Every year Anilao hosts a major underwater photo championship. I was an enthusiast of UW photography at that time, and never had the chance to see such an event – much less, to take part on it.
I had some money to spare, so I thought it could be a nice opportunity to join it, learn something from it and eventually earn some prize. So I got my equipment together and flew to Manila. From Manila airport to Anilao, there are mainly two options: one is a private transport, costing over 100 USD each way, and the other one is the public transports, which I chose, meaning: getting a taxi from the airport to the bus terminal, a bus to Batangas, a Jeepney to Baaun, and a Tricycle to the hostel. It’s a nearly 5 hour ride for just 120 Km, but that’s how it is.
At the time, I had a room on Anilao Backpackers, which later closed operation. It was a budget accommodation on a budget price, with a very decent house reef where one could dive and practice, and an awesome dive guide, kind, patient and knowledgeable – Jesus Tabangay
The plan was to stay a few days before the contest, so to learn a bit about the dive sites and possibilities, and then the 3 days for the contest itself, leaving after finish.
As for diving itself, it is mostly done by boat, which makes it quite costly. The majority of the sites are sandy bottom beaches which could easily be accessed from shore. However, the local laws (or lack of thereof) allow the dive centres to fence the beaches in front of them, so they’re only accessible to their guests or by sea.
The waters were usually calm, almost no current, and critters were abundant; maybe slightly more than Tulamben, to the same level of Lembeh. Night dives at the piers were a must, and I fell sorry not to have been able to do more. Now it is also getting famous for black-water diving.
At the time, my level of underwater photography was so basic that it wouldn’t make much difference if I was shooting in Tulamben or Anilao. That trip gave me the opportunity to understand that, and to progress on learning how to shoot, rather than what to shoot. Making a critter collection can be a beginner’s hobby, but soon becomes sterile and boring. No one will want to look at your shots, and those critters were probably seen already a hundred times, on better shots. Not even you will want to look at them, as you progress. It ends being not much more than a waste of time and money.
As for the contest, it gave me the opportunity to make new friends, and meet a lot of guys I had only seen in Facebook. I felt disappointed that the judging criterion was not clearly announced from the beginning and, until now, I still don’t understand it. This is not to say that I deserved to win any prize – though I certainly deserved to know what the judges were looking forward, so I could meet their expectations. Guesswork is quite limiting – some people like snoots, some don’t care, some like toys and colourful slates, some hate them… The same with double exposures, long exposures, continuous light, colour lights, reflecting tubes. There are endless possibilities to UW macro photography and, for a contest to be fair, people need to be briefed on what they’re supposed to do.
That ended up being my second lesson: never pay to enter on a contest unless either you know how it’s actually going to be judged, or you already know what the judges like. I chose to publish some shots from that week, not because I believe them to be spectacular achievements (in fact most are pretty boring) but because they show a period when I believed I was better than I really was. After dominating aperture, speed and ISO and getting consistent “correct” shots, I thought I was reaching an end, when, in fact, I was reaching the beginning.
You can check if for yourself, from the images, below.