A spinecheek anemonefish residing on Wakatobi’s stunning house reef
Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Sulawesi, Wakatobi is not only home to a tranquil resort setting, with all the luxurious topside amenities any traveler seeks; it is also host to magnificent, pristine reefs featuring an abundance of regional biodiversity. This combination, along with the resort’s well-equipped and efficiently run facilities, makes this one of the most enticing destinations in Indonesia for underwater photographers and videographers of all levels. But Wakatobi also boasts another valuable offering: its dive and photo guides.
You may think that you are already proficient with your photography or that you are comfortable when it comes to diving in small groups, but I assure you that having a guide or working with an in-house photo pro pays off in dividends. Working with these invaluable members of the Wakatobi team is essential if you want to maximize your time in the water, as well as get the most out of your trip, meet your goals, and improve your techniques.
In addition to wide-angle opportunities, Wakatobi offers endless macro subjects
Nudibranchs can be found at a variety of sites, including this one clinging on a wall
The Merits of Hiring a Guide
Private Dive Experience Managers, or PDEMs, at Wakatobi are dedicated private guides made available for hire to guests wishing to enhance their dive experience. These hard-working pros don’t receive the credit and recognition they so often deserve.
Catering to the needs of divers, snorkelers, and photographers, the guides at Wakatobi take great pride in providing you with a personalized experience. Whether your pursuits include a peaceful dive to observe the serene seascape under the superb navigational skills of your guide, or a mission to work on your photography or videography without the constraints of diving in a group, a guide is a significant advantage. And, once you’ve had the pleasure of having a private guide, in all likelihood, it will be hard to go back to diving without one!
A translucent shrimp dwells in bubble coral
Large sponges loom over the opening of a cave
As an underwater photographer, having a guide at my side allows me to focus on the task at hand. The guides at Wakatobi are all well versed in the plentiful dive site choices, and they take the extra work of navigation out of your hands. Many have thousands of dives under their belts, and as you are their primary focus, they can dedicate their full attention to your pursuits.
I’ve had the pleasure of diving with Kaz Kazzuaeni as my guide during recent visits to Wakatobi. Having been at the resort for many years, he is an expert with navigating the various sites and I always feel safe when diving with him as my guide. If there is a site that I have been to and I describe what I would like to see again, he can take me back to that same spot on a future dive, whether it be a return visit on the house reef to see the awe-inspiring cave that resides in the depths, or a trip to Turkey Beach to search for green and hawksbill turtles. With a private guide, I can even choose to dive the house reef all day if I want!
The intriguing cave on Wakatobi’s house reef is a captivating sight
Kaz and a close encounter with a green turtle
I also enjoy planning out my dives in advance when working with a guide. This allows me to determine a potential schedule of sites, based on the guide’s recommendation, that will help me to achieve my goals. For instance, if I am interested in focusing on macro or wide-angle photography, we review the potential dive schedule and determine the sites that are better suited for this type of photography. If there are a few options, a guide can provide excellent insight into the merits of each site and explain the highlights.
An added perk to having a private guide is the fact that you can also choose to change from your dive boat to another if your preferred site will be visited by a boat other than the one you were assigned to. Having this added flexibility is key. For example, if I am keen to photograph a cuttlefish, my guide does his best to choose a boat with a site that may offer me an opportunity to see one.
A hovering cuttlefish poses at a site called Zoo
A guide’s talented eye can help you spot the most miniscule of pygmy seahorses
Crucially, a guide also serves as an extra pair of desperately needed eyes when looking for a particular subject. I often like to photograph pygmy seahorses, but I am not an eagle-eyed spotter like the Wakatobi guides. So, to accomplish my goal, I hire a fantastic guide. Kaz has met my requests head on and always puts in his best effort. I appreciate that finding a particular subject is never a guarantee, but having a spotter at your disposal is a mighty fine resource to have and certainly improves your chances.
Some days, I may choose a subject that is all too common, but I am looking for a representative specimen in a pleasing orientation. I must admit that I have a penchant for clownfish. There are many species at Wakatobi—as many as six species on the house reef alone—and they make for excellent subjects. I enjoy working with these playful critters in both my macro and wide-angle photography. Kaz’s ample patience has allowed me to work the shot and attend to various angles and lighting until I am satisfied with my images. It helps that he has developed a talented photographic eye in his own right, so he understands the focus that photography demands and can offer insights.
Finding the perfect angle to capture a photo of a false clownfish
Clownfish frolicking in a brightly colored anemone
As consummate professionals, Wakatobi’s guides will also be on the lookout for unusual and unique photographic elements and will steer your attention when they find them. On one dive, Kaz found a large school of convict blennies. His wide-eyed fascination further added to my own intrigue, and I seized the opportunity to use Kaz as a model in my shot. This is another benefit to having a guide on hand: They can also be used as an additional subject or model in your photography.
With a guide, you don’t need to worry about other photographers idling in line behind you, waiting to shoot the same scene or creature. I relish having as much time as I need to achieve my images, some of which can take additional time as I patiently wait for a fish to poke its head out or a school to turn broadside. By not diving with other divers and photographers, you are given the space and time to work on a subject at your own pace. You are never rushed or racing to keep up with the group, and you can focus on what you want, away from other divers.
Personalized and private dive briefings, assistance with dive gear, careful and expedient toting of cameras to and from the well-appointed camera room and rinse tank—not to mention serving greatly appreciated beverages and snacks—are all additional benefits to having a private guide.
Using a guide as a model can help draw the eyes of the viewer to the action in a shot
Patience is a virtue when capturing the smile of the saber-toothed blenny
Using an In-House Photo Pro and Taking Workshops
If you are truly keen on taking your photography to the next level, spending some time with a photo pro is a must. Marco Fierli is a man of many talents, but he is best known as Wakatobi’s longstanding in-house photo pro and instructor. As a renowned photographer, Marco’s intense passion and enthusiasm for the art of photography translates into his coaching style. He’s adept at customizing workshops for those who are looking to refine their photography and learn new skills.
Each time I have returned to Wakatobi, I have made sure to take a workshop with Marco. One of the things that enticed me to do it in the first place was the fact that he not only provides tailored classroom instruction, but also joins you in the water. This allows direct hands-on experience and the ability to put theory into practice on the spot. This was very important for me. I was in search of an experienced instructor that would help me to improve my wide-angle photography in particular, and I found having an instructor work directly with me underwater was invaluable. When diving with Marco, you get the best of both worlds: a remarkable guide that knows the local dive sites like the back of his hand and an amazing photo coach.
Working with a photo pro can challenge you to look at something in a different way or at a different angle such as with these alien-like sponges
Oftentimes it pays off to have ample time on a photo, especially when waiting for fish to line up as in this colorful reef scene
Each time I dive with Marco, I find that my photography improves. Having him right there to provide professional in-water suggestions on everything from my settings, angles, composition and lighting has resulted in me moving up the learning curve. His prescient reminders about getting closer to a macro subject, lowering the angle I am shooting from, or watching the angle of my strobes have allowed me to achieve my best shots of many subjects. If I run into an issue, I feel reassured having a photo pro by my side to troubleshoot. That way, I don’t waste an entire dive on something I may have missed, or that Marco astutely immediately identifies.
Everyone from beginner to advanced, and even pro photographers, can benefit from his knowledge and years of experience. Marco will typically adapt his teaching method to your skill level and learning style. He is well-versed in an impressive number of topics and always ready to answer your questions, whether you’re taking a workshop on macro or wide-angle techniques, workflow, image selection, editing, videography, or even asking for tailored coaching on a particular subject such as modeling.
In front of the lens: Understanding your angles and how to pose will help maximize a photographer’s ability to create an artistic composition
The workshop I took focusing on using models as subjects to gain an element of interest also helped me to improve my own techniques as a model for others. Being on the other side of the lens allowed me to better understand the challenges both model and photographer face and the importance of angles, lighting, posing, good communication, and how advanced preparation plays into a successful shoot.
Taking workshops and being coached by a photo pro have helped me significantly with understanding the creative possibilities in my own work and making further progress with each return trip to Wakatobi. Whether it is incorporating sunbursts or Snell’s window into my images, using balanced lighting techniques for wide-angle photos, or black backgrounds for macro work, working with a snoot, focusing on colorful vistas and critters, or learning a new way to photograph a familiar and favorite subject like clownfish, there really is no shortage of things to learn and refine! Wakatobi is the perfect place to hone your techniques and passion under the watchful and instructive eyes of an in-house photo pro.
Crinoids provide a focal point within a perfect Snell’s Window
A picturesque scene with balanced lighting and use of a sunburst to add an extra element in the image
Black backgrounds in macro photography are a great way to isolate subjects and provide a graphic presentation
When the world reopens, and the pandemic loosens its grip, Wakatobi will be there, waiting with open arms for intrepid divers in need of some reprieve, including all those who want to channel their photographic and videographic talents.
Make sure to add this jewel in the diving crown to your bucket list of locations and don’t forget to look into soliciting the expertise of the resident photo pro, taking a workshop or two to help refine your creative skills or learn a new art, and making use of the resort’s talented private guides. Having these professionals by your side will surely only add to the magic of your diving experience and the memories from your time at Wakatobi.
Guides can help navigate to the best a site has to offer, give you invaluable advice on executing a shot, and even do double duty as a dive model
About the Author: Jamie was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she still resides. She started diving in 2000 and was immediately bitten by the scuba bug during her Open Water certification in the Cook Islands. Underwater photography became the perfect way to channel her creative nature and capture the beauty of the ocean. Jamie has dived all over the world, including Florida, Hawaii, Bonaire, the Caribbean, Central America, Fiji, Indonesia, and the Maldives.
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