Saturday, July 31, 2010

PADI Digital Underwater Photographer Course

Once I had completed the, let’s be honest, somewhat stressful Rescue Diver course, I could focus on my next goal – underwater digital photography! I had been looking forward to this course for a few months and had high hopes that it would be better than the photography adventure dive I did for my Advanced Open Water back in January at a different resort. That resort had let my friend Mark and me use our Olympus Tough cameras for the dive. The thing is, those cameras are only waterproof to 10 meters and, when diving, we routinely go to 20 or 30 meters. Mark’s LED screen malfunctioned after just a few pictures and I spent the whole dive more attuned to my depth gauge to make sure I didn’t go below 10 meters than I did to my photos. Never mind the fact that we didn’t even get any tips on how to take good underwater photos.

I’m pleased to say that the PADI Digital Underwater Photographer course at Two Fish was much, much better than my previous foray into underwater photography. First of all, I spent an entire afternoon studying the PADI manual where I learned about the usefulness of such things as histograms and manual white balance. The next day, after having gone over the knowledge reviews with my instructor, Abraham, I had a land lesson on how to use the resort’s camera, a Canon Digital IXUS 100 IS, in its underwater housing. Abraham gave me assignments around the resort to practice using the ISO and exposure settings, as well as the digital zoom to get close ups of macro subjects. After successfully taking pictures of my room key, ants on a log and various other things, I was ready to take the camera diving.

The course included two dives with just Abraham and me. He pointed out some interesting subjects and let me take my sweet time adjusting the camera settings and trying different angles. What a luxury to be a photographer alone with a guide! I made the most of my dives but I was hungry for more practice so I rented the camera for three more days of fun diving. After each day of diving, I sat down with Abraham so he could critique my photos and show me how by adjusting contrast, brightness, midtones and saturation with Microsoft Office Picture Manager, I could easily make an OK photo pretty decent (and not have to spend a fortune on Photoshop). But the biggest lesson I learned from him was to get close, fill the frame with an interesting subject and try to get the best picture you can from the camera so there’s less to fix later.

Here are some of my favorite shots:

Thank you Abraham for getting me started on my new hobby! I can’t wait to buy a camera and continue taking pictures of the magnificent world under the sea.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

PADI Rescue Diver Course

We were lounging around the dive boat during a surface interval when a diver surfaced about 20 meters from the boat, panicked that his buddy had gone missing. Luke and Meagan strapped on their fins and swam out to bring the panicked diver back to the boat. I stayed on the boat and started to the gear ready for our search. With the panicked diver back on shore, the three of us grabbed on to a reel line and started to conduct a methodological search of the area where the diver was last seen. Luke spotted the missing diver first and tugged three times on our rope to get our attention. We found the diver unresponsive in about 6 meters of water trapped under a fallen log. I lifted the log off the diver while Luke and Meagan brought the diver to the surface. Luke started rescue breathing while Meagan set to work loosening the diver’s weight belt and I positioned myself at the diver’s feet and helped push him back to the boat. Once we were near the boat, I took over giving rescue breaths while the others scrambled to organize lifting the unresponsive diver onto the boat by strapping two empty weight belts around his torso. On the boat, Meagan initiated CPR while Luke started hooking up the oxygen. After I few minutes, I took over CPR and then our instructor ended the exercise.

This exercise was the final scenario for my PADI Rescue Diver course. Meagan, from South Africa and Luke, from California, were also staying at Two Fish Divers Bunaken and were doing the Rescue Diver course as a prerequisite for their PADI Divemaster course. We had spent the previous few days learning and practicing different rescue techniques with our instructor and had also completed a full day Emergency Responder course, which certified us in first aid and CPR. The above exercise combined all of our new skills into one elaborate scenario. The course reminded me very much of my lifeguard training in high school – except that it really emphasized working together as a team, whereas my lifeguard training gave us high stress individual scenarios. I still shudder to think of those days quaking with fear while waiting to be summoned to the pool deck from the locker room. This course was much better and I do think it helped make me a more confident diver.

Meagan and Luke are continuing on with their divemaster course and hope to find jobs as divemasters afterward, maybe in Malaysia. The victim in our rescue scenario, Ben, and his girlfriend, Tash, are also at Bunaken to complete their divemaster course. In fact, I was the only one out of the five of us NOT doing the full divemaster course, but it got me thinking. Becoming a divemaster would help me refine my diving skills even more and give me the option of perhaps staying on in South East Asia after my fellowship for a while to lead trips and get a lot of diving in. It’s a fun possibility to think about, but I still think of myself as too much of a novice diver to even consider leading trips at the moment.  Now that I’ve reached my goals of becoming a Rescue Diver AND logging 100 dives, my next immediate goals are to log 200 dives and become a PADI Master Diver by completing five specialty courses by summer 2011. 

My 100th dive!!