I usually plan my diving trips around access to shore reefs in attempts to get the most time diving with my camera rig. In fact some of my best photographs were taken snorkeling in destinations with shore diving. In Turks for example I would go out to Smith’s Reef 2 to 3 times a day for macro, it was an incredible destination. At low tide the reef shelf is a few inches underwater and depth around the reef of 30+ fee there was an astounding amount of life everywhere I looked, turtles, fish, immense tarpon, corals.
I have dove Aruba Curacao and hope to hit Bonaire in 2016. Curacao and Bonaire are very similar as far as diving. Yon can rent a car, pick up some tanks and walk off any beach on the island and hit a reef. If your trying to dial in your camera rig, these islands are ideal. There is nothing worse than having equipment failure 30 minutes out on a dive boat. The Lesser Antilles is the place to hon your skills. I would have extra cards, charging station, and back up gear in my rental car that I can access in ten minutes if I had a failure.
I’m just beginning in underwater photography, I have much to learn. What I have found useful is being able to shoot off shore, swim back in and take a look at my photos on a laptop or table then go back out. Both technique and lighting have proved to be the most important aspects of getting good photos for me. Gear does play a role, but with the right lights and patience you can get a great shot with almost anything. I upgraded all my gear last year, my original rig was based on a GoPro 3 Black, it was a cost effective way of getting into video / photos. The fixed lens and cheap lights worked well for a minute, but I knew I’d have to save up and take the plunge if I really desired some great macro shots. I moved on to a Canon rig, mainly because of the low light sensitivity and shutter speed. Prior to the GoPro I rented gear from dive shops, most of the time it was a year old Sea & Sea set up. These worked well as I honed my skills over a few years, at first I was very clumsy with rigs as diving itself was still not second nature. As I got better and could concentrate more on shots I started to realize the shortcomings of the set ups.
Looking at my photos now I’m pretty ticked I did not move forward with better gear earlier. Shots from the last five years are pretty poor compared to the last two. My only solace is that the technology was really not there, or at least not in my price range. I never visit the same place twice, but I think in the next decade I’ll have to make some considerations. I really want to revisit Curacao at some point, I’d like to spent a few weeks jumping between there on Bonaire, but I have allot of trips in front of this. So my advise to anyone looking to get into underwater photography, jump into it with a GoPro Black, buy get two lights!!! That set up will certainly get you going and should not set you back more than $1,000. Take a look at eBay and get the last model GoPro (used) and #2 i-Torches, again going back one model and you can really get a great deal from someone who has done and upgrade.