Underwater Photography An introduction into documenting the underwater world

It’s almost time for my underwater stills photography course at Blue Wilderness on the South Coast’s Aliwal Shoal. Hosted by team Blue Wilderness,  I’m always excited to get back to the diverse and shark rich reefs of Aliwal Shoal.

Here’s some info to help you decide if this course is for you. I try to run this over a weekend but you’d need to take Friday off work. We will do a total of four dives.

Day one: 

We meet for a coffee and delve into your underwater camera/housing and it’s buttons and settings; we take a look at possible upgrades and why you could and even if you should! After that, we move into the basics of shooting in all the modes your camera will allow including the ultimate trip- full manual mode.  We will talk about maintenance and preparation of your equipment and by then you’ve had enough of me talking.  After a lunch break, we will spend the afternoon in the pool practising and you can ask me all your questions. We will prepare the cameras for the next day. Later, there’s an introduction to Adobe Lightroom, my post-processing program of choice. I’ll give you an overview of the interface.

Cost

R4900 p.p

includes:

  • 3 x nights accommodation
  • 4 x dives with SCUBA rental gear
  • Course tuition

Day two:

We will do a pre-dive briefing on the photographic skills to be practised on that day and then we hit the water with a vengeance. We do two dives and they are usually both macro dives on this day, conditions permitting. After a well-deserved lunch, it’s back to some theory. We’ll be looking at your shots from the morning and learning more about Lightroom at the same time. After the crit. session and a coffee we will get back into some more theory and cover such topics as wide-angle shooting; perfect strobe placement; use of ambient light; reading the ‘peak of the moment’. The Lightroom work for the day includes a look at the library and develop modules. We will set up our cameras for the next morning and then it’s time to relax.

Day three:

As usual, there’s a pre-dive briefing on the photographic skills we will practise and today it’s wide-angle we are concentrating on. We whip around the reefs seeking our sharks and turtles, both of which abound at the shoal. Same as day two, we do a crit session and then it’s time to choose some photos that really worked and some that really didn’t and to do a group discussion- helping each other to find out why- based on what you’ve been taught. Now, it’s time to really apply the knowledge you’ve acquired over the past 2 days. I will preside of course !! The Lightroom work for the day includes a look at the remaining modules, esp. the slideshow module and how to watermark and export correctly.

As a bonus, and only if you tag my courses,  I’ll also show you how to quickly get your best shots out onto social media, appropriately watermarked and resized so they can’t be stolen. For those who aren’t rushing off back to work, on this final evening, we will present a combined slideshow and presentation of certificates whilst enjoying a braai.

That’s a wrap.

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Underwater Photography An introduction into documenting the underwater world

It’s almost time for my next beginner’s underwater photography course at Gozo Azul in Ponta do Ouro. It’s super easy to get into the town these days on the new tar road. Hosted by the co-owners of Gozo Azul, Natalie and Marcus,  I’m always excited to get back to the diverse and rich Ponto reef.  I love to teach in Ponto. Firstly, the weather and conditions in the protected bay are indeed a natural wonder, and this means we always get to dive and complete our course. Secondly, we will be diving in a marine reserve and as a result, the reefs and fish life are in great condition.

This vibey little town is still a great place for divers and non-divers alike. There is a safe swimming beach a short, 5/10-minute walk from virtually anywhere so if you want to bring a non-diving spouse or friend they can go snorkelling or fishing, 4 x4 adventuring or walking on the beaches.

They could also take a dolphin trip with local legendary dolphin lady and guru Angie Gullan who you can find here. It’s a fascinating and quirky little town with some quaint markets, restaurants and shops to explore.

Cost

R6450 p.p

includes:

  • 4 x nights accommodation
  • 6 x dives with rental gear
  • Course tuition

Here’s some info on what I cover to start my students out on this fantastic adventure of underwater photography.

Day one: 

We meet for a  wake-me-up caffeine kick and then delve into your underwater camera, and it’s buttons and settings; we take a look at possible upgrades and why you could or should. Next, we move into the basics of shooting in all the modes your camera will allow including the ultimate – full manual mode.  We will talk about maintenance and preparation of your equipment, and by then you’ve had enough of me talking, and it’s time to set up your equipment.  After a lunch break, we will spend a few hours in the pool practising everything learned in the morning session. Here you can ask me loads of questions. We will prep. the cameras for the next day. After a quick shower and tea, there’s an overview of the Adobe Lightroom workspace and how to download your photos safely. A quick dinner and you’ll be in bed early as it’s a long day for your brain!

Day two:

Whoop Whoop- it’s time to dive baby.  We will do a pre-dive briefing on the photographic skills we are using for the day and then we hit the water with a vengeance. We do two dives, and they are usually both macro dives on this first dive day. After a well-deserved lunch and perhaps a power nap, it’s back to some theory. We’ll be downloading and looking at your shots from the morning and learning more about the Lightroom library area at the same time. After the crit. Session and a coffee we will get back into some more theory and cover such topics as wide-angle shooting; perfect strobe placement; use of ambient light; reading the ‘peak of the moment’. Adobe Lightroom work for the day includes a look at the develop module. We will set up our cameras for day 3 and then it’s time to chill and enjoy the Moz vibes.

Day three:

As usual, there’s a pre-dive briefing on the photographic skills we will practise and today it’s wide-angle we are concentrating on. We whip around the reefs on 2 spectacular dives and then it’s time to feed the ravenous and have a nap. Same as day two, we do a crit session and then it’s time to choose some photos that really worked and some that really didn’t and to do a group discussion- helping each other to find out why- based on what you’ve been taught. Now, it’s time to really apply the knowledge you’ve acquired over the past 2 days. I will preside of course !! The Lightroom work for the day includes a look at the remaining modules, esp. the slideshow module and how to watermark and export correctly. We get the cameras ready for the last 2 dives – Yes- there are 2 more dives on this course. Fantastic. Six dives will definitely help you to get your skills deeply practised.

Day four:

On this day you can choose whether you’d like to do macro or wide-angle and I’ll be guiding you through some new techniques and introducing some new concepts. I’ll give you some examples of shots I’d like you to try and re-create, using your shiny new skills. After these two dives, there’s a short lunch gap (and maybe a nap if you eat fast) before attacking those computers to prepare our slide-shows in Lightroom. I’ll also show you how to get your best shots out onto social media, appropriately watermarked and resized so they can’t be stolen. After all, they’ll be THAT desirable! On this final evening, we will present a combined slideshow and presentation of certificates whilst enjoying a braai.

That’s a wrap.

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Ponta do Ouro is booming. There’s a new road, almost finished, and the locals are building their guesthouses and expecting great things. Certainly, it’s becoming easier to get there. When I first visited Ponta in the early nineties, it took two full days, and sometimes three, to get to the Ponta beach front from Johannesburg. The roads from Mbazwana (near Sodwana Bay) were all still soft sand. By August 2018, you will be able to drive from the Ponta border post to the Ponta main beach within about 20/30 minutes and for the most part, on tar. Hosted by Natalie and Marcus from the popular dive and travel centre, Gozo Azul, I was excited to get back to Ponta.

I hadn’t visited since the devastation of the ‘great fire’ in 2010. I was pleasantly surprised. Ponta is still a great place for divers and non-divers alike. There is a safe swimming beach a short, 5/10-minute walk from virtually anywhere in Ponta. If you don’t dive, you can go snorkelling or fishing. If you hate the sea, you can go 4 x4 adventuring or walking on the beaches. Why not take a dolphin trip with local legendary dolphin lady and guru Angie Gullan who you can find here.   The special elephant reserve is much easier to get to now, and so game drives are feasible. It’s actually becoming a fascinating and quirky little town with some quaint markets, restaurants and shops to explore. In the 26 year long civil war that ravaged the area, many shops and homes were plundered and burnt. These have primarily been lovingly restored now, and there are also new wooden chalet developments

fi ayerst

Hi, I’m Fiona. I love cats, sharks, reading, writing and being underwater.

I visited some local inshore dive sites and was enchanted as always, by the antics of the fish and other reef inhabitants. Here are some of my recommendations based on this recent trip, however, there are many more great dive sites in Ponta. For me, one of the most amazing things about Ponta is that you can visit it virtually any time of year- and it’ll be great weather, and dive-able. The weather and conditions in the protected bay are indeed a natural wonder.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit all of my favourite dive sites, but in hindsight, it was a blessing, as I got to see that the inshore reefs are incredible in their own right. I was delighted to be paired up with amazing DM Charlie, who quickly became a friend. She let me travel far and wide over the reef but I could see she always had her eye on me. It’s always a supreme pleasure to dive with skipper extraordinaire Dee- what a Moz legend.

Here’s some information on the sites I got to visit as depicted in the photos. When you go, please try out some of the others too. I love and recommend these- Bass City, Atlantis, Maverick’s and Rianna’s arch.

Doodles (14-16m):
This is one of the best-loved dives in Ponta and for good reason. It’s a small and shallow reef comprised of scattered boulders and small ledges. There’s plenty life to search for, and divers always come back with tales of the large honeycomb morays, inquisitive potato bass, and having seen rays chilling off in the sandy patches. Curious looking paper fish abound here and are virtually always seen and have been for many years now.

Steve’s Ledge (15-17m):

If you love peering into sandy gullies and under ledges, finding the little jewels the reef offers up, then this is a site for you. The shelves are full of clownfish and nudibranchs. There are many cowfish and puffer fish and devil fire-fish patrol the reefs looking for grub. Lookout for egg-shell cowries and hermit crabs walking around, even in daylight.

Steps (13-16m):

Ledges and small gullies are the order of the day here. It’ s a place rich with schooling fish and soft corals. It’s actually an underwater photographers ‘dream dive’. I find it fascinating that so few of my colleagues know this. In my opinion, this dive is superbly under-rated, and if you love photography, then I suggest you try it out.

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Creche (12-13m):

Thousands of glittering fish darting everywhere are the highlight of this dive. It’s like diving into a lucky packet full of sweeties. It’ s a shallow flat reef with sandy patches and you should look out for well-camouflaged crocodile fish and scorpion fish.

Checkers (16-19 m):

This site is comprised of blocky boulders festooned with bright pink and red corals, bright orange sponges and even hard plate coral. Look for frogfish and ribbon eels. I saw quite a few chunky mantis shrimp ogling me with multi-faceted eyes.

Pinnacles(32-37m):

Recommended for experienced divers only. Made up of two ledges with an old anchor and chain draped along the inshore ridge. You’ll see the odd free swimming honeycomb moray eel, schooling bannerfish, potato bass and sharks. At certain times of year pickhandle barracuda, king mackerel, ignobilis kingfish and wahoo congregate on the reef attracting different shark species.

Fiona Profile

Blogger: Fiona Ayerst

Fiona is an award winning professional underwater and environmental photojournalist. Her work is published and portrayed throughout the world in numerous magazines, blogs and sites. Between May and October annual, Fiona manages Africa Media’s environmental and travel journalism internship program. 

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