I’m just wrapping up the first phase of a project to build a promotional photo library for the national tourism authority of the Solomon Islands.

The assignment ended in a workshop to review what has been shot and to plan for Stage Two which will concentrate on capturing some defining images of the destination including a cultural “Hero Shot” (yes, I’m excited), some ariels, a few wreck diving pictures and a some serious cruising images from around the islands. Importantly, we’ll be involving talent next time so expect to see more local interaction with tourists and images captured from a first-person perspective.

In the meantime, here’s a short preview of some of the photos that came out of the first stage of the project.

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Swimming with manta rays off Uepi Island in the Solomons.

Swimming with manta rays off Uepi Island in the Solomons.

Now this is an exceptional experience – swimming with a school of manta rays in the Solomon Islands.

I’ve headed out to photograph manta rays on several assignments in the South Pacific – each time without success – until today.

In fact, my last attempt in Micronesia nearly killed me as I stupidly tried to get ahead of three of them in a strong current and vomited into my regulator at about 20 metres from over-exertion before making a dangerously rapid ascent (yes, all you diving devotees, I have since been informed I can vomit into my regulator and stay underwater).

Hence, a distant blur is as close as I’ve come to photographing manta rays so you can imagine my delight to be surrounded by five of them in relatively clear, shallow water for about an hour with two free divers happy to swim around and be part of the photograph (well done Kate and Jason).

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With their large, white underbellies flashing against the blue backdrop, they’re such exquisite creatures to watch – surely the most graceful beneath the surface – hovering over their cleaning station like giant winged spaceships; able to disappear almost instantly with the slight unfurling of their two metre wings.

And thankfully (unlike the frigging whale sharks off Western Australia, he says), I didn’t have to swim frantically to keep up with them; they circled playfully, sometimes gliding straight towards me before effortlessly peeling off within arm’s length.

A mesmerising engagement; what an absolute joy.

This ranks as my second exceptional underwater encounter – the other was swimming with the humpback whales and their calfs near Vavau in Tonga several years ago.

And, like the whales, the mantas were almost enough to see me put my camera aside and just enjoy the moment (….I said almost. I’ll add a few more pics to this post when I get back).

In the meantime, here’s a few quick tips for those planning to photograph them:

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The past three days have been spent on Tavanipupu Island (below), in the same royal suite that pampered Prince William and Kate when they visited to Solomons. Fine accommodation indeed, surrounded by some pristine islands and coral gardens.

I’ll upload a preview of the shoot when I wrap it up in about a week’s time.

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A typical half and half shot

A typical half and half shot, captured in the Solomon Islands

As diving and snorkelling have been important draw cards to the destinations I’ve been shooting lately, I’ve spent some time playing with half-and-half underwater photography (above). Fact is, it ain’t easy to do well so, for those more technically inclined who are interested, I thought I’d post a few helpful hints:

– Equipment: You’ll need an underwater housing for your camera and a dome. I use a compact camera Sony RX100 and a detachable fish-eye dome (pic follows) which gives me a few more options to play with. As underwater photography is a fraction of my work as a tourism photographer, this small, compact set-up is easy to carry and it’s served me well beneath the surface.

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One of the shots from my previous assignments to the Solomons

One of the shots from my previous assignments to the Solomons

The national tourism authority of the Solomon Islands has commissioned a major overhaul of its promotional imagery, with two assignments leading into the creation of an On-Line Photo Library similar to those we have build for Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

I have shot the Solomons before (pic above) on occasional assignments over the years, however, this project represents a more considered approach to building a substantial library of promotional images for the country.

High on the shot list: Diving, culture, soft adventure and the country’s war history.

I landed in Honiara yesterday on the first 10 day assignment.

We’ll follow it up with a 10 day shoot involving talent when I return in a few months.