MARIA MUNN'S COLUMN: Macro in Mabul
I thought I’d share some more underwater photography tips from the breathtaking islands of Mabul and Sipidan in Sabah, Malaysia, the ultimate dive experience for both macro lovers and for those adrenaline junkies whose goal is to search out the big stuff.
Mabul and Sipidan are situated about 30 minutes away from Semporna on the mainland, where guests are brought to board a high-speed boat to take them to their resort. However, if you have time, it is well worth spending a day or two diving out of Semporna itself as the macro photography opportunities are really special.
Mabul itself is a tiny island covered with palm trees and fringed with white powder sand beaches. It will take you all of 15 minutes to walk around the whole island so those of you who are keen joggers may need to go round it a few times for a good workout! Photo opportunities abound both on land as well as under the waves and all of the resort’s house reefs offer spectacular critter encounters within just a few feet of the shore in azure blue waters fringed with rainbow coral colours. Pipefish, mandarinfish, nudibranchs galore, anemonefish, snake eels, flamboyant cuttlefish, mating cuttlefish, squid, blennies and frogfish of all kinds, painted ones, giant ones and clowns can all be found within minutes of leaving the shore in shallow depths of less than 10m. At Paradise 1, a dive site very close to Borneo Diver’s resort, owner Clement Lee and I saw three flamboyant cuttlefish all within a few feet of each other, something that he had never seen before. We even found another one at another local reef a few minutes later hiding in a tyre. Remember to approach these slowly and get as level as you can with them. If you use your camera’s zoom function, remember to keep as still as possible to avoid blurry pictures and use an ISO of 200 to keep your photo as sharp as possible. Staying still will really help these elusive creatures to gain confidence and come and check you and your camera out.
Getting close to your subject is essential
More amazing life awaits you just a few minutes away by boat. Local sites such as Seaventures famous oil rig has numerous ribbon eels, scorpionfish, crocodile fish and big schools of yellow snappers are frequently seen. Other places such as Lobster Wall is home to one of my favourite critters, orangutan crabs, and in February time whilst leading a workshop, was absolutely covered in mating nudibranchs all along it. Keep a look out in all the nooks and crannies along this wall which is packed with life - I even found this super cute juvenile batfish nestling there.
About 15 minutes away is Kapalai, a breathtaking resort set in the midst of the shimming blue waters next to a powder white sand bank. The underwater topography boasts a myriad of structures which are home to many more species - harlequin ghost pipefish abound. More frogfish can be found on the structures waiting for their breakfast to pass by as well as the more common anemonefish, lionfish and moray eels - there is the hugest Grandpa moray eel just under the resort at Kapalai itself, it’s head could have swallowed my fisheye lens in one swift blow. Eye to eye contact can really give your resulting image some impact as well as getting creative with your camera and capturing those gorgeous harlequin ghost pipefish on diagonal lines.
Anyone who visits this destination would struggle to leave without an amazing portfolio of photographs. Even just using the forced flash on your camera, a small aperture and a low ISO will guarantee you fabulous shots, as long as, of course you are close to your subject. It really is a fabulous place to practice. Finally, I forgot to mention, expect turtles on all of the local dives too - you’ll find them having power naps in the afternoon and more often than not, they’ll swim straight into you and your camera and just keep going!
I could keep on writing all week as Mabul really has all of those magic ingredients to give any camera user the perfect recipe for a beautiful array of images. When I was last there, Jason Isley and the Scubazoo team were working on a book to showcase the incredible diversity that this island offers, so keep your eyes peeled for it’s release date. Next time, I’ll follow on from this and go through some creative ideas using wide angle and fisheye lenses at the diving mecca of Sipidan.
I’ll be back with Divers Down at Swanage Pier on on 3 June to launch my Drive & Dive the UK this year to help inspire as many compact camera users as possible, so if you are passing, pop by and say hello. I have my fins firmly crossed that finally I will be able to christen my drysuit for the first time this year and that the sunshine will come back soon.
Have a lovely weekend and if you would like me to come and dive with your dive centre, do get in touch as it would be lovely to feature you all here in this column.
Maria is an award-winning photographer and author who has helped six guests win Sport Diver’s Photo of the Month as well as another 10 guests to scoop prizes and be featured in magazines across the globe. Completely obsessed with all kinds of compact cameras, she loves helping guests with their underwater photography and runs courses in Lancing, London and Leeds as well as providing personalised instructor coaching. Visit her website at www.oceanvisions.co.uk to grab a copy of her book, DVD or order your very own set of personalised camera tips.
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