My first ever underwater photography workshop – the survival guide

The first post from our latest blogger, diving and underwater photography enthusiast Miranda-Clare. Welcome to Scubaverse! Follow her on Instagram @divingphotos or visit her website www.mirandaclare.com.

I have just walked through my door after completing my very first underwater photography workshop. Surrounded by bags, my mind full of incredible memories and a camera full of images to process, I can hardly believe it’s already over.

Diving in Lembeh for the first time, I’ve now seen critters and corals like I’ve never seen before. Despite reflecting the whole flight home, I still can’t pinpoint my favourite moment. Was it seeing mandarin fish mating for the first time? Was it photographing the coconut octopus timidly peeking out from under the shells he had assembled for a home? Or was it the flamboyant cuttlefish and it’s rippling shades of yellow and purple? Can I say all three are my favourite on top of everything else?

My first workshop experience was exciting, frustrating, tiring and satisfying all at once. If you’re about to attend or planning to attend your first ever workshop, I wanted to share my experience with you. Particularly, I wanted to share my successes and frustrations in case you found the experience intimidating and overwhelming. You’re not alone!

So… let’s begin. What should you do in advance to make yourself workshop ready?

After I confirmed which workshop I wanted to attend, I was immediately advised to start planning my flights and to carefully consider the airline I chose. Why is this important? Not all carriers have the same baggage allowance. Consider what you’re taking and find an airline which will accommodate your baggage with minimal cost. Do you plan to travel with your own dive gear? How much does your camera weigh? Will you need warm or heavy clothes? Although this is a decision that is usually made months before your workshop, it can save you big money when you go to check in.

Once you’re a few weeks out, it’s important to consider what to take. Packing can be a nightmare but my advice to you if it’s your first workshop is to keep it simple. Ask your workshop leader for a copy of the agenda and take the bare minimum you need to successfully complete planned activities.

It can be tempting to take all your toys and goodies with you but unless the learning environment requires these additional items, they will probably sit in your suitcase and weigh you down. I packed a lot of optional extras this trip, thinking I’d get them out when we had a ‘free dive’. When it came down to it, all I wanted was to master the new techniques I was learning and focus on shooting in a new way. After all, I came here to try something new, not shoot how I’ve always done in the past.

Having said that, if you have back-up items bring them. Spare strobes, o-rings, chargers, cables, batteries, etc. You can never predict an accidental breakage, flood or mysterious performance issue with equipment. Expect the unexpected and be prepared to utilise a backup if required.

To minimise breakage or damage to your equipment, invest in a good quality camera bag and take as much of your equipment as carry-on as possible. I would strongly advise that you never check-in expensive or delicate equipment. You don’t want theft or breakage cutting your trip short before you’ve even stepped foot in the water.

Okay, now the heavy lifting is out of the way, let’s move onto the workshop itself. Let’s talk about comfort and confidence!

Now you’ve finally arrived at your workshop you will no doubt be excited to jump in the water and start shooting! At the same time, you will be starting to meet the other photographers who have joined the trip. Maybe you’ve found yourself surrounded by other first time workshoppers, or perhaps you’ve found that there are some experienced and accomplished photographers who have joined the group.

For me personally, I had a lot of experienced photographers on my trip who had incredible portfolios. At first, I found this incredibly intimidating. Am I good enough to be here? Will I look silly when it comes to sharing images with the group? I put so much pressure on myself to get great images right away.

The first two days of the trip, I couldn’t quite get into my rhythm. I made a lot of silly mistakes and wasn’t quite getting the shots I wanted. I remember thinking to myself “I know I can do better than this”, “what’s happening?”, “what will other people think?”. Then something on day three clicked and I had an epiphany that I wanted to share with anyone who may feel the same way on their first workshop.

You’re there to learn. You’re there to try something new and push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Part of growing is making mistakes, learning from them and pushing through your frustration. I realised when you’re trying a new technique, it’s almost inevitable to take a step backward to take three steps forward… and that’s okay. The more you practice and get valuable feedback on your work, the more you will find yourself growing. Ultimately, it’s very satisfying at the end of the week looking at your images to realise how far you’ve come.

I learned to embrace the difference of skills, abilities and taste in my group and get feedback on my images. You know what? It really wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was really positive. I learned so many tips and tricks from my group just by taking the plunge and sharing the photos I loved and those that I already knew I wanted to improve.

I totally appreciate how difficult this can be, trust me, especially when you’ve got some really gifted and experienced members in your group. Just remember that everyone starts somewhere and the group that you’re with are there for the same purpose. Everyone wants to grow and improve. This is a collaborative, group learning environment and how often are you in a position where you receive this kind of valuable, constructive feedback in everyday life.

Wrapping up this post and choosing which images to include, I realise just how much I am taking away from my first photo workshop. I am of course carefully scrutinizing images, wishing I’d done this or that with each one. However, more importantly, I’m remembering how much I enjoyed capturing each image and how each one represents a new way of photographing each subject. I can’t help but think about the new friends I’ve made and the laughs we had above and below the water. These memories, above all else, are the ones that will stay with me as I head back into reality and prepare for my next diving adventure.

Miranda-Clare attended the Lembeh photo workshop at Dabirahe with Suzan Meldonian.

All photos by Miranda-Clare Iddon – www.mirandaclare.com

This article was originally published by Scubaverse