The Best Destinations for Underwater Photography
Frogfish are a reliable macro photography favorite on the reefs of Bonaire.
1st Place Winner: Caribbean and Atlantic
For underwater photography newcomers, it’s hard to beat Bonaire’s ideal conditions. “It’s basically a gigantic swimming pool,” says Guillermo Alcorta, the photo pro at Buddy Dive Resort.
There’s no need to fight waves on the surface, and at depth, no struggle to hold a position while tinkering with a shot at sites such as Tolo, Alcorta’s favorite for scenic wide-angle compositions thanks to its combination of hard corals, soft corals and sponges.
As for macro subjects, the possibilities are endless, from seahorses to frogfish. “I’m a frogfish lover, and this year we’ve been lucky, finding them in couples and trios and even groups of five, all in the same spot,” says Alcorta.
As for the best site, “Something Special has such an easy entry, and it’s been a favorite for years and years,” says Alcorta. What’s more, the majority of images in the Bonaire edition of the REEF Fish ID book series were taken at that particular site—inspiration indeed.
Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire
Carib Inn, Bonaire
Eden Beach Resort, Bonaire
Buddy Dive, Bonaire
Carib Inn Dive Center, Bonaire
Divi Dive Bonaire Toucan Divers at Plaza Resort, Bonaire
VIP Diving, Bonaire
Wannadive Bonaire at Eden Beach Resort
1st Place Winner: U.S. and Canada
2. Florida Keys
The good news for divers driving to the Florida Keys is there’s no limit to how much you can pack: Go ahead and bring all the lenses—you’re going to need them.
“You get everything from small, macro subjects like corkscrew anemones with Pederson cleaner shrimp all the way up to eagle rays,” says Jeff Gneiser, owner of Amoray Dive Center, part of Amoray Dive Resort on Key Largo.
Eagle rays can be seen any time of year, but the biggest numbers appear in early summer. Goliath grouper, nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, bull sharks and turtles round out the mix of big animals commonly seen on Key Largo and throughout the Keys.
Amoray Dive Resort, Key Largo, Florida Keys
Courtyard by Marriott Key Largo, Florida Keys
Holiday Inn, Key Largo, Florida Keys
Marina Del Mar, Key Largo, Florida Keys
Captain Hook’s Dive Key West, Florida Keys
Horizon Divers, Key Largo, Florida Keys
Rainbow Reef, Key Largo, Florida Keys
3. Bay Islands
The island of Roatan, Honduras, has it all: wrecks, reefs and muck diving.
Wrecks such as the Mr. Bud, a 75- foot cargo ship, underwater since 1995, serve as shelter for jawfish, peacock flounder, sailfin blennies, Atlantic longarm octopuses, purple-spotted sea goddesses, and a wealth of other small-scale life.
“You can completely geek out on wide-angle and all kinds of reef scenes,” says Stacy Lewis, general manager of CocoView Resort on Roatan.
For bigger marine life, go west, where schools of larger fish, such as mature grouper, tend to congregate.
What’s perhaps most surprising to divers, even those who have explored Roatan before, is the muck diving. Lewis and the dive crew at CocoView have only recently started diving a 45-foot-deep site called French Key Cut. It’s there that in the past year Lewis has found more than 22 dwarf frogfish among the algae and the coral rubble. “The site doesn’t look like it has much going on, but it’s amazing what you can find,” he says.
Anthony’s Key Resort, Roatan, Honduras
CocoView Resort, Roatan, Honduras
Mayan Princess Beach & Dive Resort, Roatan, Honduras
Turquoise Bay Dive & Beach Resort, Roatan, Honduras
Anthony’s Key Resort Dive Shop, Roatan, Honduras
Barefoot Divers, Roatan, Honduras
Dockside Dive Center at CocoView Resort, Roatan, Honduras
Subway Watersports, Roatan, Honduras
Utila Lodge Dive Center, Honduras
Roatan Aggressor, Honduras
1st Place Winner: Pacific and Indian
There’s a reason photographers who travel to Indonesia never forget their dive guides’ names. In this critter-rich destination, the better the eyes of your guide, the better your image haul—and trip satisfaction.
Take Muji, an underwater guide with 15 years of experience at Wakatobi Dive Resort on Sulawesi. Muji excels at pointing out phenomenal finds. A few weeks ago at the dive site Dunia Baru, it was a Lembeh pygmy sea dragon, a species only discovered in 2006. “This was a first for me and the highlight for my underwater photography,” says Robert Keuzer, a guest of the luxury resort.
Beyond just the pygmy seahorses, Indonesia’s list of critters is endless, from several species of fire-colored flasher wrasses to the blue-ringed octopus. “That’s the thing about Indonesia and especially Wakatobi: You can’t help but be surprised on every trip because there are always new things to be found,” says Karen Stearns, marketing manager of the resort.
Wakatobi Dive Resort, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Wakatobi Dive Resort Dive Center, Indonesia
All Star Aurora, Indonesia
The Arenui, Indonesia
Dewi Nusantara, Indonesia
Pelagian Yacht, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Green sea turtles make for agreeable photo subjects in Hawaii.
There’s a danger to shooting macro photography on the Navy tug off the island of Oahu. Narrow your mental and camera focus too much and it’s easy to miss the moment when something big passes by in the background. “The coolness factor of the tug is that it’s right next to a ledge,” says Brian Benton, owner of Dive Oahu. Just an eighth of a mile away is a deepwater corridor where mantas, humpback whales and whale sharks pass.
The encounters might be too quick for composing a photo of both the wreck and pelagic, but not so fast that the sighting can’t be captured on memory cards at all. The whale photo ops are most frequent during season, September to April. After all, says Benton, “It’s not hard when your visibility is 100 feet on most days.”
Big Island Divers, Hawaii
Dive Maui, Hawaii
Dive Oahu, Hawaii
Jack’s Diving Locker, Hawaii
Kona Diving Company, Hawaii
Kona Honu Divers, Hawaii
Maui Dive Shop, Hawaii
Maui Diving Scuba Center, Hawaii
Maui Dreams Dive Co., Hawaii
Seasport Divers, Kauai, Hawaii
Efren De Los Santos
A tiny whip coral shrimp crawls on a whip coral in Anilao, Philippines.
Muck meets reef in the macro photography mecca that is the Batangas region of the Philippines, a two-hour drive from the capital of Manila.
Nicknamed the Nudibranch Capital of the World, Anilao is famous for sea slugs along with a host of rare critters, including rhinopias and the mimic octopus. Rarer still, yet found here regularly, is Melibe colemani, also known as the ghost nudi, a dorid species whose body looks like nothing more than a skeleton made of gossamer netting. Then there’s Miamira alleni, a sea slug appearing to have sprouted stalks covered in bubbles, mimicking carnation tree corals.
As for where to find it all, Dood Santos, in-house scuba instructor for Buceo Anilao Beach and Dive Resort, says, “For muck diving, you can’t beat the site Saim-Sim. Here you can find different kinds of frogfish, octopuses— maybe the blue-ringed octopus if you’re lucky—ghost pipefish and many more.”
Atlantis Dive Resorts, Puerto Galera and Dumaguete, Philippines
Atmosphere Resorts & Spa, Dumaguete, Philippines
Philippine Siren, Philippines
Caribbean and Atlantic
- Bay Islands
- Cayman Islands
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- Turks and Caicos
Pacific and Indian
- Truk Lagoon
- French Polynesia
U.S. and Canada
- Florida Keys
- North Carolina
- British Columbia
- Great Lakes
What Is Readers Choice?
We’ve averaged reader survey results from 2020, 2021 and 2022 to bring you the Best of Readers Choice awards. Here we feature some of the top-rated destinations in the world, along with the winning resorts, operators and liveaboards serving those areas, listed in alphabetical order. For more: /readerschoice