Just about every camera nowadays has both a video and photo function, which provides us with a ton of opportunities for creatively capturing the underwater world. With so many options though, it can be a bit overwhelming when a unique underwater moment presents itself to you completely out of the blue. What do I do!? Should I film it or photograph it? As someone who spends a lot of time switching between video and photo, I’d like to share a few quick tips that have helped me decide whether I’m going to capture the moment with the camera’s video mode or the photo mode.

 1.  What is your ultimate goal?

If you know how to use editing software and plan to make a little highlight reel from your snorkeling adventure, then filming would be the way forward. Similarly, if your intent is to have a collection of photos to share with friends or to hang on your wall, you’d want to stick with the photo mode. This is a really important thing to think about as I know a lot of people who just film everything they see because in a lot of ways filming is easier and can be more gratifying at the moment, but then they find they don’t know how to edit videos or just don’t have the time to and then they end up with hours of footage just sitting on their hard drive.

Snorkeler photographing schooling fish

2.  A bit of Both

A lot of the underwater encounters we have can last for a while, which means you can do a bit of filming as well as photography. Remember to prioritize which of the two mediums is more important to you at the end of the day and start with that one.

3.  Video for fleeting moments

I always keep my camera set to video mode when I don’t have anything in particular to point my camera at. The reason being is that should a manta or whale shark suddenly turn up and I have only a couple of moments to capture the encounter, video is the fastest and most efficient way to do so as you can essentially point and shoot.

It’s not uncommon to have hesitations or even a phobia of deep water. Not being able to see the bottom can throw even the most experienced snorkelers. I know that every time I jump in the open blue water to try and swim with a pod of dolphins or whale sharks and there is nothing but blue water below me I have to make a slight adjustment to my mental state and just remind myself that floating in the blue is no different to floating just above a reef. I know, easier said than done since phobias such as this are irrational and your typical pragmatism on land goes right out the window the moment you lose sight of the bottom. This fear doesn’t always have to control us though, and if we take the proper approach that involves both mentally and physically preparing ourselves, we can hopefully find ourselves confident and comfortable snorkeling in deep water. Here are a few steps that we have found to be helpful.

Become Accustomed to the Environment

Learning about the ocean is a great first step in helping control your deep water phobia. In understanding what is actually going on below you as you snorkel should then help curb any unwarranted fears by cultivating a positive state of mind about the ocean and deep water.

My Octopus Teacher

There are some really amazing underwater documentary movies and series which do an amazing job of capturing the beauty and reality of the underwater world. Some of the best ones are My Octopus Teacher, BBC Blue Planet I & II, BBC Planet Earth,  and Oceans. I highly suggest NOT watching NatGeo’s Shark Week or Sharkfest as they really tend to only sensationalize the fear based around sharks and shark attacks and not the reality of a shark’s normal response to snorkelers, which is to either ignore us or swim away. You are more likely to be injured by your toilet than by a shark by huge margin.

Slowly Introduce Yourself to the Environment

Snorkeler with life ring

Rather than just plunge yourself into the open blue water, I highly recommend starting off by slowly introducing yourself to it by letting yourself get accustomed to the shallow reefs and sandy bays first. If your phobia is quite strong, the shallow end of a pool is best and then work your way up to larger bodies of water. As you progress to deeper waters you may want to use an inflatable snorkel vest, a life jacket, or even additional flotation ring to give yourself an added layer of comfort. Also, don’t forget to do this with a snorkel buddy who’s already very comfortable in the water.

Mental Game Plan

Cow fish swimming right up to the camera with snorkeler behind

Even as your confidence with the water grows, it’s a great idea to have a mental game plan just incase that irrational fear does start to creep back in. Before each snorkel session make a little plan to help calm yourself down and regain control of your emotions. What I mean by this is, the moment you start to feel the panic coming back you need to give your brain something else to do, like count to one-hundred, identifying ten different species of fish, or just concentrating on a steady rhythm of breathing. It helps if you pick just one thing as too many different options can lead back to a non-focused state of mind and then the fear comes back. For me, I focus on listening to every inhale and exhale to keep them as steady and relaxed as possible. As I do this, I slowly swim back to a more comfortable depth until I feel like I’m back in control again.

The new year is just around the corner and as per the annual tradition of making positive goals for the upcoming year we’ve put together a list of snorkeling related New Year Resolutions, just incase you hadn’t come up with any yet and needed a bit of help.

10. Check all Snorkeling Equipment

It’s always a good idea to routinely check through your snorkeling equipment, particularly if it’s been a while since you’ve used it. One very important thing to check is to see if your mask still properly seals around your face. If you are not quite sure how to do that we have a quick tutorial here. Another thing to look over are your fins, especially those of you with the full foot fins (the kind without straps), and to make sure that the rubber pocket your foot goes into hasn’t dried out and become brittle. If that’s the case, it might be time to look at purchasing a new pair of fins.

Snorkeling equipment

9. Research Top Snorkeling Destinations

Instead of just swiping through facebook and the other social media apps for hours, why not put that otherwise “wasted” time to good use and do a bit of research on where the best snorkeling destinations are. We have a full inventory of trip reviews, videos, and destination guides on our blog here.

snorkeler swimming through overhang in reef

8. Practice Duck Diving

Why not hit the ground running on your next snorkeling holiday by already having the art of the duck dive perfected. If you don’t have access to snorkeling sites you can easily practice at a nearby gym or friend’s pool. A pool is actually an ideal place to practice diving down underwater and equalizing as there aren’t any waves or current and it’s a very familiar and controlled environment.

Snorkeler duck diving

7. Find  Snorkeling/Travel Buddy

If you just don’t seem to have any friends who share the same passion for snorkeling  as you do and you just don’t like the idea of traveling alone, there are still plenty of ways to meet fellow snorkelers like you who are eager to have a buddy to share the adventure with. A quick search on Facebook or other online snorkeling forums will reveal groups full of likeminded individuals.

6. Buy an Underwater Camera

Why not treat yourself to a little gift this year for making it though one of the most historic years in modern history. As camera technology progresses there are a ton of very affordable camera options, many of which are already waterproof and come with fantastic underwater modes for shooting amazing photos and videos.

Olympus TG5 sitting on beach

5. Practice or Study Underwater Photography Tips

If you haven’t done much practicing with your underwater camera lately why not take a few of your kids toys and your snorkeling buddy to a friends pool and toss them in and then let have a bit of creative fun pretending that Barbie is a porcupine fish. It might sound a bit silly but one of the best way to learn how your camera works is just time in the water with it. If there’s just nowhere to snorkel, even a pool, then I’d suggest reading some underwater photography tips so that once you do hit the water you have all the knowledge fresh in your mind.

Photographer photographing river scene

4. Purchase a New Piece of Snorkeling Equipment

There are some really amazing new pieces of snorkeling gear on the market now, from snorkels that don’t let water in to exposure suits that keep you just as warm as a five millimeter wetsuit but weigh the same as a sweater. Similarly, there are a lot of really amazing eco-friendly options for snorkeling gear now that companies like Fourth Element have started using textiles made from recycled ghost nets and old car tires.

3. Conquer that Fear of Deep Water

It’s not uncommon to have a phobia of open or deep water. Many people do. Rather than let this control you though, there are some very simple and practical steps you can take to help curb this fear, most of which just involve becoming more familiar with that particular environment. Some things we’d suggest doing are watching some uplifting underwater documentaries like My Octopus Teacher, or any of the BBC Blue Planet episodes as they will help give you a more real idea of what happens in the ocean. Something else to help relieve any anxieties about deep water is to just spend time in it, start with the shallow end of the pool and then slowly progressing to the deep end, and then eventually to lakes and protected bays if you have access to bodies of water like that. While we aren’t phycologists by any means, we understand that a fear of something will generally comes from just being unfamiliar with whatever it is you are afraid of, so the best thing you can do is take gradual and controlled steps to expand your understanding of the thing you fear.

Swimming underwater in a swimming pool

2. Get Back into Good Snorkeling Shape

While our snorkeling trips are pretty relaxed with guests being able to take the snorkeling sessions at their own pace, it’s not a bad idea to do a little bit of training prior to your trip. You don’t have to re-enact the pre-fight training montage from the movie Rocky, but  by just jumping in a pool with a mask, snorkel, and fins on and doing a few laps every now and then you’ll be doing yourself a favor as we use muscles while snorkeling you wouldn’t otherwise use while walking or ruining. Basically, anything that helps stimulates muscle movement and increases your overall stamina in the slightest bit will just help make you more comfortable while on a snorkeling tour.

1. Book a Once in a Lifetime  Snorkeling Adventure

If you’ve been saying for months or even years that “one of these days I’ll book a snorkeling trip” then right now is a pretty ideal time, especially since we’ve all been cooped up in our homes for the past ten months. You can find a full list of the guide-led group snorkeling safaris that we offer here.

Snorkeler Surrounded by Manta Rays

On just about all of our snorkeling safari’s we will always try to offer night or sunset snorkeling so you can see that amazing transition in specie’s behavior as day turns to night. If you are at all curious about what night snorkeling is like you can find out more here. For this particular blog though, we’re going to highlight one particular night snorkeling subject which can be found in both Triton Bay and throughout Raja Ampat once the sun sets, and that subject is a walking shark.

At this point you are probably wondering what I mean by “walking shark.” Well, as it turns out, there is a species of shark which actually prefer to use their pectoral fins to walk across the reef, rather than to swim. They are a type of epaulette shark, but are commonly known to us snorkelers as walking sharks. They are found in the shallow reef of northern Australia as well as New Guinea, with one particular species endemic to Raja Ampat and another to the Triton Bay area.

Epaulette walking shark on the sand

As both the Raja epaulette walking shark and the Triton epaulette walking shark are nocturnal species we don’t often find them in the afternoon snorkeling sessions because the burry themselves in the reef, but just after sunset is when they come out to hunt for small benthic creatures and small fish. As snorkelers we have the best vantage point for finding these unusual sharks since they usually are found right up in the shallow reefs, and even in tide pools at times. As you can see from the photos these are not your typical shark with their elongated body—which is mostly tail and decorated with a spattering of ornamental spots, not to mention the general sense of cuteness these sharks exude.

So there you have it folks, sharks can not only be comically cute, but also walk, and the best places to snorkel with them just happen to be Raja Ampat and Triton Bay in Indonesia!

Check out this short video to see just how these sharks walk, even on land! This particular species, which is nearly identical in appearance to the ones found in Raja Ampat and Triton bay is from Australia. The behavior is the same however. 

At the beginning of December 2020 I had the absolute pleasure of being invited to Misool Resort in Raja Ampat to take a short (ten day) tour of their iconic resort island. Long story short I was absolutely blown away in just about every possible way. The location—of a remote tropical island in the heart of what is widely considered to the best snorkeling in the world is the first thing is the first that made my jaw drop. My mouth remained in this position as we settled into our eco-elegant water bungalows where dozens of blacktip reef sharks and juvenile green sea turtles paraded about below. I did eventually have to close my mouth around a snorkel though as Montse—my fiancé and snorkel partner for life—and I proceeded down our bungalow steps into the pristine waters for a snorkel session on their famous house reef. Through a combination of eco-awareness, natural and creative aesthetics, and world class service Misool Resort has cultivated an experience and atmosphere at a level like I’ve never quite seen before, and right now I want to highlight those different elements in detail for you.

Misool Resort Map

Arrival in Sorong

I’ll be the first to say that arriving to Sorong in West Papua—the port town to Raja Ampat—is not quick hop, not even from Bali. I promise you though the trip is well worth the reward and the moment you collect your bags at the carousel in Sorong you can begin to relax as the Misool staff pick us up in comfortable Air Conditioned vans and drive us around the corner to their own Cafe for a complimentary breakfast. While we relax in their cozy cafe the resort’s staff load our large bags into their custom built 1,500 horse power luxury transfer boat—Merantau.

Misool resort transfer boat

After breakfast we’ll be shuttled the ten minutes to the harbor where Merantau is waiting and ready for us to board. This boat is phenomenal. It has a fully enclosed main cabin with more than enough seating and even a little “cafe” where you can grab a drink and a snack for the ride. The main cabin is also equipped with air conditioning, a large restroom, and a specialty built rack for storing hand carry luggage. There are also plenty of outdoor seating areas upstairs, on the bow, and in the stern of the boat so you can watch for whales and dolphins. The trip from Sorong to Misool takes 3-4 hours depending on sea conditions.

Arrival at the Resort

Upon arrival at the resort we’ll of course be met by the outstanding staff and escorted to the sea-side restaurant for a quick resort introduction and a freshly prepared lunch. Our big bags will be taken to our individual bungalows so we won’t have to worry about lugging any heavy bags around. As people finish up their meals they’ll be shown to their exquisite rooms.

The Rooms

The resort offers a variety of room styles with the most “basic” being their water cottages. Let me just quickly say that there is nothing basic about these rooms. These eight water cottages fringe the north lagoon and seem to hover over the reef below with their stilted design. You can quite literally watch sharks, turtles, and schools of fish swim directly under your expansive veranda all day long. Each cottage is equipped with air conditioning, it’s own wall fan, mini bar, mosquito net, a huge veranda with a sort of hammock built into the floor so you can relax directly above the reef. Oh, and then there’s the fantastic open air bathroom and where you have amazing views of the limestone cliffs above. As I said, there is nothing basic about these rooms.

two girls paddleboarding in front of the water bungalows at misool resort

The other accommodation styles on the north lagoon are also stilted over the water but feature larger living areas with cleverly designed sofa beds and larger verandas. There is even a two bedroom villa with it’s own dining area over the house reef, a small kitchen, and an additional loft bed.

interior and exterior view of the rooms at misool resort

Then there’s the south beach villas which look as if they are a completely separate resort. These fantastic beach villas are on the other side of the hill from the main resort and set on their own private bay complete with a football field length white sand beach and backed but a lush tropical jungle. These rooms are truly exquisite in their location and design and will offer the most privacy for those of you that want to disconnect a bit more.

panorama of misool resort's south beach

However, I should point out that they are a bit removed from the main resort and restaurant and every meal time you will either need to arrange for the resort’s little ferry boat (a large aluminum dinghy) to pick you up and take you the 2 minutes around the corner to the main resort, or walk about eight minutes over the hill through their well paved stairs. It’s really not a major effort by any means, but it is something to consider for those of you who are not particularly keen on steps or would prefer a more simplified route to breakfast.

Map of Misool resort's south beach

The Food

With their own hydroponic garden system on the island and a regular supply of fresh meats and produce arriving regularly you’ll be treated to a vast array of creative culinary delights and mouth watering pasteries at every meal thanks to Misool’s team of skilled chefs.

Snorkeling guest admiring the fantastic food at misool resort.

What’s more is that the restaurant is situated at the head of the lagoon which is also the main thoroughfare for the baby sharks and main foraging ground for the green sea turtles.

Dozens of sharks swimming in front of Misool Resort's restaurant

Non Snorkeling Activities

While Misool is a full service snorkel and dive resort where most of the guests arrive for one or both of these activities, you could easily spend your entire holiday doing neither and still depart on the final day feeling as if you’d fully experienced the area. Paddle boarding and kayaks are the most popular non snorkeling activity as the main island and the small neighboring islands are well suited for both with their many lagoons, secret beaches and just jaw dropping scenery.

stand up paddleboarder in hidden lagoon

Misool also offers a variety of day trips to nearby mangroves, a hidden lagoon system where once again you can paddleboard, kayak, snorkel, or search for the exquisite birds and carnivorous plants that live within these unreal ecosystems. These day trips will typically include a stop at one of the areas pristine beaches where they will have bean bags and a snack buffet set up for us.

guest being massaged over a coral reef

If it’s leisurely activities you are after, there’s always the stroll on the beach, reading a good book on your verandah, or indulging for a massage right over the reef from the resort’s fantastic masseuse.

The Snorkeling

Misool Resort is not only a five star snorkeling and dive resort in the heart of the most biodiverse marine ecosystem in the world, but also an industry leader in marine conservation. Since Misool Resort helped establish a marine protected area (MPA) around the most vulnerable parts of the Misool in 2005 they’ve seen rebounds in marine biomass by up to 600%.  What that translates to is a snorkeling experience like you would’t believe, particularly on their house reef.

snorkeler floating above green sea turtle

As you take that first plunge into Misool’s house house reef theres a very good chance that the first creature you are greeted by will be a member of their blacktip reef shark population or a green sea turtle, or both!  The turtles and sharks here are so used to people snorkeling by that they will casually swim beside you without giving you a second glance.

blacktip reef shark swimming through a school of fish

The house reef is absolutely massive as it extends for hundreds of meters in all directions and continues on around the corner and will eventually leader you to other small islands. The coral is outstanding and comes right up to the water line, and even above it with a low tide. The resort’s pier is buzzing with life and it’s also where you’ll see the resident grouper and a friendly napoleon wrasse, both of who could easily outweigh me on a scale. Other residential fish include a large school of adolescent big-eye jacks and even a group of about thirty bumphead parrot fish who can be found grazing on the coral right up in the shallows. Even mantas are a common occurrence as they will occasionally found feeding in the channel.

snorkelers over coral reef

While the house reef is world class, you’ll defiantly want to explore the other neighboring sites which are just a five to fifteen minutes boat ride away. Every day we’ll visit at least two of the different sites in the area with each offering something unique. The style of sites range from gentle drift snorkels, placid mangroves, to small limestone island with unreal underwater topography, and even several manta ray hot spots. Regardless of the site though, what you’ll experience underwater will be sure to sate your appetite for tropical reef snorkeling and big marine life.

Scooters

Misool is the first resort I’ve been to which has a well stocked supply of underwater scooters for rent. This was the first time I’ve ever used one of these underwater propulsion devices and I’ll admit I was hesitant at first as I’m quite set in my traditional snorkeling ways, but my traditions were quickly shifted once I pressed the throttle button.

Not that you’ll need it with all the marine life action surrounding us, but if you want an additional injection of adrenaline then take one of these sleek scooters for a ride. They pull you along at any pace you like and even allow you to duck dive down with very little effort. What’s more is that you can explore huge swaths of reef with little to no effort and in a fraction of the time.

Departure from the Resort

On the final day of our Misool adventure we will have a breezy morning with breakfast and lunch as usual and then around 1:00 we will once again hop onboard  Merantau, their spacious high speed transfer boat and make the journey back to Sorong. Upon arriving Sorong we will be met by more of the Misool staff who will load our large bags into air conditioned vans and then drive us the ten minutes to the Swiss-Belhotel, Sorong’s nicest hotel, where we will relax and enjoy a nice group dinner and a good nights sleep before our departure flight to Jakarta the following morning.

girl floating in the water above a school of juvenile blacktip reef sharks