Words and pictures by Lisa Collins
Sitting on the prow of the boat, skimming over the flat, calm, deep blue water, the wind streaming through my hair, a small island rimmed by white sand beaches and vibrant green lush vegetation comes into view. As we approach, a small ‘welcoming’ party is there waving to us. Immediately, a feeling of being at home in paradise comes over me. I relax totally and know, for the next 10 days, I will be one of the ‘Siladen’ family – a very special experience.
Settling into my beach villa, one of several dotted along a long stretch of beach overlooking the ocean towards Manado Tua Volcano, I watch the most amazing sunset. Already, I had been shown the dedicated camera room, classroom and PADI 5* dive centre and had my equipment taken from me to be set up ready for my first dives the next day. All I needed now was a cocktail in the atmospheric bar, followed by a delicious dinner prepared by Siladen’s talented Italian and Indonesian chefs.
The following morning, after a copious buffet breakfast, I joined the dive boat for my first check dives. Set in the middle of Bunaken National Marine Park, boutique eco-resort Siladen Resort & Spa, is in a perfect location to enjoy 50+ dive sites within a 30-minute boat ride. Collecting my camera from the air-conditioned camera room, fully equipped with charging stations, towels, air gun and freshwater rinse tanks, my dive guide insisted on carrying my camera to the dive boat.
Attention to detail extends to every aspect of the resort, including the dive centre, where safety and safe diving practices are extremely important. Siladen has several dive boats, and each crew gives an orientation at the dive centre and a thorough briefing before each dive.
Bunaken is an 890 square km marine park, established in 1991 in the middle of the Coral Triangle, where the richest and most biodiverse waters on Earth are found. Home to over 390 species of coral and 2000 species of fish, the underwater environment is prime for underwater photographers.
Being close to the equator, both air and sea temperatures remain fairly consistent and comfortable at around 26-30ºC, with just a little rain and generally flat calm seas.
A rich ecosystem with fringing reefs extending out from hundreds of small tropical islands, drops off to dramatic steep walls plunging to thousands of meters. Deepwater currents bring up nutrients that make for an incredible quantity and variety of marine life, and with visibility up to 50m, it makes the most incredibly photogenic underwater landscape.
In Manado Bay, where you board the transfer boat, there is a wealth of muck/critter diving in the black volcanic sand, rivalling the famous Lembeh Strait.
On a full-day dive trip, the amazingly colourful soft corals, very rarely seen around the world now, surround Bangka Island, making for stunning dives full of vibrancy and bright technicolour.
The boat captains are so skilled in dropping you at the perfect time to avoid currents, unless, of course, you choose to do a specific drift dive, so you can take your time exploring the walls and reef tops. With myriad schools of fish, huge green turtles, Napolean wrasse, anemone fish, Bumphead parrotfish and sunlight streaming down through the ocean, both lighting the reefs and making an additional subject for wide-angled photography, producing stunning images. There is even a wreck close by!
But look closer into the reef to spot the tiniest and rarest of critters such as Blue Ringed or Mototi Octopus, varied Pygmy Seahorses, Hairy Gobies, Nudibranchs or Braun’s Pughead Pipefish. There is something for everyone!
With the new addition of a large treehouse, used for Yoga sessions and presentations, Siladen Resort & Spa is the perfect and obvious choice to hold an underwater photography workshop. Being able to teach underwater photography in such a photogenic location, mixed with the luxuriousness of the resort and the excellent service and friendliness of all members of staff, makes my job so enjoyable.
Guests learn a new, or improve an old skill, whilst feeling like they are in paradise. With the wonderful dive conditions, it makes teaching underwater easy. With small group diving, I can go from student to student to help and guide them, whilst our dive guides look for special subjects.
Night dives are also a must in the Manado Bay area where all kinds of weird and wonderful critters come out to feed.
And to finish it all off, on the last off-gassing day, we use the pier in the village surrounded by shallow seagrass and coral heads, often with the local children willing models, to learn how to take split shots.
With a drink in hand, what better way to spend a late afternoon of the workshop, going over the day’s photos, receiving critiques, having questions answered or listening to presentations in the comfortable classroom or tree-house.
Two check dives under my belt, I was raring to go! I couldn’t wait to start my workshop and help my guests capture the amazing underwater world of Bunaken National Marine Park.
About Lisa Collins
With 25 years of experience in underwater photography, and 10 years of experience teaching, Lisa Collins is familiar with most cameras. She has, for the last 2.5 years, been the resident underwater photography instructor at Cathy Church’s Photo Centre in the Cayman Islands. Lisa brings a wealth of knowledge along with her friendly and approachable teaching methods, to help participants get the most out of their underwater photography in one of the best locations in the world.
Lisa’s workshops are limited to 12 participants to allow for individual and personalised teaching. She normally splits the groups into 3 or 4, each with their own dive guide, and alternates diving with each group to allow for plenty of underwater teaching time. Non-underwater photography partners are welcome to join the group and can either come on the same dive boat, or join one of the others going out.
For more information and to reserve a place on the next workshop to be held in March 2024, visit www.siladen.com/photo-workshop-with-lisa-collins/