Earlier that same day, I’d spent at least 10 minutes staring at a hand-sized patch of algae-fuzzed coral after Ketut had casually pointed into the centre of it. With my face close enough to the coral to allow the prescription gauge-reader lenses in my mask to do their job, I finally detected the millimetric movement of a perfectly camouflaged juvenile triplefin. Twenty minutes later, Ketut taps his tank with his reef pointer. Holding up his magnifying glass, with eyes glued to the reef, he beckons me with his free hand. Hidden amongst the reef lies a tiny spindle cowrie that could barely be distinguished against the coral it was clinging onto. Even Ketut’s laser-sharp eyes needed the aid of a magnifying glass to see this one. All this because I’d suggested that we might go and look for super-macro subjects; you have to be careful what you wish for!
Ketut and the other members of the dive guide team at Wakatobi Resort listen intently to their clients’ photographic aspirations and work hard to help fulfill them. Over the course of nearly 400 dives at Wakatobi, I have worked with Ketut, Shoko, Jono, Yusef, Kaz, Muji, Yoeri, Nikki, Sylvia, Andrea, Mali, and Marco Fierli, who is also Wakatobi Resort’s photo pro and a talented shooter in his own right. Aside from forging sincere relationships with their clients, they all have a wealth of local knowledge and adopt a systematic approach to finding subjects, either from their clients’ wish lists, or opportunistically, based on their own searches and observations.
Learning to work with a skilled dive guide is an often-overlooked technique for success in underwater imaging. They are a team of professionals, and are meant to be deployed as such. Providing them with a wish list of subject matter is just the first step. They’ll certainly go off and work hard to fill that list, but they bring a lot more than that to the table. Once we’re actively diving, I shamelessly plumb the depths of their local knowledge. They’re logging hundreds of dives a year in the area, so they are always going to know far more about any of the dive sites and the marine life on it than I ever will. They will always find more creatures than I will, but what they teach me helps me discover and interpret some of my own.
I’m equally uninhibited in sharing with them my photographic failures and successes from each dive. Helping them understand what
I’m trying to achieve, showing them what seems to have worked, and what clearly did not, helps them develop strategies for our future dives. Bouncing ideas around with them also frequently generates welcome suggestions and hints for improvements in my own technique. Subsequent dives then become part-workshop as we test and refine those ideas.
One of the joys of underwater photography is that, while there are many tried and proven techniques that will consistently deliver predictable results, there is also limitless room for adaptation. It’s not only the shots we miss that keep us going back into the water, it’s the endless possibilities that life on the reef puts in front of us. Spending time with the dive guides at Wakatobi Resort – even when they stretch my aging eyes to the limit – is one of the most enjoyable ways of exploring the endless possibilities on Wakatobi’s reefs.
BELOW: About 10 minutes after Ketut had pointed it out,I finally detected the millimetric movement of this perfectly camouflaged juvenile triplefin
ABOVE: A tiny spindle cowrie taken at Wakatobi, Indonesia
WADE AND ROBYN HUGHES believe that the impactful images they and other underwater photographers create can play an important role in shaping the perceptions of the general public to the importance of protecting our marine environments. The Hughes’ make their photographs freely available to individuals and organisations involved in education, research, and not-for-profit promotion of sustainable conservation.