To inspire others and to save the oceans, scuba divers must connect life above the water to the gorgeous beauty below the waves. Underwater photography is the key to this connection. Without it, landlubbers would have no idea of the intricacy of coral reefs or the oddities found on a sandy bottom.
As divers, we realize from day 1 that the underwater world is worth seeing. We wouldn’t keep diving if we didn’t think it was. But the only way to capture that feeling is on a digital camera. With today’s invention of compact cameras which can reach 50 feet (15 meters) or more, this process is easier than ever. In addition, editing software, dive cases, strobes and filters mean our underwater images keep getting better and better. So why not add underwater photography to your scuba diving hobby?
Whether you’re already a pro or are just starting out, the ten following sites are our favorites for underwater snaps. Of course, depending on conditions and your luck, any site can make a wonderful photograph.
1 Pelagic Magic – Kona, Hawaii
Nerve wracking yet beautiful, black-water diving was first invented in Hawaii. It involves being tied to the bottom of the boat and then being suspended in pitch black water. Pelagic Magic is the most common site for such diving and is located in the deep channel offshore from Kona where sea depths reach thousands of feet. However, divers are tied off at 50 feet (15 meter). As your eyes adjust to the dark, you’ll begin to see strange bioluminescent creatures like colorful jellies rise to the surface where they feed at night. With the right set-up, close photos of these rarely seen animals are possible and lead to stunning results.
Good For: Small Luminescent Creatures
When to Go: April to October
2. Breakwater Cove – Monterey Bay, California
Located in California’s famous marine hotspot, Breakwater Cove is a shore dive featuring kelp forest and a little something for everyone. The gently sloping shoreline provides a comfortable entry and exit for divers of any level. Conditions can vary significantly, and some days visibility may be no further than the end of your hand. On other days, you might be able to see 60+ feet (20 meters). Breakwater Cove has marine subjects for all types of photographer. For macro fans, the site has a nice population of nudibranchs, star fish, sun stars, octopus and anemones. Larger subjects on offer include sea lions, seals and if you are lucky mola mola, but sadly, visibility can often hinder pelagic photography.
Good For: Kelp Forest
When to Go: June to November
3. Blue Water – Vava’u Islands, Tonga
Recently, Tonga’s Vava’u Islands have become the unofficial hotspot for swimming with humpback whales. A still relatively undiscovered destination, Tonga offers you the chance to get in crystal clear water with these gentle giants. The cetaceans come to the islands to mate and give birth. Tonga affords wonderful opportunities to capture a variety of behaviors seen in the Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whales. Participants in whale watching tours will often get to encounter male whales singing, mothers resting, mothers teaching breaching to their calves and also mating competition fighting between males. Please note that the tourism industry in Tonga has highly regulated these encounters, provided some of the best animal-friendly tours on the planet.
Good For: Humpback Whales
When to Go: July to October
4. Hammerhead Shark Dive – Bimini, Bahamas
Another site for pelagic lovers, Bimini has recently become known as hammerhead heaven. During the month of February, Great Hammerheads can be found to congregate just off the island of South Bimini in the northern Bahamas. Utilizing the area’s great visibility, you can expect an up-close encounter with these giant sharks, which can reach up to 20 feet (6.1 meters) in length. As an added bonus to your hammerhead snaps, the 20-foot (6-meter) deep dive site is also usually swimming with bull sharks and nurse sharks.
Good For: Sharks
When to Go: December to February
5. USS Kittiwake – West Bay, Cayman Islands
Sat in just 65 feet (20 meters) of water, the USS Kittiwake is a purpose sunk artificial reef ideal for wreck photographers. Thanks to the shallow depth, dives can last up to 60 minutes, allowing plenty of time to photograph every stunning angle of this once salvage and rescue vessel. The 251-foot (77-meter) wreck has open holes and hatches to add ambient light and allow access to all of her decks. With 100-foot (30-meter) visibility and calm conditions, the World War II navy ship has endless photo opportunities.
Good For: Wreck Photography
When to Go: December to May
6. Police Pier – Lembeh, Indonesia
Famous for its frogfish, pipefish and thorny seahorse populations, Police Pier is regarded as one of the top muck diving sites in Indonesia. While the sandy slope site may not be as beautiful as many others, the real prize is what can be found among the sponges and patches of rubble. Orange painted frogfish, harlequin shrimp, waspfish and Banggai cardinalfish are among some of the attractions, but every dive is likely to throw up something new. Police Pier is also a popular night dive site. With the chance of seeing the rare bobbit worm, many crabs, nudibranchs and shrimps, it really is a macro photographer’s dream.
Good For: Macro Critters
When to Go: October to March and July to August
7. Cenote Dos Ojos – Tulum, México
There are several cenotes (pronounced sen-o-tays) located throughout the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. This is because of the system of flooded freshwater caves found just below the surface. Of these, Cenote Dos Ojos (a.k.a. Cenote Two Eyes) is perfect for underwater photography. With two interconnected entrances, the light play from below the surface combined with crystal clear visibility produces professional quality photographs that are sure to make all your friends jealous. Don’t expect to be the only diver under water, but enjoy the addition of other divers within your photographs. Their size will only add to the unique impression of this underwater cave. At over 50 miles (80 kilometers) in length, there are several different dive paths available and therefore thousands of possible photographic opportunities for the keen underwater photographer.
Good For: Cave Photography
When to Go: May to September
8. Museo Atlantico – Lanzarote, Spain
Jason DeCaires has been busy since he designed MUSA off the coast of Cancun. His newest venture, and the first in Europe, is the Museo Atlantico in Lanzarote Spain. Of course, we had to feature one of his underwater sculpture parks on our list of the best underwater photography destinations. The statues found here are incredibly lifelike making great artistic pics or even funny selfies. This particular underwater museum is still quite new; it was only opened in March 2016. But as the years pass, coral will begin to grow on the statues. Distorting the body shapes of the models and making them even more beautiful. In addition to improving coral growth, the underwater parks also relieve pressure from over-dived areas nearby, making the whole underwater environment healthier. It’s a win-win for coral reefs and photographers!
Good For: Sculpture Photography
When to Go: June to October
9. E6 – Bligh Water, Fiji
E-6, a favorite dive among soft coral lovers, is located in the Bligh Waters of Fiji between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The area is ripe with nutrients, making a vibrant marine ecosystem and growing some of the best soft corals in the world. One side of the seamount is covered in sea fans, while a swim-through (called the Cathedral) can produce epic photos of your dive buddies. The light that filters through also creates ethereal images of massive gorgonians and every color of soft coral. Grab your wide angle lens and dive into Fiji, the Soft Coral Capital of the World.
Good For: Soft Corals
When to Go: April to December
10. Susan’s Reef – Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea
Frequented by liveaboards traveling the waters of Papua New Guinea, Susan’s Reef is one of the most popular dive sites in Kimbe Bay. And there’s good reason for it. It boasts opportunities for both macro photography and photos of huge schools of fish, but its true calling is wide angle photography. With a fisheye lens, you can capture the walls created by the site’s two seamounts as well as the ever present pink sea whips, anemones, sea fans, soft corals and even your dive buddy in the background. With shallow depths of between 50 and 70 feet (15 and 20 meters), the light is perfect for capturing the brilliant colors of PNG. Whether you shoot with a DSLR rig or a GoPro, Susan’s Reef shouldn’t be skipped!
Good For: Wide Angle Photography
When to Go: May to November
Have you been on any of these gorgeous dives? If so, check off the bucket list feature above and share your results with your friends and tag PADI on Facebook and Twitter!
Whether you’re already a Nitrox diver or not, you’ve likely heard the benefits. Extended bottom time and reducing the need to “push” near air no decompression limits are two of the big ones. If staying down longer and getting back in the water sooner sounds like a great idea, Nitrox diving is for you.
Keep in mind that diving on Nitrox means you’re using a higher level of oxygen and a lower level of nitrogen in your tank. Because of this difference, it’s essential to gain the proper certification before diving with Nitrox. Sign up for the PADI Enriched Air Diver course to learn all about using this gas mix while scuba diving.
Once you’ve gained the proper certification, you’ll quickly enjoy the benefits of scuba diving on Nitrox. You’ll also have the chance to explore new destinations that are only practical with the use of Nitrox. Read on to discover the 11 best Nitrox diving destinations in the world.
Imagine waking up to turquoise waters, diving all day with manta rays and whale sharks, then enjoying a gourmet meal on your own private sandbank. Sounds like paradise, right? That’s the Maldives, and it’s every bit as good as it sounds. This scuba diving paradise has been attracting visitors for years, and thanks to decreased regulations, the country has become even more welcoming in the last decade. However, dives that average 50 feet/16 meters or more combined with several dives per day make these islands an ideal Nitrox diving destination.
An off-the-beaten path alternative to the northern section of the Red Sea, Egypt’s St. Johns, Daedalus, Brothers, Fury Shoals and Elphinstone are epic diving destinations. On the whole, these shark-filled sites are suitable for advanced divers and only reachable by liveaboard. Many operators require a minimum of 30 dives logged for liveaboard patrons, and because the dive profiles tend to be deeper and prolonged, Nitrox is recommended. Diving in the Deep South is year-round, but September to November and April to June are considered the best months.
342 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica lies Cocos Island. Famous for its scalloped hammerhead shark encounters, you’ll need a liveaboard to take you to this amazing diving destination. Heavy current also attracts other pelagics, such as mobula rays, manta rays and the occasional whale shark. Because of the number of dives per day and the advanced dive profiles, Nitrox is heavily recommended for this trip. The best time to go is from June to December.
Who doesn’t have the Galapagos Islands on their bucket list? Famous among divers and non-divers, this destination offers incredible scuba diving and dramatic scenery. View blue-footed boobies, penguins and marine iguanas above the water, then dive with hammerheads, rays and whale sharks under the waves. The best time to visit the Galapagos is from June to December. Furthermore, most divers will want to take a liveaboard trip in the Galapagos in order to visit the famed Wolf and Darwin Islands. If you intend to make multiple dives at either of those destinations, you’ll definitely want to use Nitrox for your enjoyment.
Also known as the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Socorro Islands are one of the best liveaboard diving destinations in the world. The currents surrounding these lonely islands attract manta rays, humpback whales and hammerhead sharks. Recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this destination is definitely worth the 24 hour sail from the mainland. The best time to dive Socorro is from November to May. Furthermore, the fact that you are miles from shore, diving multiple times per day and diving to more than 50 feet/15 meters on several dives makes Nitrox a natural choice for the Revillagigedo Archipelago.
Home to over 17,000 islands, Indonesia offers some of the best liveaboard diving in the world. Raja Ampat, in particular, is a fan favorite. Well known for its colorful corals, this part of Indonesia is perfect for divers who love clear blue water filled with pelagics, tropical fish and weird critters. October to April constitutes diving season in Raja Ampat, but many dive operators function year round. The 200+ dive sites here can be accessed by dive resorts or from a liveaboard. In addition, most of these resorts and boats offer Nitrox filling facilities.
An amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha Reef Natural Park is home to 600 species of fish, 300 species of coral, 11 species of shark and 13 whale and dolphin species. It’s located 150 kilometres/93 miles southeast of Puerto Princesa in the Philippines and is therefore only reachable by liveaboard. There are so many pristine dive sites here that you’ll want to get as much bottom time as possible during your week trip. Consequently, the use of Nitrox is highly recommended. The only time you can visit Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is from mid-March to mid-June.
A rare scuba diving destination in that it offers a little bit of everything, Palau is wild and beautiful. Wrecks, sheer walls, high-speed drifts and blue holes all add up to one gorgeous diving destination. Under the surface, you’ll see lots of sharks as well as any number of tropical fish. To get the most out of any diving trip to the area, you’ll want to book a liveaboard, and you’ll want to ensure you’re using Nitrox on all your dives. The best time to visit Palau is from November to June.
A lonely rock in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Malpelo Island is located 310 miles from the Colombian mainland. It might look like a barren place, but at depth, scuba divers can swim with 200 to 300 hammerhead sharks and hundreds of silky sharks. Whale sharks, eagle rays, tuna, sailfish and sometimes whales visit this underwater ridge, too. The only way to reach Malpelo is by liveaboard, and diving is possible year-round. However, to see the most hammerhead sharks, schedule your trip between January and May. In addition, Nitrox is included in all of the liveaboards traveling to the island at the time of publication. With the deep dive profiles and extended dives, using Nitrox is a no brainer.
If you love marine megafauna, you’ll love diving in Tofo, Mozambique. The plankton rich waters attract whale sharks, manta rays and even humpback whales throughout the year. Divers who have completed the Enriched Air Diver course will want to take full advantage of the Nitrox offered in Mozambique. Because of the area’s landscape, most of the dive sites reach 100 feet, so Nitrox will help you maximize your bottom time. November to April is considered high season in Tofo, Mozambique.
Until recently, Turks & Caicos was thought of as the little sister to the Bahamas, but more recently, it has become a thriving destination of its own. Divers who come to the islands can spot turtles, dolphins, reef sharks and even hammerheads or tiger sharks. Many of the dive sites in Turks & Caicos are walls that drop to hundreds if not thousands of meters. Nitrox will certainly help you explore these walls to the fullest. Just be careful about the depth limits for the particular mix you are using. The best time to dive in the Turks & Caicos is from November to May although the diving is excellent year-round.
There’s more to scuba than that magical weightless feeling and seeing amazing creatures in their natural habitat. There are also a ton of fun games you can play in scuba or snorkel gear. Here are our ten favorites:
Underwater BINGO/scavenger hunt Using a laminated BINGO card or waterproof list, divers search for objects underwater. The objects can be poker chips hidden in a wreck, or natural objects like a sleeping octopus, a rock that looks like an egg, etc. For natural objects, divers snap a pic with an underwater camera in lieu of removal.
Spoon Race There are a few variations on the spoon race, but the basic premise is balance an object on (or under) a spoon and swim as fast as you can without losing it. In this video from Utlia Dive Center, divers balance eggs on a spoon as they race to the finish line. Another option is to use an upside down spoon to keep a ping pong ball from escaping to the surface. For an added challenge, divers can try to hand off the egg or ping pong ball to a partner – relay race style.
Underwater Darts Divers can test their skill at hitting an underwater target using a toypedo or other throwable object. For an added challenge, try tossing the toypedo while hovering.
Underwater Hockey Underwater hockey is played in a pool with snorkel gear and curved sticks that are only a foot (.3m) long. World championships take place every two years and with approximately 25 different countries vying for the title. A more extreme version was played upside down under ice.
Poker Run/Underwater Poker Tournament Using specially-made waterproof playing cards, scuba divers can enjoy many common card games on an extended surface interval, as part of an underwater poker tournament, or by participating in a poker run. During an underwater poker run, divers navigate to different checkpoints where they receive a playing card. After visiting all the stops, the diver has a poker hand that may win them prizes. Conniving buddy pairs have been known to exchange cards to create an ideal hand before surfacing. If organizing a poker run, make a unique mark on the cards for each stop (a red dot for the cards handed out at the first stop, a green dot for cards from stop number two, etc.), or record what card each diver receives, so they can’t be easily swapped.
Underwater Rugby Fans of underwater rugby call it “the only 3D sport.” Besides being a contact sport, underwater rugby does not have a lot in common with topside rugby, but both are fun to watch. In underwater rugby, players attempt to put a saltwater-filled ball into a basket anchored to the bottom of the pool. Anyone with the ball can be “attacked,” but must be released if they lose contact with the ball. Players are prohibited from blocking the goal (by sitting in the basket, or laying on top of it), but they may actively prevent the ball from going into the basket by grabbing the ball, the opposing player’s arm, etc.
Obstacle Course Swimming through a suspended hula hoop is one of the fun activities you may try as part of the Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty course, and it’s also a great component to an underwater obstacle course. Swimming through a web of bungee cords or criss-crossing PVC pipe can also be a fun challenge. For advanced divers, create a passageway that requires the scuba unit to be removed and push it in front of them. To ensure this activity is fun and safe, ensure there are safety divers accompanying participants ready to provide assistance and an additional air supply.
Underwater pumpkin carving contests are a popular activity conducted in lakes, quarries and oceans throughout North America. Check out these helpful underwater pumpkin carving tips from our friends at DAN.
Video: Jay Maxwell
Underwater Running As divers, we like to feel as though we’re one with the fish – gliding along effortlessly and moving with the current. But have you ever tried propelling yourself underwater the same way you do on land? Hand your fins to a buddy and try “running” along the bottom of a pool. It’s even harder (and funnier) than you might imagine. For added hahas, challenge another buddy pair to a race across the pool.
Find New Depths for Your Favorite Games Chess, checkers, dominos, even tic-tac-toe on a dive slate becomes infinitely more challenging when buoyancy is involved. Use weighted playing pieces and have each player hover for the entirety of the game.
You’re a newly certified PADI Open Water Diver but soon enough you discover that many exciting dives are out of range for you: too deep, too cold, etc. But, never fear! If you’re not yet enrolled on a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course there are still plenty of exciting dives open to you. Here’s my selection of extraordinary dives that remain in the 18m depth range. And with water above 20°C, a little motivation can’t hurt, right?
Wreck diving in Valletta, Malta
Malta has a wide choice of shipwrecks to dive all around its main island and for all level of scuba divers. In the area of its elegant capital city, Valletta, there are a few tugboats that make perfect first experiences of wreck diving in a safe environment. To my biggest surprise, you can also dive right down the fortified walls of Valletta on the HMS Maori shipwreck, a WWII destroyer from the British Navy. Remember however, without your Wreck Diver Specialty it is not advised to penetrate the wrecks.
The sardine run of Moalboal, The Philippines
If the famous Sardine Run in the cold waters of South Africa remains out of your reach because of experience and budget, you can go to the warm water of the Philippines instead. On the island of Cebu, you can see enormous shoals of sardines swirling and shining in the sun. There is no specific season to look at the sardines in Moalboal, and there is still some mystery as to where they will appear next. They used to be around Pescador Island, and now they are near Panagsama Beach, so you just need to go shore diving to find yourself surrounded by millions of sardines, how exciting!
Archaeological diving in Baia Underwater Park, Italy
While all tourists are flocking to Pompeii when visiting Naples in southern Italy, if you are a scuba diver you can take your discovery of the Roman history to a different level. In Baia, below the surface, lies an ancient complex including villas, statues, thermae and a trade road. You will need to use some imagination to turn the remaining foundations into the magnificent villas that used to stand in Baia. The jewel of the visit is the intact mosaic floor of the “Villa a Protiro” with its delicate black and white pattern.
Cavern diving in the cenotes of Yucatan, Mexico
The cenotes are natural freshwater cavities spread out all over the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. While some of the cenotes will remain out of reach if you are not a full cave diving trained tech diver, some cenotes such as “Gran Cenote” or “Taj Mahal” are accessible for beginners as guided dives. It is important to note that cavern diving never takes you where you cannot see the natural light anymore. You will be amazed by the light effects between the stalactites and the halocline phenomenon when fresh water meets salt water.
Diving in the submerged crater of an ancient volcano in Molokini, Hawaii
From Kihei or Maalaea, on Maui Island, you can go on scuba diving charters that are perfect for either beginners or experienced divers. The crater of Molokini is large, and there are not less than 8 dive sites. The dive sites inside the crater, including shallow “Tako Flats”, have fantastic visibility up to 40 m, it is perfect to see turtles and giant trevally passing by.
Florine is a PADI Divemaster and a Dive Travel blogger at World Adventure Divers. She dives in tropical to extreme cold waters, selecting her destinations when both adventure diving and cultural discoveries are part of the journey, and showing you how to do it without breaking the bank.
Bad day for diving? Join the world’s greatest explorers for an underwater adventure from the comfort of your sofa. Check out some of our favorite books about the ocean, scuba diving and underwater exploration.
Headed to a faraway dive destination? These page-turners will make that long flight feel a lot shorter.
The Soul of an Octopus – learn about the remarkable superpowers of this cephalopod, this book is packed with fun facts and heartfelt stories and is also available in a special audio/visual edition for Kindle.
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