Oct 102017

The 2017 Hurricane Season has managed to leave a large scar on the Caribbean, as many of its beautiful islands have been ravaged by two major hurricanes – Irma and Maria.  It saddens us deeply to know that so many people have lost their homes and their livelihoods.

Many of our friends have asked how they can help.  To that end, and with her permission, I am sharing a post created by the talented (and super sweet) Chrissann Nickel, founder of the website Women Who Live on Rocks.


Every new photo I see out of the islands that have been ravaged by Hurricane Irma & Hurricane Maria sickens me. Imagining how truly terrified everyone must have been during the storm and the dire situation the survivors are in now makes my soul ache. I wish I could take that pain away from our fellow islanders. I wish I could rescue them from the hell they are living in now. I am at a loss for words. And hurricane season continues to wreak havoc. My heart breaks for all those who experienced Irma and are still there, in need of rescue and basic life services.

I happened to already be away on vacation when the storms hit and have watched this horror from afar. I, like so many others, have lost my home, most of my possessions, and the island life that I loved so much. It is a surreal feeling – knowing that when I closed up my home to leave for vacation, I was walking away from everything I know and cherish. But I am one of the lucky ones. I did not experience that storm and I am safe in the US now.

The islands you love need your help desperately.

If you are a tourist who has ever visited these islands, please help. If you are someone who has ever dreamed of living in “paradise,” please help. If you used to live on an island, please help. If you are a fellow islander, please help.

*photo via Shaun Schroeter on Facebook

People have lost their businesses, their livelihoods, their homes, and all of their worldly possessions. They are in need of food, shelter, and evacuation. The situation is immediate and dire. The widespread destruction throughout the Caribbean is unprecedented.

I have tried to compile a list of ways you can help NOW for each of the islands effected. If you have additional organizations that you think need to be shared, please add them in the comments space of this post below or in the comments of the link of this post shared on our Facebook page.

Here is what I have so far, by region:


Caribbean Tourism Organization

Global Giving

Sailors Helping



Center for Disaster Philanthropy

Save the Children

Direct Relief

Samaritan’s Purse

Caribbean Rotary Clubs

Help Resort Staff Throughout the Caribbean

Donate via Apple Store (How To)

Irma Aftermath


All Hands Volunteers

Sandals Foundation

ARK / BWA Aide


Anguilla Go Fund Me

Help Anguilla Rebuild Now

Anguilla Help

Help Rebuild Seaside Stables Anguilla


Halo Foundation – Barbuda Relief Effort

Barbuda Go Fund Me

Barbuda Recovery

Barbuda Hurricane Animals

Antigua & Barbuda Red Cross


Help Cuban Animals


Dominica Go Fund Me

UrtheRootz Mission: Rebuild Dominica


Vieques Love

Vieques Citizens

Puerto Rico Real Time Recovery Fund

NVOAD Volunteers

Save the Children – Puerto Rico

Acacia Puerto Rico

United for Puerto Rico

Friends of Puerto Rico


St. Barth Disaster Relief Fund

St. Barth Go Fund Me

Gustavia Relief Fund


St Maarten Go Fund Me

Rebuild SXM

Dutch Sister Islands Fund

French St. Martin


SXM Paws – Animal Relief Fund

St. Maarten Hurricane Relief


BVI Relief Fund

Virgin Unite Community Support Appeal

Jost Van Dyke Go Fund Me

BVI Government via Pledgeling

Three Sheets Sailing – Accepting Mailed Donations

BVI Go Fund Me

BVI Immediate Relief – You Caring

Virgin Gorda Community – You Caring

Amazon BVI Pets Wish List

JVD Strong

BVI Strong Apparel

Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society

BVI Volunteers


Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands

St. John Community Foundation

Virgin Islands Relief

Irma Relief for our Sister Islands

Love for Love City by Kenny Chesney

St. John Rescue

Art for Love City

Gifft Hill School

Tim Duncan VI Relief

USVI “Adopt a Family”

United Way USVI

My Brother’s Workshop

USVI Amazon Wish List

ReVIve the VI

St. John Go Fund Me

Patient Assist VI

USVI Recovery

Animal Evacuation


Turks & Caicos Go Fund Me

Turks & Caicos You Caring

Turks & Caicos Just Giving

Friends of Beaches – Turks & Caicos


Bahamas Humane Society

Bahamas – You Caring

I know this is overwhelming. There are so many places that need help. But contributing literally ANYTHING that you can is what counts. And if you can keep contributing over time (add it to your monthly budget!), that would be even better. Pick one, pick several!

*photo via Brittany Meyers on Facebook

Please share this with everyone that has ever been touched by these beautiful islands – even if it’s just through a screensaver.

Additionally, keeping these islands and their people at the forefront of the media is essential. People quickly forget, but these islands will need help in the long haul. Any news coverage you are able to obtain to feature the islands in need would be incredibly helpful. Think local, think global.

Thank you for caring. The islands will come back to their glory one day. Now’s the time to point them in that direction.

Jun 032016

World Ocean’s Day is June 8th, and this year’s theme is “Healthy oceans, healthy planet”.  It’s been a while since we’ve discussed plastic pollution here on the blog, so in the spirit of World Ocean’s Day 2016, we wanted to reinstate a serial post called Breakup with Plastic, Makeup with the Ocean.

In these short periodic posts, we will provide a tip as to how you can reduce, reuse or recycle your plastic wares.


Tip 4 – Eliminate the use of beauty and personal care products containing plastic microbeads.

First, what are microbeads?  Microbeads are tiny plastic balls that are used in some cosmetic exfoliators, body washes, facial washes, scrubs, toothpastes and other products.

Why are microbeads bad?  Microbeads are a major source of plastic pollution in our oceans, lakes and other bodies of water.  Due to their minute size, they are not filtered out of the wastewater at sewage treatment plants. Also, they act as toxin absorbers, causing harm when they are inevitably ingested by marine life.  Eventually these tiny spheres move up the food chain, and we all know what that means for human who consume fish.

How can I determine that my products are microbead free?  By 2017, it will be illegal to manufacture and sell a cosmetic product containing microbeads in the United States.  Until then, or if you live in an area that has not banned microbeads, become a label-reading sleuth.  Look for the ingredients polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene, nylon or polymethlyl methacrylate, especially when purchasing products which claim to exfoliate or deep clean the skin.

Plastic pollution of our oceans may be a HUGE issue, but small changes CAN and DO help.  Please remember that your actions add up.


More about World Ocean’s Day 2016

This year World Ocean’s Day is organizing a Better Bag Challenge.  By taking the challenge, you promise not to take any disposable plastic bags for a whole year.  You can share your commitment on social media using the hashtag #BetterBagChallenge.


Jan 252016

Many photographers don’t have the time, the inclination or the technical knowledge to process, edit and optimize the images that they have taken.  Shooting your images is the fun part, but for many, post-processing is simply a chore.

Eagle Ray Before and AfterWe are happy to share that Meredith is now offering professional photo editing & retouching services for underwater photographers.  As an experienced underwater photo editor/photographer, and a scuba diver of 20+ years, Meredith specializes in enhancing the beauty of your underwater subjects.

You can find more information about our photo editing services here. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions, or for a custom quote, at reeftraveleronline@gmail.com.

Jan 182016

One of the most common questions I hear from beginner underwater photographers is, “Do I really need to use a strobe?”.  This is a very valid and important question.  The addition of a strobe, or two strobes, adds a significant amount of bulk and weight to your camera setup.  There’s also the fact that strobes are expensive. Taking these factors into account, it’s easy to see why this question should be carefully considered.

Like with many other all-important questions, the answer to this one is, “it depends”.  It depends on several factors.  Let’s go through a few of them.

Do you snorkel only?  Or will you be scuba diving?

This is probably the most important factor to consider.  In this discussion, it’s helpful to understand a bit about the color spectrum and how it is affected by water and depth.  Water is a very effective absorber of light, and certain colors disappear quickly with each foot of depth or horizontal distance.  Red is almost completely absorbed at 15 feet (5 meters).  Orange and yellow are the next to disappear.

If you are snorkeling at shallow depths, you may be able to get good color in your photos using only natural light (sunlight).  The time of day, your shooting angle and the weather conditions will be an important factor.  Direct sun (or midday sun) coming from overhead often casts harsh shadows on your subject, so mid morning or afternoon sun is often best.

Whitetip Reef Shark, no flash, notice the shadows on the subject due to shooting in mid-day sun

Whitetip Reef Shark, snorkeling photo, no flash.  Notice the shadows on the subject due to shooting in mid-day sun.

Southern Stingray in St. John, no flash, shot in later afternoon. Notice the more diffused light.

Southern Stingray in St. John, snorkeling photo, no flash, shot in late afternoon. Notice the more diffused light.

What quality do you want in your photos?  Think about the quality you want in your photographs.  If you simply want a few snapshots to remember your adventures, and you are not looking for high quality, color-saturated images, you don’t necessarily need a strobe.  Keep in mind that if you are diving below 10 feet (3 m), your photos will have a strong blue/green cast, and they will lack a variety of color tones.  For some divers, this is perfectly acceptable.  If, however, you want images that are suitable for framing or printing, you will want to use at least one strobe to restore the colors that are lost at depth.  And please, shoot in RAW format if your camera allows (more on this here).

We recently photographed this longlure frogfish at 25 feet (8 m) with and without flash.

Without Flash

Without Flash

Green Frogfish Bari Reef S 2

With flash (dual strobes), notice the color difference

What do you intend to photograph?  Do you plan to photograph fish, humans, reefscapes, marine mammals, wrecks or something else entirely?  This will be an important question to answer.

Let’s say you plan to shoot whale sharks while snorkeling.  First, lucky you.  Second, ambient light is probably best.  Remember that your strobe will throw light about 5 feet (1.5 m) in distance.  A whale shark is much, much larger than that.  So it’s virtually impossible to evenly light an entire whale shark with one or two strobes.

Whale Shark in the Maldives, no flash

Whale Shark in the Maldives, no flash

If you intend to photograph humpback whales, dolphins or marine mammals, sharks or large marine creatures in blue water, you should not use a strobe.  Your strobe will not illuminate the entire subject, and swimming with it will limit your maneuverability while snorkeling.  Try to position the sun to your back to help eliminate those pesky shadows (like you see in my whale shark photo above).

When your subjects are tropical fish, coral or reefscapes, you will need at least one strobe to bring out the full spectrum and saturation of colors that give the reef its beauty.  Photographing a vibrant coral reef without a strobe isn’t likely to do it justice.

There are always exceptions to these general ideas about flash -vs- ambient light in underwater photography. We know one incredible reef/fish photographer who uses only the internal flash in the camera, and her results are unbelievable.  We also know photographers who use LED lights for still photography underwater.  Experienced photographers often develop their own unique techniques that fall outside of the norm. What are your thoughts on this?  Do you use one strobe or two?  Or just the sunlight?

More Reeftaveler posts about underwater photography techniques-

How to Take Better Fish Portraits

How to Take Your Snorkeling Photography to the Next Level

How to Take Better Fish Portraits

Underwater Photography Etiquette

Jan 252015

Fish portrait photography can be a challenging endeavor.  Some fish are notoriously shy.  Some dart away faster than the blink of an eye.  Others are curious and may swim around you, but will seldom give you a facial shot (the barracuda and the porcupine fish come to mind here).

If you are looking to improve your fish portraits, or even if you are just starting out, below are a few strategies you can employ to maximize your chances of getting the perfect shot.

1.  Get Close to the Subject – This is probably the most important rule.  If you aren’t close to your subject, you have almost no chance of capturing a sharp, compelling image.

2.  Regulate Your Breathing – Try to take slow, deliberate breaths.  Many fish are afraid of the hissing and gurgling noises that you inevitably make underwater.  Not to mention that your bubbles are a visual disturbance.

3.  Approach Slowly– Approach your subject in a slow, cautious and deliberate manner.  You may need to stop and watch before your move in closer.

4.  Maintain Situational Awareness – You may have sighted a rare species, which is naturally an exciting moment.  But this does not mean that you can forget about basic diving skills, your own safety, and your duty to protect the reef and its inhabitants.  Maintain good buoyancy and watch your depth.  Don’t descend too deep in pursuit of a subject.  Likewise, if you spot a fish at a higher depth, beware of ascending too quickly.  These may sound like basic concepts, but I have heard stores of experienced divers incurring serious harm by ascending too quickly in pursuit of a subject.  Also, don’t harm the coral or harass sea life in pursuit of the shot.  And remember that your flash is harmful to the fish’s eyes, so please don’t take 50 flash shots of that frogfish that can’t get out of your way.

5.  Increase Shutter Speed and Shoot Full Manual if Your Camera Supports it (Many lower end compact cameras may not have these features, so feel free to skip ahead if you have a camera that shoots only automatic modes).  – The best way to clearly capture quickly moving subjects is to set your own aperture, ISO and shutter speed.  I typically use a shutter speed of 1/250, an aperture between 4.0 – 5.6 and ISO 100-200 for fish portraits in clear, tropical water.

6.  Background is Important – Whether its a deep blue or black background, or a brightly colored sponge of a contrasting color – your background matters.  It isn’t solely the subject that makes a shot come to life.  If you are shooting RAW, it may be easy to fix some background disturbances or problems. A stray fin from a diver may be easy to remove, excess noise can be reduced, and you can often darken your background while maintaining a nice exposure on the subject.

7.  Study Fish Behavior – Get to know your subject.  Is it skittish?  Does it repeat a certain behavior pattern?  Does it have a mate?  Take time to dive the same sites and become familiar with the critters.

8.  Know Your Camera – Shutter lag time, auto focus lag time, and flash recycle time are important things to know when shooting moving subjects like fish.

9.  Focus on the Eyes– Keep the focus on your subject’s eyes.  Watch your depth of field.  If it’s too shallow, you risk losing focus or clarity on other important features of the fish.

10.  Minimize Direct Eye Contact with the Fish – Some fish (and many other animals) feel threatened by direct eye contact and will take defensive measures.  Your goal is to make the fish comfortable with your presence, while not interfering with its natural behaviors.  Keep your eyes on the camera’s viewfinder or display screen.

Here are a few of our recent fish portraits from Bonaire.

The Odd Shaped Swimmers

balloonfish yellow sub S


scorpionfish bari reef S


 The Angels

French Angel Yellow Sub M

Juvenile French Angelfish

french angelfish salt pier M

French Angelfish

 The Eels

goldentail moray bari reef S

Goldentail Moray Eel

lone garden eel invisibles m

Margintail Conger Eel

Do you have any tips for successful fish portraits?  If so, please share.  I’d love to know what works for you.

Related Links

Underwater Photography Etiquette

Snorkeling Photography – Moving Beyond the Basics

Guide to Photographing Fish