By J.A. Warren
I came to the 2019 Roatan Underwater Photo Festival a photography novice. My first year of diving was spent refining my performance in the water. It wasn’t until I completed my Rescue certification that I added a camera to my dive kit. Land-lubber friends were the first to encourage me to document and share what I was seeing underwater. But soon I began to chafe at the limitations of the GoPro. I needed to zoom, I needed more control.
I purchased an Olympus Tough TG-5 and underwater housing. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to use it.
I had the excellent fortune of meeting Brandi Mueller, a professional underwater photographer and co-host of #ruwpf, who encouraged me to come to the festival despite my lack of experience. Mike R at Ikelite advised me on the required equipment for my tiny camera, and Bob Herb, the Photography Pro at Subway Sports at Turquoise Bay Resort patiently walked me through set-ups. Several times.
Group photo from the Roatan Underwater Photo Fest 2019.
Given my green-ness, for the first day I discarded the strobe and used the Ikelite Gamma light with a diffuser attachment so I could learn more about using light underwater. Things began to change in the viewfinder. Suddenly I was seeing colors, real reds, sharper focus, and the tiny details of the reef and various creatures.
Then I came upon a fish swimming inside a barrel sponge. She seemed to be enjoying her secret spot, flipping over and over, then peeking over the top, and then going back to turning enviably easy summersaults. She didn’t appear to be bothered by the light (a worry for me as I didn’t want to hurt anything in the water) so I took about ten shots before leaving her to her gymnastics.
Co-host Andrew Raak reviewed my images and immediately zoned in on this one. I’m a graphic designer by trade, but underwater photography retouching is a whole different beast. Andrew shared some tips and tricks, such as rotating the original image 90 degrees, cropping to focus in on the subject, refining the edges of the sponge, sharpening the sides, and bringing out the playful personality that I had seen in the water.
I shot a fish in a barrel. And I won the Compact Camera Category at the 2019 Roatan Under Water Photo Festival on the first try.
A Fish in a Barrel, shot with Olympus TG-5, Ikelite Housing, Ikelite Action Tray, Ikelite Gamma Light with Diffuser. By J. A. Warren. Roatan, November 2019.
Back to those land-lubber friends of mine. For the past year, they’ve been viewing my videos shot with a basic camera. So many of them are now intrigued, interested, and curious about the underwater world. Some are considering diving themselves. Some may never get to do so, but they are thinking about the oceans and the health of the reefs. I’m hoping to share more now that I have better equipment and to keep growing as underwater photographer, and encourage others to grow their interest in the oceans. Roatan Underwater Photo Festival may have been jumping into the deep end of the pool, but it was a great start to the next stage of my diving journey.