Life events took an unexpected turn for Wayne Jones. His decisions led him to the Philippines, and a good thing it was, too. It was here he met his beautiful wife Rina – and returned to the underwater world.

His love for the ocean, diving and underwater photography was rekindled after a long hiatus. But the transition wasn’t that easy. The Open Water qualifications he acquired many moons ago at the age of 14 were now called upon, and found wanting… During a “fun” dive – for the first time in 30 years and at a depth of 30 metres with deco alarms sounding from divers above him – he realised that a refresher course was probably needed. He promptly started the PADI Open Water course the following day.

Having brushed up on his diving, Wayne could get on with what he wanted to do. As his passion for the ocean burned like a fire in his belly – a fire only a camera and creativity could quell – the underwater photographer “universal_jones” was born!

At that time, Wayne and Rina moved to Panglao Island’s Alona Beach, in Bohol province. Here, wide angle was the order of the day, and for the next eight months, diving and shooting around Balicasag Island was Wayne’s playground. The wide angle was fruitful and a great learning curve, but he soon found a desire for the smaller things and endeavoured a venture into macro.

While he felt a degree of success, the quality of the photos he was seeing on social media told him otherwise. But it didn’t take long until he managed to unpack the secrets of a master. A friend, who had been schooled by macro supremo Tim Ho at Anilao Photo Hotel, impressed Wayne with the improvements in underwater photographer he’d made, and this persuaded him to sign up at the first opportunity.

Three years after Tim introduced Wayne to the amazing world of underwater macro, Tim and Wayne are business partners in the new Anilao Photo Academy. This is a place where Wayne pursues his passion and drive for underwater photography, and shares his experiences and tips with newcomers.

The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?

For me, the most memorable shot so far is of a blue whale’s tale as it disappeared down into the blue depths off the coast of Sri Lanka. This was on a 2017 dive trip to photograph them, and it stood out as it was my first encounter.

I entered the water in front of this whale, and I dived as it did, but once under this amazing being, I forgot the camera in my hands as the shear amazement and awe was overwhelming. I just floated in the water column watching it until that voice in my head said, “SHOOT, SHOOT!” I did just that, but only capturing this whale’s tail. Regardless, the whole experience makes this very memorable.

whale tail
"That voice in my head said, “SHOOT, SHOOT!” © Wayne Jones

Your first underwater shot?

My first underwater shot was back at the tender age of about 14. With a Nikonos IV underwater camera, I took a picture of a fish! However, in my reignited passion in underwater photography, my first shot was at Balicasag Island and was a “reefscape” shot with a Canon 5D Mark III in Aquatica housing. I really didn’t know what to do on both occasions apart from hope, point and shoot. Unfortunately, I can’t find either of those pictures.

What camera equipment are you currently using?

I am presently using an Aquatica housing with a sweet Canon 5D Mark IV camera inside. Lighting comes from a pair of Sea&Sea YS-250pros as well as a Sea&Sea YS-D2 with Retra snoot mounted between them. The Canon 100mm lens with 37mm of extension tubes internally, and a Nauticam SMC diopter with multiplier externally, provides the magnification for my general super-macro setup.

Where is your favourite dive destination?

As I am based in Anilao, Philippines, macro/super-macro are my go-to, and I really enjoy it. The macro world is an amazing place and here in Anilao, the immense diversity and constantly changing environment brings new photographic opportunities by the month ­– or even weekly. So, while I may be a little biased, Anilao is on the top of my places to dive for macro.

Tubbataha is a magical place for wide angle and the protection offered in this 130,000-hectare marine sanctuary (since the late 1970s) has allowed it to return to a very health state. The prolific marine life, including many shark species and other larger vertebrates, as well as schooling fish and reefscapes, make this one of my favourite wide-angle underwater photography locations.

The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?

As underwater photographers, we all have that “fantasy” dive location – that place that seems so blissfully wild and encapsulating that we must have a taste. But I now find myself constantly upgrading as I observe the myriad new and amazing locations and marine life photographed there. Thus my present “dive and photograph” that I simply must do is the orcas and humpbacks in Norway. After my encounter in Sri Lanka with the beautifully huge blue whales and gregariously rampaging sperm whales, I have a yearning for the BIG stuff!

"After my encounter in Sri Lanka with the beautifully huge blue whales and gregariously rampaging sperm whales, I have a yearning for the BIG stuff!" © Wayne Jones

Any advice that you’d like to give to aspiring underwater photographers?

While I have not been an underwater photographer for that long, I have acquired almost 3,000 dives, which must equate to some 90,000 photos captured, give or take a few thousand. I have achieved a few awards too, including coming fourth in the World Shootout 2017: silver award in the macro category for 2017, and second place in the portrait category for Ocean Geographic Picture of the Year 2017.

That’s just to name a few, and as such, I must be doing something right. This “something” is my way, and while I still learn from others, I invariably find my way of doing things and adopt my own style. That said, at the same time I always strive to stay fluid, flexible and adaptable to new ideas and situations. One thing that a skilled underwater photographer and friend told me – and this relates to our sharing platforms on social media – has stuck with me: “Never post a photo that is not (equal to or) better than the last.” With this resonating in my head, I am always pushing that little bit harder each time, and this has become my Golden Rule.

sperm whale picture
Wayne moves in closer to take a shot of the sperm whales © Kin Soon Cheong

Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?

That one shot I long for is the shot I will never have, and for this I am thankful because I will always try, I will always search, and I will always fail… What I am talking about is the “perfect shot”, and as we know, perfection is unachievable! But, it is the light at the end of that never-ending tunnel of life that keeps me going.

The opportunity to be able to dive, photograph and share this amazingly beautiful place is the highlight of this short fleeting moment called “my life”. However, it is sad that the low point is still to come. The reckless abandonment of Nature is a travesty – of “biblical proportions” – that will destroy us. As divers and underwater photographers, we are ambassadors of the ocean. In our role, we must show the way to others and conduct ourselves in such a way that we respect the ocean and the amazing inhabitants therein.

The man himself out on the boat with his camera © Kin Soon Cheong

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