It -again- has been quiet here.
A lot has been going on in the past months and although I’ve been doing a lot of internet stuff, I haven’t updated this blog very much.

I’ve tried one of those 365-day challenges before, but that didn’t really work out. This time, though, I think I can pull it off.

You’ll see a few repeats, from a few posts that I posted awhile ago, but there’ll be lot of new material passing by. Enjoy!

Today is day 1.

Stony coral – isopora palifera
Photographed at approximately 4 meters depth.

Stony coral - Isopora palifera

D800 in Ikelite housing, ISO100, 1/500 sec @ f/11, Sigma 15mm fisheye, Ikelite DS161 strobe

I’m trying my best to get the names right, but if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments section.

My Better Half bought me a GoPro Hero3+ for my birthday (that’s already a while ago, but a lot has happened in the past months).
I tried videography with my D800, but I must honestly admit it is not my thing. It’s too bulky and too much of a hassle, and really, my heart’s not in it. I’m a still photographer.
But with the GoPro things are very good, very easy, not a hassle and especially now that I’m diving so much, the GoPro is quick and easy to take a long.

But there we ran into the problem. On land the GoPro is fabulous. Fantastic colors. But in the water, as soon as you get below 3-4 meters everything turns blue.
I’m kind of at a loss that GoPro themselves doesn’t supply the necessary filters with this. They supply the craziest things as accessories with the little camera, and Hero3(+) comes by default in a waterproof housing. So you’d think that the good people at GoPro made this thing to go under water.
I started Googling red filters for GoPro. A couple of hits came out of that, but the one that stood out for me was the PolarPro link.
I was a bit hesitant at first, but decided to go for the Switchblade, which is a combination of red filter and macro filter.

And see here. The difference is remarkable.

The video above was a quick test just for the sake of showing the difference with filter and without filter. It was shot at about 5 meters depth.
It works really great between about 4-15 meters. When you go deeper, the effect of the loss of light will be heavier, and the red filter won’t be able to compensate as much as it would at shallower depths. The compensation will stay closer to the camera and further away the blue will still come out.
But nonetheless, it really works wonders.

Being a photographer, and having much experience with macro photography, I must say that the macro filter doesn’t do much for me personally. There is a slight difference, but just slightly. Close focusing will still render the video out of focus.
Now when I go out with the GoPro I will just leave both the red filter AND macro filter on. It doesn’t make much of a difference anyway.

Customer service
Initially getting the package was quite an operation.
I’m at the moment located in quite a remote location and having the package sent over proved to be quite a challenge. The postal service in this place is marginal at best, and delivery of anything seems to be subject to the mood of the post man. So when, after a month, I still hadn’t received the package, I contacted PolarPro and asked them about it. Since I hadn’t received a tracking number, I had no way of tracing the package myself. But they could, and I was told that the package had been stuck in customs.
But no worries, they would resend a new package with DHL, and it should arrive in 5 days (“yeah, right”, I thought). And indeed, 5 days later the package arrived. I had to pay some taxes and duties, but I had my package.
And I was eager to try. The next day I wanted to give it a try, and to my (unpleasant) surprise I found that the filter did not fit the Hero3+. The package read SwitchBlade 3+, and I ordered it from the Hero3+ accessory section of the website, but after inquiring again with PolarPro we found out that this really was the filter for the Hero3, which has a slightly different case around the lens. It’s still unclear how this mistake occurred, but the great people at PolarPro did not hesitate to send a new package, again with DHL, and sure enough 5 days later the new package arrived. And this one did fit.

PolarPro requested I return the other filter, which in any other case I would happily do, but like I mentioned before, the location I’m in is quite limited with its services, and right now even the ferries to and from the island are mostly out of service (until further notice). It would cost me two days and about 200US$ (excluding sending the package) to get to a location to return the package from.
I wrote PolarPro a mail and explained this to them. I told them if it was possible they would just charge my credit card for the extra filter (it was only 60US$), because that would be way cheaper for me in the end.

I promptly received a mail back from them telling me to never mind, it was ok. No need to worry about anything, no need to pay or return anything, and thank you for shopping with us.

You want customer service?
This is it.
This is the kind of customer service any company can set as an example.
This is the kind of customer service I haven’t received in a very long time.

Thank you, PolarPro!

So since a couple of months I’m a PADI dive instructor.
Diving was love at first sight for me. I’m sure everyone who’s diving for the first time is in awe of what they see. I’ve talked about it before, and I could keep on repeating myself all the time. Underwater photos are beautiful, but until you see it yourself for real, you won’t “get it”. As a long time photographer it was a privilege to be able to see this and to be able to start photographing this.

When I started the PADI dive instructor course I knew there was also a digital underwater photography specialty.
Having photographed for hobby since I was 12, and professionally for about a decade now, and having taught photography, Photoshop and Lightroom courses, I knew that I would also want to teach underwater photography. And through an official institute like PADI that would be a fantastic way! I’ve seen people photograph with their pocket cameras on full auto and getting these all-blue, shaken photographs as opposed to something that could’ve been a potentially great picture had they known a bit more about the technique and the settings of their camera.

So… I spent a bucketful of money to do the IDC (Instructor Development Course) and we crammed 10 Specialty Instructor Courses in a few days to get us going (the underwater photography one wasn’t part of it, unfortunately) and I was told that you could get additional Specialty Instructor licenses on the merit of proven experience. So I was not in the slightest worried about my possibilities.
Already before I started the IDC I had over 40 logged dives with underwater camera, I have a portfolio full of underwater images, I have practiced and taught photography (practiced for over 20 years and taught for about 5 years), so after passing my IDC, and passing the Specialty Instructor Courses, I wrote PADI an email, confident that I would be able to add the Underwater Photography to my list of specialties.

But, to my surprise I received an email back.
“You can apply for the Specialty Instructor certification after you’ve certified 25 divers.”

So I wrote an email back.
“I’m sorry, but did you check the link to my portfolio? Did you see that I have taught photography and that I have over 40 logged dives with my camera? Doesn’t that prove I have the necessary experience to do this specialty?”

And I get an email again from PADI.
“You haven’t certified any divers yet. You can apply for the Specialty Instructor certification after you’ve certified 25 divers.”

Now… I know what they mean.
Once I’ve certified 25 divers, I can apply for the Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT), which is the next level after Open Water Scuba Instructor (OWSI).
An MSDT can teach ANY specialty course, regardless of whether he knows anything about it or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I think PADI is a great institute. They’ve developed a fantastic concept to bring people close to scuba diving and to allow them to experience it without having to go through months and months of studying and practicing.
But the rules for the Specialty Courses are just hypocrite.
I’m a Specialty Instructor for 10 Specialties (I paid about US$600 to get the license to teach these specialties), which we did in a few days. I can teach them, because I can dive and because I can read the study material. Not because I am an expert on those things (of course I know “enough” in order to teach them, but really, barely).
And there I am. Professional photographer. Portfolio full of images. Proven record of dives. Taught photography before. I know more about photography than my three IDC instructors combined. THEY are allowed to teach it. I’m not. Not because I don’t know the first thing about photography, but because I haven’t certified enough divers.
That’s a good load of bullshit, if you ask me.

When I get my 25 certifications, I can teach ALL specialties, even the ones I’ve never followed a course for. Even the ones I know shit about. Why? Because I certified 25 divers.

I’m sorry PADI, but you have your head up your ass with this one.

Of course I don’t need PADI’s permission to teach underwater photography. I can do whatever I want, really.
I just think it would be nice for my students if I could tell them they were certified by a world renown institute for the course that they take with me.
Having finished a course with PADI sounds maybe a bit more impressive than having finished a course with Arno (of course the quality is the same high-standard ;) ).

Porcelain crab

Porcelain crab. Just for illustration with the article. To PADI it doesn’t matter what ISO, exposure time or aperture was used…

Having been in the graphic business for over two decades, I look at things differently than your average guy would, I guess.
And I’ve seen quite a few weird and bad Photoshop jobs pass my desk.
Sometimes you wonder “but… but… HOW??? WHAT were they thinking??” Also sometimes you look at something and you simply KNOW there’s something odd, but you can’t really put your finger on it, because it’s not all THAT clear from the start.

Yesterday I was flying from Denpasar to Manila, a 4 hour flight. Cebu Pacific (excellent company, I’ve flown with them many many times!) has their own in-flight magazine, as many carriers do, and of course there’s plenty of advertising in it. I finished my book, so I had plenty of time to scrupulously go through the whole magazine. And really, when you look at things closely, there’s a surprising amount of really shitty Photoshop work out there.

There was one with a swimming pool, where people and chairs were copy-pasted in, with reflections and shadows in every which (wrong) way, dwarfs and giants living harmoniously together, there were really REALLY bad masking jobs, and so on.
I picked out one of many for you that caught my eye specifically.

This one, supposedly a very upscale real estate company, hired one of Philippines’ most famous models to pose in their imagery. Look how she’s holding on tight with one hand on the railing of the speed boat and with the other hand on the glass of wine.
Oh, but hang on…

Real estate advertisement

Real estate advertisement, copyright belongs to the respective owners.
Snapshot of the advertisement page in Cebu Pacific Air’s in-flight magazine.

Details of the real estate advertisement

Details of the real estate advertisement

So basically every element in this adverts is copy-pasted to make this composite of images. And it’s done badly.

I kept on snickering when I paged through the magazine. The people sitting next to me probably thought I was pretty weird :D

We had the luck to be on Bali during Nyepi, Silence Day.
I have some images of the parade, not the spectacle in the end, because health got in the way, but some pictures I have. They’re in the edit queue.

But what I didn’t want to keep from you was this:

Milky Way

D800, ISO3200, 15 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 14mm

The parade is the night before Silence Day, and on Silence Day everyone is… silent. Yes. No one is allowed to work, no one is really even allowed to leave the house. No lights are allowed to be on, save for maybe some small candles (I’ll tell a bit more about Nyepi in the other post with the parade pictures).
And that makes this kind of photography fantastic. Absolutely no light pollution and the Universe at your feet. There are SO many stars visible, it’s hard to fathom. And the Milky Way is right there, at the tip of your fingers.

It’s breath-taking, it’s beyond words. To enjoy this in silence, to enjoy the silence of this.