jpg

The 2019 edition of the Reef Photo and Video Anilao Underwater Photo and Video Workshop wrapped up last week. This was the 6th annual Reef workshop in beautiful Anilao, Philippines. Each year we’ve been treated to some of the best diving in the world, with an astonishing assortment of underwater creatures for subjects. Our host was the idyllic Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Chris Parsons filed daily reports from Anilao about the Workshop. 

Day 5

Laowa 24mm f/14 2X Macro Probe lens in Canon EF mount. Today I borrowed the Laowa 24mm probe lens from Lee and Phil. This very unique “probe” lens that allows for up to 2x magnification while retaining a relatively wide 85º field of view (in air). Whereas a normal macro lens (like the Canon 100mm macro) provides a lot of magnification, it compresses the view; this lens is a “bug-eye” lens, meaning that the background is still wide (wider than the normal human perspective) even though it provides a lot of magnification for subjects close to the lens. You can think of it as the  “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” lens. It can act as both a wide angle and a macro lens, depending on how close the shot is to the subject. 

CP190524-4548.jpg

The Laowa 24 seems pretty sharp (in my limited testing) at the center of the frame. On a full frame camera, it is less sharp as the edges. For video that crops the sensor or on an APS-C sensor, this will be less noticeable. On some of my shots, I saw a huge amount of unwanted distortion and lack of sharpness at the edges and corners. This happen most when there is something closer to the lens than the focal point. But I was able to find a lot of shot setups where this was avoided, so it did not turn me off on the lens. While I don’t think this lens replaces either a wide angle or a macro lens, it can certainly add a unique perspective to your toolset. Lee produced a video that really shows off the potential of this lens for video work.

CP190523-4235.jpg

On the Canon SLR, this is both a manual focus and a manual aperture lens, which means that the camera cannot control either. There seems to be no electronics in the lens at all (aside from the LED ring light); no metadata for the lens is displayed by Lightroom. In our test setup, there was no way to even change the aperture, so I chose to pre-set it at f/18 or f/22. Shooting still images, this makes it tough because the image through the viewfinder is quite dark. So a focus light is definitely required to be able to focus. 

CP190522-3737.jpg

The lens has a little LED ring light, which would help with this a lot. We didn’t have a chance to set that up in my housing in my short time with it, so I jury rigged a focus light to use. It was still pretty challenging to get focus right, so if I was to use this lens in the future, I’d definitely want to get the ring light working. Note that when shooting video, this is much less of an issue as you are going to be using a constant light (as opposed to a flash) and would want to use a nice large monitor with focus tools like peaking, focus assist or a 1:1 zoom.

CP190524-4342.jpg

I definitely had a lot of fun trying to shooting the Laowa 24 despite the focus challenge, and I got a few shots that I really like from it. My understanding is that Nauticam is also working on a relay/probe type lens, and I am looking forward to trying that as well.  

Infinity 3  heading off to a dive site. Shot with iPhone 7.

Infinity 3 heading off to a dive site. Shot with iPhone 7.

Today’s highlights: Skeleton shrimp, butterfly nudibranch, a feisty porcelain crab, cuttlefish, a long snake blenny, a short beak mantis and a tiny orange frogfish. 













Reef Photo Anilao Workshop - Day 4

IMG_0019.jpg

The 2019 edition of the Reef Photo and Video Anilao Underwater Photo and Video Workshop wrapped up last week. This was the 6th annual Reef workshop in beautiful Anilao, Philippines. Each year we’ve been treated to some of the best diving in the world, with an astonishing assortment of underwater creatures for subjects. Our host was the idyllic Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Chris Parsons filed daily reports from Anilao about the Workshop. 

Day 4

The area around Anilao and the Verde Island Passage is considered by some biologists to be the underwater biodiversity center of the world[1]. In 2015, an expedition found an asonishing 40 new species of nudibranchs on top of the many hundreds already known.

The GPS tracks I recorded during the Reef workshop. I labeled just some of the dive sites. The island at the top is the southern portion of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. The main island to the south is called Marcarban Island.

The GPS tracks I recorded during the Reef workshop. I labeled just some of the dive sites. The island at the top is the southern portion of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. The main island to the south is called Marcarban Island.

The water here is at the confluence of several currents, and it is not unusual to get a cold water upwelling bringing nutrient-dense water up to scuba diving depths. Water temps can vary quite a bit here, though generally speaking they run about 82ºF/28ºC this time of year. On this trip, we’ve mostly seen the water a couple of degrees warmer than that, but on one or two of the dives we’ve experienced colder water at depth, down to 76ºF/24ºC, and some extra current to boot.

This part of the world is also part of the “ring of fire” around the Pacific rim. Three years ago, during our workshop, we experienced some earthquakes and aftershocks to remind us of that fact. Fortunately, the ground was nice and stable for this trip. 

Canon 100mm f/2.8L with Nauiticam SMC-1.

Canon 100mm f/2.8L with Nauiticam SMC-1.

A sample of one of the tracks, displayed in my chartplotter app on my iPad. This was a two tank dive at Darilaut and Caban Cove.

A sample of one of the tracks, displayed in my chartplotter app on my iPad. This was a two tank dive at Darilaut and Caban Cove.

I recorded the GPS track of all of our boat trips this week and have included some examples here in this blog. Hopefully, this is a fun way to show the different dive sites that we visited this week. I used one of the charting apps I use for sailing to record the tracks. There are a lot of cool tools on the web to show these kind of tracks graphically. One of the fun tools is the “fly over” mode in Google Earth, which allows you to set the camera height and speed as the software flies over the route. To make this work, I exported the tracks and converted the points into a .kmz file for Google Earth.

This is a movie captured in Google Earth, showing a flyover of a two tank dive from Aiyanar to Coconut and then on to Manit Point.

The wind usually blows from the east (easterly trade winds), but this week we saw light wind mostly from the west. This meant that some of the dives that we’d normally do to the north of Aiyanar (like the Aiyanar Pier) had lower visibility than usual. the good news was that many of the sites in the strait were calmer than usual and had good viz. Nature decides the conditions, and we adapt. 

Tiny frogfish with a high-key treatment. Come to one of our workshops and I’ll share a Lightroom trick on how to get rid of the cyan/green cast when you try to shoot an image like this.

Tiny frogfish with a high-key treatment. Come to one of our workshops and I’ll share a Lightroom trick on how to get rid of the cyan/green cast when you try to shoot an image like this.

Today’s highlights: small mimic octopus eating a bivalve, return of the huge sea snake, a jawfish with eggs, seahorses, and more tiny shrimp and crabs than I count. 

Banded Pipefish with eggs.

Banded Pipefish with eggs.

[1]Carpenter, K.E. & Springer, V.G. (2005) The center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity: the Philippine Islands. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 467.




Reef Photo Anilao Workshop - Day 3

IMG_0018.jpg

The 2019 edition of the Reef Photo and Video Anilao Underwater Photo and Video Workshop wrapped up last week. This was the 6th annual Reef workshop in beautiful Anilao, Philippines. Each year we’ve been treated to some of the best diving in the world, with an astonishing assortment of underwater creatures for subjects. Our host was the idyllic Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Chris Parsons filed daily reports from Anilao about the Workshop. 

Shot with the SMC-2 in front of the Canon 100mm f/2.8L. This image is uncropped. See below for a zoomed in version showing the kind of detail this lens can capture.

Shot with the SMC-2 in front of the Canon 100mm f/2.8L. This image is uncropped. See below for a zoomed in version showing the kind of detail this lens can capture.

Day 3

Phil and Lee brought a case full of demo gear for our guests to try. From float arms to snoots, focus lights to lenses, they schlepped this gear through 12 time zones. Some of it is intended for being backup gear for the guests. While this trip has so far been doing great in regard to avoiding gear failure, we did have one person with not one but two Sea&Sea strobes that were not behaving. Phil & Lee were able to get them back on track thanks to the demo gear they brought. 

Crop of the image above showing detail using the SMC-2.

Crop of the image above showing detail using the SMC-2.

I got to partake in a little demo gear as well, and I went straight for the Nauticam SMC-2. SMC stands for Super Macro Converter. The SMC-1 was the first underwater close-up lens designed from the ground up with optical design software, and it is a very powerful lens (meaning you can get very close to your subjects). I own a SMC-1 and absolutely love it. It’s been a staple of my macro shooting for over 6 years now. The SMC-2 is like an SMC on steroids. When I was the Nauticam rep, I wanted to call the SMC-2 the “Super Duper Macro Converter”. Ok, sure, that got voted down, and maybe marketing is not my ideal profession, but nevertheless, this lens really is quite powerful with unmatched image quality. 

I’ve included some sample shots here. Because it is so strong, I don’t recommend it as your first closeup lens. But if you’ve masted the SMC-1 and want yet more magnification, this is your lens. The SMC series is intended for use on SLR rigs with lenses like the Canon 100mm macro (which is what I am shooting) or the Nikon 105mm. For compact and mirrorless shooters, Nauticam has the CMC series designed for those sensors.

Tiny crab, captured wit the SMC-2.

Tiny crab, captured wit the SMC-2.

Shooting the SMC-2 takes some practice. To start with, you need to get insanely close to your subjects. Doing this requires excellent buoyancy and a real concern for your personal space. You need to position yourself so that you won’t damage the lens by bumping into a rock, and you won’t damage your subject by smashing into it, and you won’t damage yourself by putting your hand or knee down on anything that wants to poke you. The water here in the Philippines is full of things that want to inject toxins into you, (blue ring octopus, cone snails, sea snakes and whole host of less dangerous but painful others like urchins, scorpionfish…..) so when I shot it this week, I was especially motivated to be aware of my surroundings.

As we talked about in the workshop, depth of field is dependent on two things, aperture and magnification. The depth of field is absolutely tiny with this much magnification. Focus needs to be perfect, which is not necessarily easy given moving creatures, current, steep slopes etc. But even before you get a chance to focus, just finding the subject can be difficult. Moving toward or away from the subject by even a few millimeters throws the image in the viewfinder completely blurry to the point that you can’t tell if you are too close or too far. It takes practice and patience just to find the subject in the viewfinder. Having a magnifying viewfinder (for stills) or a nice large monitor (for video) is critical.

Extreme close-up shot of a hard coral, captured with the SMC-2. This lens is capable of capturing sharp detail even in the corners of the image on this full frame camera.

Extreme close-up shot of a hard coral, captured with the SMC-2. This lens is capable of capturing sharp detail even in the corners of the image on this full frame camera.

I had a lot of fun with SMC-2. There were plenty of times when I missed the shot (and my exhaust bubbles carried away a string of expletives) but when I nailed a shot, it was amazing. I think for the serious super macro shooter, if you can swing having both an SMC-1 and 2 on your rig (with a flip adapter), you’ll have the ultimate super macro setup. 

Today’s creature highlights: Nudibranchs and more nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp, a juvenile ribbon eel, and the largest sea snake I’ve ever seen. 

Skeleton shrimp hanging out in a tiny sponge opening, captured with the SMC-2.

Skeleton shrimp hanging out in a tiny sponge opening, captured with the SMC-2.







Reef Photo Anilao Workshop - Day 2

IMG_0017.jpg

The 2019 edition of the Reef Photo and Video Anilao Underwater Photo and Video Workshop wrapped up last week. This was the 6th annual Reef workshop in beautiful Anilao, Philippines. Each year we’ve been treated to some of the best diving in the world, with an astonishing assortment of underwater creatures for subjects. Our host was the idyllic Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Chris Parsons filed daily reports from Anilao about the Workshop. 

Peppermint Shrimp. Canon 100m macro with Nauticam SMC-1.

Peppermint Shrimp. Canon 100m macro with Nauticam SMC-1.

Day 2

Monday morning. Back to work. Ugh, right? Fortunately, our “work” here is getting to go diving in the most bio-diverse portion of ocean in the world.  

In this workshop, we start each day off with a “morning briefing”. I give a short talk each day during breakfast, effectively multi-tasking so we make sure to leave plenty of time in everyone’s schedule to dive, dive, dive, plus download photos and just generally have a great time. This year, I’ve tried to make the morning briefings a little more interactive, with more feedback from guests and adding a daily “homework” assignment. 

Being able to control the background is an important part of underwater photography, and we talk about how to do this in our workshops. Same subject, same time of day, just shot with different camera settings and strobe power.

Being able to control the background is an important part of underwater photography, and we talk about how to do this in our workshops. Same subject, same time of day, just shot with different camera settings and strobe power.

Yesterday I got a request to move video talk up earlier in the week. As I mentioned, more interactive this year, so I split up my video presentation into a shooting part and an editing part, and gave the shooting part today. I then talked about lighting as I wanted to make sure to get to strobe positioning today. Being able to reduce backscatter by positioning strobes is one of the topics I get the most feedback on, so I wanted to present that information early in the week. 

Shot with Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 100mm f/2.8L lens in Nauticam housing using Inon strobes.

Shot with Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 100mm f/2.8L lens in Nauticam housing using Inon strobes.

The guests seem to be adjusting to the routine today (more like getting used to getting spoiled by the great staff here). Conditions so far have been very good. We’ve had some current on some dives, but generally it has not been a problem.

Shot using the Nauticam SMC-1.

Shot using the Nauticam SMC-1.

Today’s creature highlights: Cardinal fish with eggs (two different species), seahorse (yellow), pygmy seahorse, and a small blueish green crab that I had not seen before. 








What’s in a Vacuum?

Spilled coffee grounds, weather, wine, and underwater photography.

The “new” style Nauticam vacuum valve. This is the button type which closes automatically versus the older manual nut version. Recommended.

The “new” style Nauticam vacuum valve. This is the button type which closes automatically versus the older manual nut version. Recommended.

In this post, I intend to connect the virtues of a vacuum with underwater photography. But first, let’s talk about what a vacuum is. 

Most people’s first encounter with the word was probably related to the ubiquitous “vacuum cleaner”. This appliance uses a vacuum to move crumbs, dust, dirt etc from your living room floor into a bin or bag that you can throw in the trash. But what do we mean, exactly, by the term vacuum? As a physics nerd, I want to say that a vacuum is a space that is devoid of all matter. This is really more of an ideal condition that we use for physics calculations. More practically, a vacuum condition is one where the air pressure in an area or container is less than the surrounding pressure. And as happens with a pressure difference, air will flow from the high pressure area to the low pressure area if allowed to. So in the vacuum cleaner example, the lower pressure inside the machine causes air to flow into the machine, very effectively picking up those coffee grounds you just spilled. 

Low pressure in our atmosphere has a huge effect on our lives. Just as the air wants to flow into the vacuum cleaner, so too does air flow from high pressure to low pressure systems in the earth’s atmosphere (though the Coriolis effect makes the wind flow more around low pressure rather than directly into it). This is the basic mechanism for wind, whether it is a nice afternoon sea breeze or a tropical cyclone. 

Save the wine.

Save the wine.

There is something to be said for having a glass of wine while you cull photos from today’s underwater photo shoot. Do you have one of the little wine saver pump/valve kits? These use the vacuum concept to help save your wine from going bad. How? By pulling a vacuum inside the bottle, the wine is exposed to less oxygen. (other gases too, but oxygen is the main culprit). Less oxygen means less oxidation. How effective this is could be debatable, but my experience has been that it works well to extend the life of the bottle for a couple of days. On the other hand, you could just finish the bottle every time and skip the vacuum. Your choice.

So what does all of this have to do with underwater photography? As you know, one of the big challenges is keeping water outside of the housings that we use for our cameras. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to have an independent and safe way to check the watertight integrity of the housing? Well, there is, and we use vacuums to do that check. 

The IMAX 3D film camera/housing being lowered. The flat calm seas made the job a lot easier. BTW, this was about 5 days before the Cat 5 Hurricane Katrina passed just to the east of the Flower Gardens on it’s way to New Orleans. A Cat 5 Hurricane is one of the more extreme examples of a low pressure system in action.

The IMAX 3D film camera/housing being lowered. The flat calm seas made the job a lot easier. BTW, this was about 5 days before the Cat 5 Hurricane Katrina passed just to the east of the Flower Gardens on it’s way to New Orleans. A Cat 5 Hurricane is one of the more extreme examples of a low pressure system in action.

My first encounter with this idea occurred in 2005 when I was a deckhand on the “Spree”, a liveaboard scuba dive boat that was at that time working the Flower Gardens Banks off the coast of Texas/Louisiana. On this particular trip, we were host to Howard and Michele Hall, who were making a film called Deep Sea 3D for IMAX. The camera they were using was a 3D IMAX film camera. It used two giant reels of IMAX film which could capture 7 minutes of footage. The housing was about 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide and weighed 1800 pounds. We installed a crane on the boat to deploy the thing. After loading the (very expensive) camera and film, Howard and his crew used a vacuum system to verify the housing was watertight, first by pulling a vacuum and then monitoring the pressure over the next hour or two to see if it lost any vacuum. I remember watching how meticulous they were with this, recording the pressures at different times.

Green Means Go!

Green Means Go!

Nauticam has taken the concept a step further and made doing a vacuum check on your underwater camera housing quick and effective. To do this, they use a small electronic board to light up an LED to give you status at a glance. The main thing you need to know about the LED colors is that “Green Means Go”. Any other color means you need to fix something. The Nauticam vacuum board also incorporates temperature compensation. This stroke of genius allows you to safely pull the vacuum in one temperature (i.e. your air conditioned room) and take it to the dive site at a different temperature without a false alarm (or perhaps worse, a false indication of watertightness). 

Having worked with a lot of people at workshops or on my trips who’ve had these systems, I can offer some handy tips

  • Try to pull the vacuum at least 1/2 hour before your dive. This gives a slow leak enough time to show itself. Longer is better, and you can even do it the evening before. Wake up in the morning to see a green light and you are good to go. 

  • Most leaks will show up immediately, i.e. you won’t be able to even get the green light to come on. But some leaks are very small and take time to appear. Make sure to recheck the color just before entering the water. 

  • Keep in mind that the vacuum system is only a check. You must still check/clean your o-rings, latches etc. The vacuum will not stop a leak, and it is possible to have a green light and still get water in the housing. 

  • Nauticam has produced two types of vacuum valves. The older version had a nut you had to tighten to close it. The newer version has a push button with a spring that closes itself. Both have a separate cap. Get in the habit of always closing the nut on the older version immediately after letting the air out to open the housing. And for both, replace the cap immediately as well. I repeat, make this a habit

  • The batteries for the boards last for hundreds of dives, but I recommend keeping a spare or two in your save a dive kit. The LED ight will flash red/blue when your battery is low. 

  • Forgot your vacuum pump? These days, most dive boats will see multiple Nauticam housings onboard. Maybe you can borrow one. In a pinch, you can actually pull the vacuum with your mouth, especially on a small housing. If you have a large DSLR or beyond, you probably would get pretty light headed doing that by the time the green light comes on. Of course, if you are well prepared, you’ll have your wine saver kit with you too; you might be able to use the wine pump to pull your housing vacuum. But, some wine pumps don’t work, so don’t count on this without trying it. And, of course, remember to drink your wine after the dive, not before.

Thanks for letting me geek out about vacuums. 

Here is a dolphin picture for you.

CP180124-5876.jpg

Cheers,

Chris

Chris Parsons and his partner Rima live on their sailboat, enjoying the 70% of the planet not covered up by land. Chris leads about 4 trips a year to great destinations (including a Reef Photo Workshop in Anilao, May 2019); check them out at http://chrisparsons.me/trips.