The fantastic dive I had at Southwest Pinnacle would have been enough for me to call the day a complete success. However the Scuba Gods must have been smiling on me because I had yet another beautiful dive coming up- at Shark Island.
Probably my favorite jumping in shot ever!
Shark Island is so named for its resemblance to a dorsal fin rather than an abundance of certain toothy fish. The rocky outcrop is located southeast of Koh Tao and is a less-commonly visited site due to both its location and its often challenging conditions- current and visibility can be a struggle here. The maximum depth at this site is 25 metres but it is possible to make this a very shallow dive as there is something to see at almost every level. This was my first time ever at this dive site, ironic because it was to be my last dive in Koh Tao… at least for a while.
Within the first five minutes of the dive I nearly had a stroke when I spotted this- a dotted nudibranch laying eggs! See those ruffled ribbons coming out? Those are the eggs. Don’t ask me for details because I really don’t really understand how it works. But what I do know is that I was very lucky to see it.
I could have surfaced then and it would have been an amazing dive. But like I said, this was a lucky day for me and there was so much more to come.
I loved diving with my friends, who are all great divers, because I had people to act as models for me! I’m sure my friend Kim thought I was crazy when I started banging my tank to get her attention and gesturing for her to swim towards me, but I bet now that she sees these pictures she’s happy now that she went along with it.
It wasn’t just that the things we were seeing were amazing- they were. It’s also that everything was positioned so perfectly, like all the sea creatures knew I was coming and posed in the most photographic position possible- like this varicose nudibranch.
Even this puffer fish, a normally very shy species, came out of hiding to swim free through the ocean for a bit. I loved getting a chance to get a good look at his funny-shaped body. Puffer fish are a common sighting at Shark Island.
However, there is one thing that Shark Island is famous for above anything else- an enormous, roaming school of butterfly fish. I am obsessed with these tropical beauties which are commonly found in pairs at dive sites all over Koh Tao. But finding them like this, in a pack of 30 or more, is unique to this special place. When we came upon them I was almost shaking with excitement, trying to capture with my camera the unreal sight in front of me.
Eventually the butterfly fish fluttered away, but I knew it wasn’t the last we would see of them. In the meantime I enjoyed the beautiful lighting, patterns and colors that were all around me, just waiting to be photographed.
We even managed to spot a shy orangespine unicornfish before he skirted out of our sight line.
Like I said before, I loved having my friends to act as models. One thing I really learned from my videography job is that the best shots have both people and sea life- it gives perspective and allows the viewer to picture themselves in the situation. I’ve tried to apply that lesson to my underwater photography as well this year and it’s been a rewarding challenge. One of my favorite photos of the day is below left, my friends Kat and Freya with a crown-of-thorns starfish in the foreground.
In the end, we lucked out completely. The current was rough but the visibility was lovely and we could not have spotted a better variety of sea life. This might clock in at one of my top ten favorite dives ever.
It was an emotional one as well. As I said I knew this would be my last dive in Koh Tao for the foreseeable future. Diving has been an emotional, almost spiritual journey for me with a lot of emotions and memories and associations attached to it. Koh Tao is where I took my first breath underwater three years ago and since then I’ve become a Rescue Diver, been on hundreds of dives through eight countries around the world, and found a career in underwater videography. While I was underwater I reflected on how things had come full-circle -something had brought me back to the place where it all began but sadly once again it was time to say goodbye to an island I love.
For the last fifteen minutes of the dive I put my camera down and tried to process all of those thoughts, to hang on to the memories flashing through my mind, and to absorb all the emotions and sensations I was feeling. My mask filled with tears as I said goodbye to an era in my life that I will always hold so dear.
I can’t wait to get back to the ocean, wherever in the world it may be.
Evocative…both the images and your reporting, Alex. Glad you put the camera down at the end of the dive. In a world driven by the impulse to record everything, it’s becoming a lost art to simply immerse in the moment.
Yeah…. I am at the forefront of the RECORD EVERYTHING movement, in case you didn’t notice with this self-indulgent blog that tracks my every move 🙂 So it definitely is a challenge, but I do try the whole living in the moment thing every once in a while…
beautiful photos. makes me want to learn how to dive finally….
I really hope you do! You’d be amazed at the world of possibilities it opens up in your travels…
Hate to say Adios, but I do think you need to rest and recharge your batteries. I certainly have enjoyed your travels. Keep me updated. Where to next? Gram E
Many more posts about Thailand and Laos to come, and then my summer of travel around the US!
I completely second Kathryn’s comment… Another ‘be and live in the moment’ that comes to mind was during our Koh Samui sky lantern night. The first few rounds were filled with heavy photo ops and documentation. We decided then that we would put our cameras away for the very last lantern. There was something so precious about that final moment watching the single lantern lift off into the sky… something that I will not forget.
Steffi you reminded me of a (forced) no camera moment we had together… SUNJAM! Funny how despite the lack of documentation that rave on a teeny island in Honduras seems so clear in my mind…
Such a beautiful and touching post, Alex! May you find adventure in new waters!
Thank YOU Jen, for this sweet comment! I actually just made plans for my next dive… which will be in Iceland! It’s only going to be a day, but it will hold me over until my next seaside destination emerges….
What a lovely day! I’m glad the last day you had to dive on Koh Tao was such a great experience, although bittersweet. The photos are amazing, you really are an accomplished photographer, Alex.
Krista thank you so much… I deeply appreciate that comment. Sometimes I feel like an imposter with my little camera next to all the crazy expensive/oversized underwater equipment out there but then I look at a post like this and I think my shots aren’t half bad!
Wow, I really enjoyed this post. Your descriptions and images really came alive. I can almost tell when you really like a dive spot based on the words and imagery you use without you even expressing your opinion of it. Like, comparing this post to some of your posts about diving in Cambodia, is like comparing day with night.
What camera settings are you using for most of your underwater images? The lighting and colors are great.
Actually I loved the diving in Cambodia! You might be thinking of Vietnam, where I was more impressed that the company I dove with set up and tore down my dive gear than the reefs themselves, ha.
As for my camera settings I shoot with a point and shoot so have sadly little control over the settings other than to bring exposure up or down. I actually tend to shoot with the exposure lowered and then bring things back up to brightness in Photoshop, as my camera can tend to overexpose. Another trick I use for underwater shooting is to always angle the camera up! It really lets refracted light in from the surface. Hopefully soon I will be shooting with a strobe and have much more control 🙂
AWESOME JUMPING SHOT! Alex the framing on that is just perfect. The blue sky, rock sculpture, pose of the jumper, boat. Love it all.
Thanks Jenna! I love that photo SO MUCH but there is a water smudge in the middle that makes me want to cry. Ah well, such is the burden of, you know, shooting in the water!
wow. those pictures are FANTASTIC! this trip looks like it was amazing!
Thank you so much Anna! It truly was an amazing day.
Wow! Really great photos! 🙂
Thanks so much Celina! I appreciate it!
I just saw this link about doing interesting things while diving.
I loved that story, Jeff! Thanks for thinking of me! I’m going to have to find some way to work that into a post now…
Alex! You are an amazing photographer! I am a beginner in diving but you make want to be a better diver! My last trip was to the great barrier reef in Australia!. Have you been there? Try it! Another place that called my attention was Honduras diving!! A nice one!
Thanks for reading Mariana! I haven’t yet been to the Great Barrier Reef, but I totally loved diving in the Bay Islands.
Great pics! I def want to go diving in Thailand now. Can you recommend a good beginner underwater camera for diving? or a beginner underwater camera/housing combo? It’s been so hard for me to find one that’s not going to break the bank. 🙁
Hi Jinny, check the gear and products tab on my page! The canon point and shoot and housing is what I’ve been using for all underwater photos. I’m actually selling the setup listed there for $250, so contact me if you are interested.
I’m trying to catch up on all your posts and this one was beautiful — it almost made ME cry! I love the people shots, especially the one of Kim and fish both looking at the camera and this one https://www.alexinwanderland.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Dive-2_4.jpg. And I think the water smudge makes the photo ethereal and perfectly captures all parts of jumping, down to the splash! My mom and I are so impressed by your amazing work.
(oops, sorry for the super long comment… :))
Thank you so much Sara, so glad to have you reading. Don’t apologize for the long comment, the longer the better! 🙂
A SERIOUSLY awesome dive! Sometimes spotting a nudibranch is lucky in itself, but laying eggs?! TRIPLE SCORE!
Thanks Talon! It was an amazing dive, a perfect (temporary) end to my diving career on Koh Tao
Wow – I’m going to Shark Island tomorrow and I hope I see half the things you saw on this dive.
People have told me that if you want to see cool things you should follow the photographers around. Seems like you’re living proof of sound advice!
Actually sadly I’m usually the worst at finding things! I’m lucky that I usually dive with friends who are great at that kind of thing though 🙂
Hi, i’ve just found your blog after googling koh tao. I’m currently in Chiang Mai and looking at doing a diving course next year, after reading this – i can’t wait!! 🙂
Email me when you’re headed to Koh Tao. I recommend tons of places! You’ll love it!