Live Reports: Wetpixel/Mustard Macro Workshop 2018

Day 1

Today was the first day of the first Wetpixel/Alex Mustard macro workshop for 2018. Held at the very wonderful Lembeh Resort, Indonesia and hosted by their excellent dive center, Critters@Lembeh, we will be running two back to back workshops over the next few weeks. We welcomed the first group to the resort on Friday and today has been the first day of the actual workshop, with presentations, image reviews and lots of in-water practice.

Early starts are in order, with breakfast at 6:45 and Alex starting his talk at 7:30. The theme of his talk today was a general primer on gear selection for the subject and sites here ay Lembeh, along with some basic ideas on how to keep it all functioning and how to chose subjects appropriate to lens and lighting combinations.

Alex always issues the “one strobe challenge” at the beginning of each of his macro workshops. Carrying a single strobe allows for precise control of where the light falls, and to utilize shadows to obscure otherwise unsightly backgrounds. We will see how many participants take him up on it…

Once Alex had finished, we got our gear together and headed out for 2 tank dives on the sites on the Lembeh Strait. For those not familiar, the area is a world famous muck diving site, largely over back sand and populated by large numbers of weird and amazing critters (and some more normal ones!)

Workshop participant Nur Tucker is here for the second time and is well known for the fact that she makes friends wherever she goes. During the dive, she got a hitchhiker!

Our group all had a guest: guide ratio of 2:1 and this meant that everyone had a plethora of subjects to practice their new techniques on. The guides are absolutely amazing at spotting incredibly well camouflaged or small creatures.

After 2 long dives, it was back to Lembeh Resort for some well-earned lunch, and a brief chance to change camera configurations and download images off cards.

Lembeh Resort, via its community charity, has been raising funds to provide supplies to help those affected by the dreadful earthquake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi. 18.5 million Indonesian Rupiah has been collected from guests and staff, and I met hotel manager, Petra, on her way to go and supervise the purchasing go supplies.

Goods that are now on their way to the disaster zone via Indonesian Air Force include tents, water, clothes, shoes, baby food, formula, blankets, baby bottles, water, rice, instant noodles, medicine, diapers, and female hygiene products.

After lunch, We then set out for another dive!

Night dives in the Lembeh Strait are very productive photographically. Many of the critters that are very active in daytime tend to slow down and there is a whole night shift of different creatures that emerge. Hence, most of the Wetpixel group elected to go out and do a night dive at 6:00 pm

Once back on shore, it was time for a quick shower and then an image review session with Alex providing feedback to images submitted by the participants.

This is such a valuable session, providing feedback on shooting techniques, composition, subject selection, and post-processing.

Tomorrow will be another busy day!

  1. Day 1.
  2. Day 2.
  3. Day 3.

Days 4,5 and 6

A cell tower on the island of Sulawesi got knocked out on Tuesday night, which in turn took down Lembeh Resort’s internet connection. Hence the lack of reports from the Wetpixel/Alex Mustard Workshop. The internet is now back up and running, and we are back in business!

Strong currents on Police Pier!

Suffice to say that that workshop has been continuing, with the participants, Alex, photo-pro Fred and I diving, photographing, editing and sharing images, ideas and techniques. The evening image review sessions are showing a stunning body of work. Lembeh is very critter rich, with plentiful subjects of all types on the reefs and muck sites. In addition, Lembeh Resort’s guides are an invaluable resource, locating hard to find critters and assisting the participants by holding snoots and ensuring that the subjects are suitable for the focal lengths of the lenses being used.

Each morning, Alex has given a presentation. On Tuesday, he started to outline specific lighting techniques, such as cross-strobes, inward lighting, and backlighting. Wednesday was further elaboration in this, looking at using snoot lighting and other tools to eliminate distracting backgrounds. Today, he looked at wide angle macro; bringing the background back into the image by using fisheye lenses in small dome ports to get really close to larger subjects. This is complicated to effectively light and the strobes must reach around the dome and be able to light subjects very close to it. Alex mentioned that smaller camera systems like M4/3 have significant advantages when used for this.

Team picture!

Each day, after Alex’s talks we all boarded the boats and headed out to go diving. Today our boat dived Hairball 2 and Batu Sandar.

Our guides Abner and Agus managed to find a sea fan with pygmy seahorses in it at 12 meters (these are often significantly deeper). Other species found and photographed included ornate ghost pipefish, wonderpus, mimic octopus, thorny seahorse, many nudibranch species, shrimps of all varieties and many frogfish.

Something of note is the number of bennies of all varieties that seem to be present in the Straits at the moment. They are literally everywhere.

After the 2 dives, we returned to Lembeh Resort for lunch and card/battery changes. Many people also opt to swap lenses at the point too. By varying focal lengths, a variety of images types is possible, making for a varied portfolio.

An afternoon dive follows, with our boat visitings site called Bianca, which is also used by the resorts in Lembeh as the site for dusk mandarin dives. Once again it provided a plethora of subjects for the workshop participants to practice on.

The boats have been going out every evening for a night dive too. The “night shift” on Lembeh’s sites is fascinating with a whole new bunch of critters emerging after dark.

After the night dive, a quick shower and then dinner!

Image reviews followed, which are incredibly helpful as they provide personalized technique pointers both for shooting and post-processing. In a change in format, tonight each participant selected a mini portfolio of 3 images that they wanted feedback on. They were all simply stunning, and it is amazing to see how far the photographer’s skills have developed. Eating, drinking and (occasionally) sleeping underwater photography with a group of like-minded individuals really pays incredible dividends.

As long as the internet holds out, stand by for another installment tomorrow.

  1. Day 1.
  2. Day 2.
  3. Day 3.
  4. Days 4, 5, 6.
  5. Day 7.
  6. Workshop 2-Day 1.
  7. Workshop 2-Day 2.
  8. Workshop 2-Day 3 and 4.