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“Are you on Mars? These critters do not look like they belong on Earth”. That was the reaction to my first underwater macro photos.

Welcome to the world of Underwater Macro Photography and Macro Diving.

Anyone who has been diving often enough would have pretty much seen turtles, white tip sharks, parrot fishes, moray eels and more of the diverse sea life the ocean offers.

Dive after dive, the euphoria of “amazing multicolored underwater gardens” becomes the new normal, so what’s next? Shark feeding? Wreck diving for hidden treasure?

Then I discovered macro diving in Anilao, Philippines.

This was on invitation to a newly set up underwater photography academy, for what I imagined to be a routine dive trip.

I was given an underwater point and shoot camera, together with a handheld torch and told to follow “one of the professional spotters” and “shoot what he tells you to shoot and don’t expect to see much coral”. How odd.

What is macro diving? To my initial horror, the dive site was murky, sandy bottom, discarded bottles and a bit of vegetation here and there. Not much colorful coral. Not a lot of pretty fishes.

Juvenile filefish

I felt as if I was diving in someone’s backyard. It only takes an experienced spotter who knows the natural habitat of the critters that you want to photograph to be able to locate your subject.

So, this is where I discovered the critters that take refuge in that odd piece of wood, old bottle or those sparse bits of vegetation.

Critters I won’t be able to see without the magnification of a lens. Critters smaller than a grain of rice but yet so surreal in their beauty.

The experience opened my eyes to a whole new dimension to diving and that life under the sea is not just limited to turtles, sharks, eels and fishes.

Isopod

Best part to macro diving, Critters can be found anywhere from 5 meters in depth to 22 meters, so you can get up to 90 minutes of bottom time for the more experienced diver.

This is the world of nudibranch, rhinopias, shrimps, isopods, juvenile filefishes, frogfish, blue ring octopus, cowries, pygmy seahorses and gobies.

With each dive, I hope to see new critters, critters that are so unique.

“Don’t shoot the clownfish. Aim for the parasite that is in its mouth.” Who knew parasites grew in mouths of clown fishes by slowly devouring the fishes tongue and making the space their own.

Did I go to Mars? Maybe not but the experience feels out of this world.

Visit Anilao, Ambon, Lembeh or Tulamben for macro diving. I may have just discovered a whole new perspective to diving and underwater photography.

All I need now is a pair of steady hands and to ace my buoyancy because I am going for a new kind of treasure hunting.

The juvenile frogfish is the next on my list!

If you’re looking for interesting dive sites, Florida hosts to some of the most amazing collection of aquatic ecosystem.

Blue Heron Bridge off West Palm is a prime spot for frogfish and there were reported sightings of octopuses, peacock flounders and pincushion starfishes.

Singer Island (also part of West Palm Beach) has excellent visibility and is home to macro species such as rays and sea horses while the diversity of species is highest in Destin among other dive sites in Florida.

The key to a good macro diving experience is a good dive guide. Without an experienced spotter, you won’t be able know where to find these gems and how to tell apart between a coral and a nudi.

We highly recommend you bring the Olympus Tough TG4 to your next macro diving session. This 16MP waterproof digital camera has a ‘Microscope Mode‘ that lets you shoot scarily close to your tiny subjects.

Photos and text by Shereen Kwok

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