January is very cold and snowy month of the year in Serbia and therefore is ideal for traveling to more warmer places such as Cayman Islands. Knowledge and new ideas are something worth traveling around the globe if you ask me, and working with one of the biggest professionals in underwater photography Dr Alex Mustard is priceless experience.
January, when mostly is snowing and temperatures are in the red, is the ideal month to go from Europe to the tropics. This is a particular pleasure that I can’t miss already for the third time in the Cayman Islands and the Digital Madness with one of the best underwater photographers in the world and also my friend – Dr Alex Mustard.
If you are not already familiar with some important details of this royal island state, here’s a chance to do so, before I describe all the photo experiences. The Cayman Islands is the British Overseas Territory located in the western Caribbean Sea. It consists of three islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, with a total area of only 264 square meters. Population is around 56,000 people.
All islands are inhabited, but the largest island of Grand Cayman is the center of all happenings. The capital is George Town a small picturesque town which is always full of tourists from the huge cruisers that are daily anchored throughout the year near the port that is reserved only for small ships and boats. Everything on the island is subordinated to scuba diving and that is one of the main things for which people visit the island in large numbers. Kindness, hospitality, humility, smiling faces of the inhabitants of this beautiful island, the immense purity and perfect enormously lush vegetation are equally important and the main features of the Cayman Islands. These are the reasons why I couldn’t wait to come again on island and be a part of this great atmosphere and I hope that there will be a lot of this visits for me in the future!
Dr Alex Mustard’s workshop – Digital Madness was held for the 13th time on the Grand Cayman and the Ocean Frontiers famous resort just like any previous time in the last 6 years. What distinguishes each of the previous years, when the workshop in question, are the new gadgets and inexhaustible details of new ideas. Besides all this and learning, people come to enjoy in every moment and are honored to be the part of Digital Madness, especially because of the great atmosphere!
As you already know this is the third time for me in Cayman Islands since 2009 and this time the workshop was somehow different, of course, in the most positive sense.
What sets it apart from previous years are g, night dives which we used to make fluorescent macro photography, macro photography in general, wide angles, as well as some new gadgets.
Every year all of us we have many new details concerning gadgets that we would like to use and try, but Alex always bring some special new details of photo equipment and ideas to try in which he excels. His gadgets are inevitable and every time I think he has nothing new to come up with, but he still amazed me every time. This year it was: five triggerfish, Glow Dive fluorescence filters which provided us to create amazing photos on the night dives – just as they dropped out of the Avatar movie (those who watched this movie will understand)! Also, Backscatter’s housing for the Go Pro Hero2 camera with custom Magic Filter, a new type of SOLA light and the PM mount that attaches to the tank and allows creating various special effects by triggering a flash on a diver himself.
This week of Digital Madness 2012 was mainly macro week (which is unusual regarding previous years when we concentrate on the wide angles) during which I had occasion to use all of the previous skills and experiences, together with the above mentioned gadgets, who have opened even more possibilities. Fluorescent macro photography is really overshadowed by its magic, especially when knowing how we obtained them – diving at night, in pitch dark when you’re not sure where you are, whether floating in the air or you’re really under water, until you press the shutter on the camera and flash take its course. What immensely impressed me this time, and I’m rarely impressed by anything, is the new “friendship” that I made in the amazing marine life and which I will long remember, with the lovely tiny underwater creatures up to 10 millimeters long, called Blennies!
Pictures tell you all again, much more than words, so you can judge yourself why I was so happy for.
The next great moment of this workshop is a one year old wreck – Kittiwake.
This ship was once used to rescue the crew of the downed submarine, and then, after various negotiations and agreement, leaders decided to sink it. That way divers of all levels got a new item in the field of diving. Kittiwake is particularly attractive to underwater photographers because it’s really beautiful wreck for photo shooting and the perfect place in terms of lighting and of course, clear texture of water that is required to Cayman. It is located on the northern part of the famous Seven Mile Beach, around 230 meters from the coast and it lies on a white sandy bottom with the lower part on 23 meters of water and 7 meters with its upper part, making it accessible to both divers and snorkelers. This wreck has already become one of the most popular diving sites in the Cayman Islands and for a reason! Its permanent inhabitants are the horse eyed jacks and also a large barracuda which patrols the stern area, as are many other underwater creatures. This wreck is like a large photo studio as you once enter you can hardly come out because there are so many details and angles for photo shooting until the last atom of nitro which is the only reason for leaving the wreck before any other perfect shot and next opportunity. Because of all this and so many possibilities that it is offering, Kittiwake is also called “the ship with a thousand faces”.
This time as usual we went to everyone’s favorite Stingray City which became an icon of the Cayman Islands a long time ago. Everyone who came to these islands must come to this underwater “city” whose main inhabitants are about 100 friendly rays that live, feed, do not change the habitat and entertain visitors every day. These graceful creatures are so accustomed to people that allow them to feed them out of hand and play with them as if they were pets. They are cuddly as long as they are not in danger – which is not happening there, because we are all still their guests on their territory. The Sandbar is inseparable to the Stingray City and it is unusually carved surface of sand (dunes) under water that is with the light transmission another perfect studio to create magical images. Another of my favorite places that we often visit and never get bored is Babylon which offers countless opportunities for beautiful photos. As a special dive, this time also, there was a place where you could find reef sharks, and we were lucku to see couple of them.
Every year Alex makes a good diving and photographing plan, always making sure to be submerged due to a variety of diverse topics that are shifting from day to day. He is tireless in transferring his knowledge and experience. For him it has never been difficult to answer the million and one question that people asks. He loves to play a mechanic with his cameras and housings, in order to come to an imaginary target, and to have the perfect picture (his favorite “fixing” gadget is the duck tape). Alex enjoys his own magical world in which everyone who appreciate a good underwater photography is welcome and he shares with them unselfishly all his knowledge.
In a word, Alex is – a magician! That is why this man is worthy of admiration and the reason why I will always come to the Cayman Islands and Digital Madness or anywhere else in the world.
I love when I enrich my experience thanks to the real professionals and for that I would went to the end of the world. So, Cayman Islands they are so close.
Of course, the great atmosphere among the people who are from different parts of the world contributes to all this and that is how I got some good and valuable friendships with people to whom mostly the underwater photography is only a hobby and relaxing escape from the crazy and stressful life of today in a beautiful and perfectly peaceful underwater world!
The best explanation of all this which I shared with you is the photographs that tell the endless stories of the sea!
Small part of my personal black and white gallery of Kittiwake shipwreck can be seen here.