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  • By Joyce McClure

Swimming with Gentle Giants: Underwater Photogs Gather in Yap for MantaFest 2018

Prize winner: Blacktip Sharks by underwater photographer and dive enthusiast Jim Decker,

Cobble Hill BC Canada, who swam away with top honors during MantaFest 2018 in Yap.

Colonia, Yap-- You know those underwater photos that show a split between what’s above the water and what’s below? Over/Under, or Split Images, is one of the many techniques that underwater photography enthusiasts learned during MantaFest 2018. Now in its eleventh year, the popular event hosted by the Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers attracts divers to the small, remote island of Yap in Micronesia to capture images of the renowned resident population of manta rays and their underwater neighbors in and around the reef.

Cameras, lenses, lighting, f-stops, bracketing, to-zoom-or-not-to-zoom and the way color is absorbed the deeper you dive were among the many topics of conversation as visitors from the U.S., Germany, Taiwan, Korea and Canada shared their stories from the days’ dives during the two-week long event. “We had a great mix of nationalities participating this year,” said Bill Acker, founder of the resort. “They were given exclusive dive areas in small groups with two guides and no bottom time limits to capture their images,” he added, “and they can dive up to four times per day.”

During the event, professional photographers work closely with the divers who use their choice of digital SLRs, compact cameras or video. Lessons focus on Lightroom work flow, brushes and filters, film editing, drone flying, histograms and shooting wide angle. At the end of each day, everyone meets in the Crow’s Nest bar atop the Mnuw, an Indonesian schooner anchored next to the hotel that is popular with guests and locals alike, for a pint or two of Manta Ray’s own brewed-on-the-premises beer. There they watch videos by well-known underwater photographers that are projected on the schooner’s large outdoor screen, review their day’s work, get one-on-one critiques from the pros, and begin to decide which shots they’ll enter in the final competition. More than $25,000 worth of prizes are awarded for the categories of Big Animals, Behavior, Land/Culture, Macro and Reef Scenic.

But there’s more than just diving among the 625 species of fish that were catalogued in 2007 around Yap and its Outer Islands. Known for its unique stone money and for being one of the best-preserved cultures in the Pacific region, an introduction to the Yapese way of life is included in the once-in-a-lifetime experience. Island and culture tours include traditional dance performances, visits to one of the world-famous Stone Money Banks where the massive stone discs lean against hand-built community houses, World War II memorials honoring the men who died during the yearlong battle to gain control of the island and more.

Next year’s MantaFest is scheduled for August 24 – September 8, 2019. Packages for 4, 7, 10 or 14 night stays range from $1,039 to $3,239 exclusive of airfare. For more information, go to or #mantaraybay.:


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