Hiring a photo pro can help you take your images to the next level, even over the course of a few days
You’ve had your underwater camera for years, toting it everywhere from Australia to the Caribbean and back again. So on your next vacation you might scoff at the idea of working with the local photo pro. After all, how much can you improve in just a week? As it turns out—quite a lot, actually.
Photo pros provide much more than souvenir images of your trip or mechanical advice when your camera needs a quick repair. The reality is that working hands-on with a professional photographer on your next trip can help transform vacation snapshots into something you might actually hang on your wall, or even get published in a magazine. Increasingly, dive resorts are hiring on-site, full-time photo pros to hold workshops, courses, and private lessons with guests. Wakatobi, an Indonesian luxury resort just a 45-minute private jet flight from Bali, boasts a full-time photo pro and world-renowned house reef underwater classroom that make instant improvement in underwater images not only possible, but the norm.
“The greatest improvement I see in my students is when they start thinking of a photograph even before they take it—from researching the subject investigation to lighting choices, they plan the shot,” explains Marco Fierli, Wakatobi's photo pro. “Everything that comes after tells me that they will soon find their own personal style.”
Marco's own portfolio reflects the diversity of subjects at Wakatobi, a real plus for a guest looking to learn the basics or try advanced techniques
Working as a photographer and dive guide at Wakatobi for several years, Marco had long been inundated with questions and petitions for camera advice from guests. The demand became so great that Marco eventually put together formal courses and workshops, aimed at a variety of ability levels—from beginner to DSLR shooter.
And while the workshops and courses offered at resorts like Wakatobi are definitely a great tool on their own, it is often the one-on-one time that makes the most difference. Marco often puts away the books to customize the lesson to the ability level and interest of the photographer, be it basic lighting metering or advanced techniques like snooting.
“We do offer pre-made photo courses, but most of the time I tailor the existing material and schedules to the specific needs and goals of the guests,” says Marco, who sees value in both a schoolroom and more casual learning environments. “I can also follow the guest for the day, give explanatory briefings and write photographic tips on my slate as we dive together in a less formal but equally effective instructional setup.”
The best photo pros work one-on-one with their guests to improve their images, even serving as dive models in the background of wide-angle shots
Before his trip to Wakatobi, Scott Friedman considered himself an “experienced amateur” underwater photographer, but felt a gap in his portfolio, specifically with super macro.
“I’ve long wanted to have the skill and know-how to do super macro, especially to capture a solid image of a pygmy seahorse,” recalls Scott, who only gets the opportunity for one annual dive trip. “For several years, I’ve owned a MacroMate attachment for doing super macro, but for the life of me I couldn’t really figure out how to use it.”
Scott only had a short time at Wakatobi, but he made good use of it spending evenings in the classroom watching Marco’s supermacro presentations. The following day, he put the gained knowledge to the test during in-water instruction.
“The most remarkable aspect of Marco’s teaching ability is his capacity for communicating so effectively underwater while in the midst of taking and evaluating shots,” recalls Scott, who believes his images have improved markedly as a result of the instruction. “[There was a] perfect combination of hand signals, use of a writing tablet, demonstration, and the occasional verbal exclamation into his regulator that somehow makes it to the student’s ears.”
Within a short period of time, Scott was able to learn the macro and super macro skills necessary to capture images like this of a pipefish
A photo pro is equal parts instructor, dive guide, and jack-of-all-trades. One day the job involves teaching someone like Scott to expand their repertoire of underwater imagery. The next it might require the knowledge how to make a makeshift fiber-optic cable or get a scratch out of your dome port. But perhaps the most exciting opportunity is the chance to work with someone trying underwater photography for the first time, like Tim Short.
Before working with Marco, Tim had a good knowledge of topside imagery, but had never taken an underwater photograph. Within a single day’s introductory course on macro photography, the novice shooter had already shaken any worries of hopping into the ocean with a camera.
“Marco's knowledge of underwater photography is immense, and he translated this into precise instructions that allowed even a novice like myself to rapidly build macro underwater photography skills,” explains Tim, who hopes to continue to improve. “The results speak for themselves—I was amazed at the quality of my day-one photos.”
Learning advanced techniques, such as the bokeh above, is made easier with the personal instruction of a photo pro on site
Wakatobi’s house reef, just a short fin-kick from shore, proves to be the perfect real-world photo studio for either first-time underwater shooters, or experienced photographers tackling a new advanced technique. Critters rare on most Indo-Pacific dives—pygmy seahorses, frogfish, blue-ringed octopuses, and ghost pipefish—frequent the house reef. Switch over to a wide-angle lens to capture the soft coral-studded reef, schooling jacks or the many large resident turtles.
And while improving your photography over the course of a week is at the top of a photo pro’s list, it’s important to remember that the learning process should be as enjoyable as the trip itself. Or in the words of photo student Scott Friedman: “Most of all, it’s simply a lot of fun to dive and take photos with Marco.”
Wakatobi's house reef, one of the best in the world, features rare macro critters as well as equally photogenic wide-angle subjects like these schooling barracuda
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