The Value of a Diving Buddy… A Photographer’s Perspective

From our first scuba class, we learn that having a buddy is important. Divers are taught about increased safety, more enjoyment, and even the advantages of a second pair of hands hauling around heavy dive gear. Somewhere along the line, however, the question of solo-diving always comes up. I’m not here to preach to anyone. I was solo-diving back when divers only whispered about it in dive shops. The trend in solo-diving has become much more accepted in the last decade. Now, recognized agencies even offer certifications in solo-diving. Underwater hunters claim that solo-diving scares the fish less allowing them to hunt more successfully. Photographers say the same about getting that “perfect” shot before another diver’s fins stir up the bottom. Solo-diving is certainly not for everyone, but with the right training, experience, and equipment configurations, diving alone is now common.

So it goes that I’ve been solo-diving for quite some time. As a photographer, I find this habit limits much of my photography to nature or critter shots that don’t include other divers. That’s the trade-off. There’s no one around to stir up the bottom, but there’s no one around to pose for a shot either or to help get critters into prime photo position. Sometimes I do dive with other divers, buddies I’ve known for many years or just divers I meet who don’t want to dive alone. With a little pre-dive talk, I can let a buddy know what I might be looking for on a particular dive and how he or she might be able to help turn an ordinary dive into an extraordinary photo opportunity!

A great example of this is a dive I made last November at Anacapa Island. I was introduced to Pedro, a diver visiting the Channel Islands from Europe, by the divemaster. After talking with Pedro a while, I got a feeling for his experience level and saw he was comfortable diver who was willing to simply tag-along to explore a corner of the ocean that was new to him.

On our final dive that day, I peeked under a rock and scared up a tiny, juvenile two-spot octopus. This critter was so small I immediately dubbed him the “pocket-octo.” Once it jetted out of its rocky hiding spot, the octopus made a run right for Pedro, flicking around his buoyancy compensator and finally swimming right across his face. Pedro was able to corral the little guy, directing it between us with his hands (without grabbing it of course), providing an extended experience and more photo opportunities. The octopus even settled into his gloved hand and climbed across his mask during the encounter. All the while, I shot away with my 60mm lens and dual strobes while Pedro interacted with the little guy.

Instead of simple “octopus” pictures (of which I have many), I ended up with images of a diver interacting with unique marine life. Images that were different than anything I could have taken without a buddy! In the end, I walked away from that dive trip with a story to share, some really nice images, and a reminder that diving with the right buddy can add to the enjoyment of any dive.

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