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2008 DivePhotoGuide Underwater Photo & Video Festival - Wakatobi (Part II)
By Jason Heller, April 28, 2008 @ 04:00 AM (EST)

By Jason & Wendy Heller

The first annual DivePhotoGuide Underwater Photo & Video Festival was held in Wakatobi, Indonesia from March 28 – April 15th, 2008. The competition winners and images can be found here.

 

 

Pelagian – The BoatPelagian @ DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festival

The first week was spent on board the Pelagian, which cruised with 12 guests throughout the archipelago north of Wakatobi where the resort’s day boats could never reach. A barrage of DSLR housings, several humungous video housings and a few point and shoots jammed the camera room like it has never been used and abused before. Having been on the Pelagian in 2005 when it operated in Raja Empat, I must say that the improvements are pretty fantastic. The cabins were renovated very nicely and were extremely comfortable. The air conditioning could have been a little stronger, but in such a remote location it is understandable when these things are not working as well as they do in a land based facility with technicians nearby. The most valuable feature of the boat – the outstanding coffee machine. We put this machine to good use, and many of us left with intentions of buying the same model when we got back home.

 

The Diving & ShootingBaby Batfish @ DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festival

Beyond the healthy reefs of Wangi Wangi and Hoga islands, the highlight of the week was a muck diving area in the bay of an island called Buton. In fact, we enjoyed the critters so much that we arranged to stay there for three of our seven days! We focused on a few productive sites such as Cheeky Beach – a sloping mucky gravel zone where we found seahorses, waspfish, shrimp/goby pairs, frogfish, colorful squid, various moray eels, nudibranchs and more. One of the unique and interesting features of this area is an abnormal abundance of baby porcupinefish and pipefish. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of porcupinefish hiding in every rock, log, hole in the sand, tin can, shoe, and a plethora of other discarded items. Pipefish were not found in the same extraordinary numbers as the porcupinefish, but you would see one or two at least every few minutes, and it was not surprising to find groups of 3 to 5 foraging together. Collectively our favorite single site in Buton Bay was Asphalt Pier, an abandoned old asphalt loading station. The site consists of a shipwreck, the pier pilings and a disgustingly awesome mucky bottom. Imagine the excitement as we discovered not one, but two cooperative baby batfish posing for our cameras. Some of the other Frogfish @ DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festivalcritters included ornate & robust ghost pipefish, blue ribbon eels, a giant frogfish, and mantis shrimp. On one of our night dives at another site called Magic Pier we encountered the largest school of shrimpfish any of us had ever seen or even heard of. Swimming through the dense school of vertically hovering slivers was a fairly weird feeling as they bumped into every part of your body.

 

If you’ve never been night diving with a videographer with real lights, prepare for light envy. Every so often it was as if a Mack truck came over the horizon as the videographers would dominate the underwater landscape with enough light to attract what seemed like a soup of every shrimp and worm in all of Indonesia! When they left your vicinity, it made whatever torch you were using feel totally inadequate, no matter how strong it was.

 

Wakatobi Resort

Once we arrived to the resort we met the remainder of our group. The first couple of days at Wakatobi offered wonderfully clear skies and perfect weather. In fact, one evening in particular the night sky was the clearest I have ever seen in my life -  with as manyStars @ DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festival stars as you could imagine. Fortunately I brought along my new carbon fiber tripod and put my Nikon D3 to the test, shooting some high ISO shots of the Milky Way and all the universe’s glory. It was a spiritual experience – photographically speaking. For a resort with a pretty large camera room, with 20 photographers and videographers and what must have been over $250,000 worth of equipment, we put that room to the test. It was actually worthy of the load and we all fit in there rather comfortably.

 

 

The Diving, Photo & Video Workshops & MoreTurtle Closeup @ DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festival

Maybe I was just stuck in my office for too long prior to this trip, but it was so refreshing to have an encounter with a large turtle within 15 minutes of my first dive on the reefs. Most of the diving in Wakatobi is done on walls, with healthy soft coral growing all the way up to the surface. In my humble opinion, the best diving is along the Saur reef system, and the very best sites include Cornucopia, & Magnifica. These sites are jam packed with colorful lush soft corals and present great photo opportunities. Ironically among all the large and healthy soft corals, you can also find plenty of macro critters such as three of the pygmy seahorse species (Colmani, Denise & Bagarbunti), various nudibranchs, jawfish, shrimp & goby pairs, orangutan crabs, dendronephthya crabs, and other critters. Sometimes on there are currents present on the wall dives, in which case you drift dive at whatever depth you’re comfortable with, although it makes photography a little more challenging, but it was never a problem. However, I did appreciate the option of the large 100 cubic foot cylinders versus 80’s to maximize Diver & Coral @ DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festivalmy “suck up the air while shooting in currents” possibilities. The daytime dives are limited to 70 minutes while night dives are 60 minutes long. Of course you always have the option of diving the house reef, in which case you can dive for as long as you’d like – I for one like doing a 90 – 100 minute shallow dive every so often and took full advantage of that twice during this trip. The house reef is actually quite productive and the reef-top itself is a very interesting area to shoot.

 

During the 11 days at the resort, we offered three formal workshops and a few informal ones. Jason was around the entire trip working closely with all the photographers, helping with gear questions and techniques. Since we had access to a projector and screen, there were also several evenings of group image reviews, helping to refine what and how we were all shooting while it was still fresh in our minds. Videographer Annie Crawley was the official video pro on the trip and she Turtle @ DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festivalprovided a ‘basics of underwater video’ workshop as well as an impromptu animal behavior session after spending a couple of hours shooting a spectacular display of cuttlefish mating behavior. Jason provided two seminars – one on ‘the principles and techniques of underwater photography’ and another on ‘digital workflow and editing’.

 

Although the DivePhotoGuide Underwater Photo & Video Festival included a competition with many valuable prizes – ultimately the spirit of the trip was more about diving and shooting with other photographers & videographers, learning and sharing and simply enjoying some great Indonesian diving together. We had a great time. We made some great new friends, shared diving stories over plenty of Bintang (Indonesian beer), and we even became the first people in the history of Wakatobi to get stuck on the island for an extra night due to problems with the private charter flight. The folks from Wakatobi put us up for the night in bungalows, provided free drinks all night (yes the alcoholic variety) and took on a significant expense to charter a second flight early in the morning (beyond the one already scheduled to bring a new round of guests in later the following morning) so we can either enjoy our time in Bali or make connecting iDPG Underwater Photo & Video Festival Participantsnternational flights. We all took it in stride – there are far worse places to be stuck for the night other than in paradise!

 

So as we wrap up the first annual DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festival, we look back on a fun time we had and our new friends as we prepare for our next diving adventures this coming month. For Jason it’s back in Indonesia on assignment for Sport Diver Magazine, and for Wendy it’s covering the Curacao Dive Festival for DivePhotoGuide – the hard life of underwater photography editors…

 


More of Jason's images from
the DPG Underwater Photo & Video Festival in Wakatobi

 


 

 

 

Wakatobi Indonesia

 

Wakatobi Indonesia Diver & Sea Fan

Wakatobi Indonesia Underwater Video

Wakatobi Indonesia Sunset

Wakatobi Indonesia Diver & Coral

Wakatobi Indonesia Lionfish

Wakatobi Indonesia Squid

Wakatobi Indonesia Pier At Night

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