A Tale of Two Photo Pros

Signing up for another professionally led photographic trip was not without hesitation. Some years previously, I had succumbed to the enticement of an Ocean Geographic trip to French Polynesia, which promised tutoring and mentorship in my growing interest in underwater photography. The entire idea smacked of an exotic photographic adventure that would liberate me from the stress of work and allow me to transcend my present skill set. I could not sign up quickly enough.

It soon became clear there were to be no lectures, no practical demonstrations, no personal mentorship nor even any particular interest in me as a client. It was a voyage of disappointment for those of us uninitiated in what was, in essence, a promotional venture. The hope of lectures and photographic instruction rapidly evaporated and was clearly fiction presented solely in the glossy brochure. The very few evening talks were characterized only by pics of this photo pro’s travels and tours, with opportunities to sign up for future travel. It was clearly unabashed self-promotion.

As divers, we are often drawn not merely to the inherent adventure of the dives but also the potential opportunity to immerse ourselves in the history, marine biology, and culture of a unique and previously unexplored region that has long been circled upon our wall maps at home. Add to this the potential of mastering some skill, particularly one as daunting as underwater photography, and the lure to join the trip is an irresistible siren’s song. When one considers the financial and even emotional investment in these “bucket list” trips and the grand expectations of the advertisements beckoning us in the tundra of the American Winter, it is profoundly disheartening to be greeted by indifference and unprofessionalism upon reaching “paradise.”

Regarding this particular siren’s song, I would have been better off had I followed the example of Ulysses and had myself tied to the proverbial mast, thereby resisting any temptation. I departed with a gaudy t-shirt, a deep-rooted skepticism about the underwater photo pro-led trip, and wondering what constitutes the term “pro” anyway: publications, awards, international recognition, social media notoriety? How and who designates this?

So, when a friend shared an opportunity to explore the Sea of Cortez last August aboard the Rocio Del Mar with Bluewater Travel’s Nirupam Nigam, it was challenging to assuage my already brittle skepticism. At the urge of my close friend, I decided to take a chance. Ultimately, it would prove to be a gamble worth taking.

Nirupam is an unassuming, humble man with a keen intellect and mischievous wit, already a winning combination for me. My skepticism was beginning to thaw. A warm smile initiated our meeting, followed by a sincere exploration of how he could help those in his charge, the responsibility he took very seriously. He unassumingly embraced the needs of all the photographers over the ensuing days with generous doses of warm humor and an unrelenting knowledge of optics, technology, cameras, and imaginative approaches to capture the moments one seeks to engrave upon the camera’s memory card.

From award-winning images to underexposed, blurred, or overexposed flashes of light, or as in my case, detailed depictions of backscatter, he quietly shared methods of improvement both in and out of the water as he rotated between groups and individuals. Having reached a level of frustration when I was about to ditch my camera for an Etch-A-Sketch, a mustachioed figure (he had a plastic mustache applied to his reg) silently glided up beside me and tugged on my elbow. Nirupam graciously stayed by my side as we worked through various settings until the shot was perfected.

That was not the last time for either myself or the other photographers, even though he was also testing equipment. I had never experienced that kind of attention on any previous trip; the “pro” was not uncommonly seeking out his own pics and placing his needs first. Clearly, the reverse was the professional standard that he adhered to; his needs were secondary to those of the student photographers. My skepticism was now definitely receding into the category of memories past. Between dives, time was spent in didactic discussions of photographic techniques and editing, but rapidly diverted into a free-flowing teaching session and exchange of ideas and resolution of challenges. Upon completion of the session he invited anyone requesting reiteration of the topic or insights into individual areas of concern to stay into the late hours.

Nirupam was an unrelentingly patient and thoughtful educator. He is the antithesis of what I and others had experienced in French Polynesia. It was obvious that the client/student was his prime “focus.” I don’t believe anyone left without greater insights into the subtleties of underwater photography. But further, everyone left with a sense of excitement, accomplishment and a desire for greater learning.

As a tale of two photo pros, it is far better to go with a true professional.

Rating: 5.0/5. From 1 vote.
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