Super Course, Super Coach
By Marty Hoffman
To travel and dive with a good friend who is also an inspiration and a great source of help is a joy unequaled. That is how people feel about traveling and diving with Cathy Church. She becomes a good friend right away because she cares about each person-she is ready to help, she is sympathetic to their problems, she is excited about their triumphs and she laughs at their jokes. Add to this an incredible store of underwater photography knowledge and you have a unique travel companion.
An important ingredient for each trip are the people Cathy and her husband, Herb Rafael, accept for their trips. They try to get to know each participant in advance and look for people who are easy to get along with and who take their good times with them. They enjoy people who are fun to be with, so all nice people, photographers and non-photographers alike, are welcome to join their friendly group.
Cathy is known around the world for the way she helps everyone with everything from emergency repairs to exposure questions. Underwater, she will even put her own camera aside to make sure everyone gets a good opportunity to see and photograph the special creatures. On Bilikiki tours she offers a free five day photo course that includes daily lectures, critiques and in-water help.
Herb manages all the travel arrangements, including air, baggage, overnight stays, add-on land tours and the social calendar. Herb and Cathy think nothing of taking the entire group out for dinner and drinks. They do lots of the little things that make a trip special, such as giving T-shirts to the guests and the crew, bringing party favors for birthdays and sending out group photos after the trip. No one makes being a tour leader such a complete profession!
If you are interested in improving your underwater photography, there is no better photo course than Cathy's week-long Super Courses at Sunset House Hotel in Grand Cayman.
There are three elements to these great courses-learning, superb service and lots of good humor. The courses start on arrival day, cameras are checked out and the basic talk starts with "This is the front of the camera and this..."
Topics quickly advance to the basics of composition and the subtleties of a scene to get the best possible photograph.
Throughout the week Cathy uses lecture, critique and lots of individual help above and underwater in a systematic approach to assure that everyone realizes his/her best potential. In logical fashion she covers ambient light, flash fill, close-up, wide angle, multiple strobes and, of course, buoyancy and balance underwater with a camera. While several of the equipment talks center on the Nikonos system, Cathy also teaches those with the Nikonos RS, Sea & Sea systems and housed cameras.
The service is incredible-your gear is carried for you to and from the boat. During each three hour dive, you simply go to the stern of the boat where a dry photo instructor will change film, lens or batteries, while two other instructors change your tank and offer you marvelous snacks and soft drinks.
Cathy and another instructor are in the water with the group, helping with camera settings, critters, posing or whatever else is needed.
On close-up day, Herb brings a tame angelfish right into your close-up kit framer for a stunning portrait. On the grotto dive, Cathy takes you to the site where her signature print, "Light Beams at Devil's Grotto," was shot. On the wall dive they will help you with lots of subjects Cathy herself has immortalized.
And at just the right moment, in between all the serious stuff, you'll find yourself enjoying a laugh. This is not a school with tests and competition. And, graduation night is like nothing you have seen before. Cathy balances the emphasis on learning and getting great photos with having fun on a wonderful vacation.