THE LIVEABOARD LIFE
A little more planning than usual will ensure the trip of a lifetime yields your best shots
Reaching remote and pristine diving that dayboats just can’t always get to, liveaboards are loved by photographers. A quick check through my Lightroom catalog reveals I’ve done more than 70 liveaboard trips in the past 15 years; in this column I’ll share tips for a successful photographic voyage.
Liveaboards give us the chance to escape the crowds, although with 10 to 20-plus divers on board, we’ll be taking a small crowd with us. This means being a good shipmate will have a big impact on both how enjoyable and photographically productive your trip will be.
THE SAME BOAT
As photographers, we might want to spend longer and get closer to subjects than regular divers, but we don’t have any priority. The secret to a successful trip is to get both the other guests and the guides on your side, so they want you to get your shots too. This is especially important on liveaboards because you’ll be with the same folks all week.
The biggest complaint I hear leveled against photographers is arrogance, that a big camera somehow entitles one to barge past other divers, chase marine life and lie all over corals. It should go without saying that no diver should ever behave like this. However, since many divers have had a bad experience with an egomaniac photographer, show you’re respectful of both your fellow divers and the reef. Après-dive, pick their brains about destinations you’ve not
visited, and process your images where people can see what you are producing. When you get good shots, share a few around, and always show the guides. If the guides are excited by your images, they will want to share their secret spots. I often take quick snaps of other guests during bluewater safety stops to share as souvenirs. Back on board, spend a few minutes helping other shooters who are further down the learning curve—a few words of advice can make a big difference to their trip.
Many photographers join workshop trips run by and for photographers, and most liveaboards offer these. The advantages are many. First, everyone wants the same type of diving, so the itinerary will be set with photography in mind. This means focusing on the most photographically productive sites, and repeating them so that everyone can improve. Also, on teaching trips you will have a workshop leader who will share valuable information on what to shoot, lens choices and optimal techniques, as well as helping everyone improve in post.
There is no FedEx at sea—a $20,000 camera rig can be put out of action if you forget to pack a critical O-ring, battery or clamp. Many photographers create detailed packing lists, or you can simply assemble your camera rig prior to packing, test it thoroughly, and then break it down directly into your luggage.
Ships have limited space, so pack spares, tools and more into neat boxes that keep them together. I label everything, which saves the “is this mine or yours” debates that are inevitable in a shared space. I am always generous with spares, knowing that the next day it might be my trip that is saved.
Photographic preparation is also vital. Most liveaboards don’t have a fast internet connection, so we can’t rely on browsing online for advice and inspiration, although they usually have a good stash of dive magazines and books that are worth poring over. Think about techniques before traveling, and remind yourself of the details of fundamentals. If the trip has a “once-in-a-lifetime” feeling, this is not the time to experiment with new techniques. Stick to what you know works, and let the amazing sights make your images stunners.
Finally, liveaboard days can be frenetic; use downtime at the end of the day to prepare for the next. One of the reasons divers love liveaboards is that they transport us seamlessly, while we eat, sleep and off-gas, delivering us to a new location for each dive. As photographers, we need to know what is coming so we can configure our rig, select the right lenses and plan potential shots. Chat with the guides about the plans for tomorrow, and plot your photography accordingly. If the crew enjoys photography themselves then their lens advice is likely to be spot on; if not, ask more detailed questions. Just knowing that they “sometimes see sharks there” isn’t enough; ask questions like, “How close do they really come?” and you will make the most of the amazing opportunities on offer with liveaboard diving.