Though they rarely get any recognition, dive guides are more often than not the ones responsible for the beautiful images captured by underwater photographers
Underwater photographers do more than create pretty pictures. By documenting undersea landscapes and marine life, they become ambassadors for the ocean. It’s often been said that humans only value and protect the things they know and understand. If this is true, the creation and sharing of underwater images with the broader non-diving public serves to heighten awareness and appreciation for the marine environment, and the need for the protection of these unique ecosystems.
The photographers who create these images are justifiably lauded for their technical and artistic ability. But as many of these same shooters will be the first to attest, creating these portfolio prizes is often a team effort that includes topside support and, most importantly, an experienced dive guide. This fact isn’t lost on veteran underwater photographer Wade Hughes, who is a Member of the Explorers Club and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. “Photo dive guides almost never appear in the picture credits, but they are the ones that can make the difference underwater,” he says.
Wade has documented underwater sites in some 30 countries and territories around the world, and now focuses an increasing amount of his time photographing the reefs and marine life of Indonesia’s Wakatobi region. Wade recently wrote about some of his experiences working with Ketut Suardika, who is one of the highly-experienced guides working at Wakatobi Resort.
It’s dark. Out of the gloom, Ketut’s slate suddenly materialises in front of my face, weakly illuminated in the few rays of his dive light escaping between his fingers. He’d written one question on the slate: “bobtail?” It was a classically understated question. What Ketut had found in the blackness – and was asking me if I wanted to photograph – was a juvenile bobtail squid, about a fifth of an inch long.
The minuscule squid was hunting around a hydroid, seemingly picking off pixel-sized crustaceans. It was flitting around on a jutting corner of reef, and being swirled randomly back and forth, up and down, by the eddies of a current that, in open water, was almost too strong to swim against. Ketut finding it in the first place was impressive enough, but then he turned and led me back through the darkness and the current, and somehow relocated it. There followed 20 minutes of that all-too-familiar cramping exertion underwater macro photographers experience when the only thing not moving is the reef itself. Ketut sidled in like a living beanbag to help brace me against the current. With my legs and fins pumping, hands attempting to hold the camera steady, neck craning, and eyes squinting hard through the viewfinder in search of the squid, I eventually resorted to just squeezing off a frame every time something blundered into focus.