2001-05 Masterclass-Shooting with the Pros

by Jim Church

The massive, three-level camera table sits empty. The dive deck is momentarily quiet. A rare moment of silence and contemplation before the guests begin to arrive.

Soon the dive table is crowded with underwater cameras—both still and video. Some of the divers fiddle with their equipment, others mingle and chat, anxious to weigh anchor and begin the adventure—and the learning. These divers have come halfway around the world to the undersea nirvana of Palau for an underwater photo course. In the middle of the group, Stan Waterman, a renowned photographer/videographer who will be teaching alongside me, has already started telling stories.

Students come with a variety of experience levels. Some have just purchased their equipment and want to get a good grasp
on the basics. Others arrive ex-pecting to hone their skills with a few secrets from the pros.

Live-aboards, such as the Palau Aggressor, are ideal floating classrooms for an underwater photography course. Your stateroom, dining room, classroom, camera table, light boxes and television are just minutes away from the dive site. Using the schedule of a recent underwater still and video course taught by Stan Waterman and myself, let me tell you what you can expect.

School begins before the first dive of the morning, with brief overviews and a short (12 to 17 minute) slide show, followed by discussions on strobes, lenses, metering, close-ups, shooting divers and underwater photo composition. After the questions are answered, the divers hit the water to practice.

Later in the day, the instruction becomes more personal. Stan and I work with individuals and small groups with different interests, while others use the tables to work on their equipment, or dub and edit videos at the computer station in the forward lounge.

When Stan is aboard, the evenings are special. A master entertainer, Stan plays one or more of his video productions. Then, he explains the story-building techniques that he uses, such as introductions, transitions, endings and much more. His instruction is humorous and sugar-coated.
For the diving, the aspiring U/W photographers board the 32-foot covered skiff at deck level. The ride to the dive site is usually less than 10 minutes. Two or three local divemasters help students find subjects they are interested in capturing. Some DMs specialize in finding the big stuff—rays, sharks and pelagic fish. Others are the “eagle eyes” who can always find the tiny critters.

Throughout the week, Stan and I observe the students and help correct errors on the spot—underwater.

By the end of the week, the budding U/W photographers have usually blossomed in some way. And, more importantly, the groups often develop close friendships with both the instructors and other students that extend beyond the end of the trip. I even see students on other charters, traveling and refining their skills with their newfound shutter-buddies.

While this article focuses on a specific course with two specific instructors on a specific vessel, other quality live-aboard photo/video courses do exist—aboard Aggressors and other vessels.

For more information about courses featuring Stan and/or Jim, go to www.aggressor.com, and click on celebrity charters.