Last year, just in 5 days of diving in Anilao with Crystal Blue Resort, besides other numerous animals, I was able to photograph more than 50 species of nudibranchs. I decided to return to CBR (Crystal Blue Resort) and to stay there for 10 days, anxious if I can double my previous record. Plus, as added bonus, Mike Bartick, well published underwater professional photographer, was giving Underwater Photo Class and just that was well worth to make a trip.

Crystal Blue Resort, Mabini. Philippines

I flew from Boston february 9th on a new Boeing 787-8 and 13+ hours that I spent on the plane passed just like a “dream”. Nice, spacious aircraft with 110V electric outlets under each seat, USBs and entertainment system, bearing somewhere in the depth of its 10-inch screen plenty of music, games and movies to keep you busy for days. My previous trip to the same destination took longer and cost me more than I paid this time – $1077 vs. $1343 paid last year.

I also would like to say a very special thanks to Heather, a beautiful soul, who helped me to get one out of 4 empty sits in the last row. Sweet. (By the way, there are no restrooms in the tail section of 787-8.)

Crystal Blue Resort

Despite my very late arrival, about 1 o’clock in the morning, the driver was waiting for me at the airport and two and a half hours later I entered my room. I missed the first dive, busy setting up my camera and dive gears, but the second morning dive, afternoon and night dives were mines to enjoy.


After each day of diving, gears would be washed and hang to dry by a member of a dive team. In the morning, everything was put together and waited for us on the boat. All I had to do is to analyze the nitrox and check in the water basin impermeability of my Ikelite housing.

View from dining area

After two morning dives, we had a lunch, then, at 3 pm., there was an afternoon dive and, if you wish, at about 5 – 5:30 pm one could explore darkened waters of Anilao. Then, upon return from the night dive, the dinner was served, followed by free time, which mostly was used to upload, catalogue and to discuss new findings. My room was spacious, clean and air-conditioned to my liking.

Last time I’ve written the whole paragraph, dedicated to the chef Rey and his kitchen team. And this time, I can only reaffirm my previous sentiment, this guy really knows how to excite your taste buds. Right on the first day, sitting with 5-6 people at the same table, I began to hear from the others how well everything was prepared. Every day for the lunch and dinner, besides yummy soups, fresh salads, fruits and desserts, one could’ve had 4 different main courses – fish, chicken, beef and pork. Every dish not only looked appetizing but also was tasted delicious. If we talk about the quality of the food – then out of all my trips to other resorts … so far … the kitchen at CBR remains to be the most memorable one. I’d like to express my great appreciation and to say thanks to all, and especially to chief Rey, for preparing such a great meals.


CBR utilizes bangkas, Philippine style boat with two supportive bamboo beams, hanging on each side of its sleek, narrow-hull.

Bangka – Filipino style boat

Skippers and deckhands were attentive and very helpful, leaving to us nothing to do but donning our gears and back rolling into the blue. After resurfacing, while still in the water, we would pass our cameras, tanks, masks and fins for an easy climb back on the deck, where hot coffee or a steaming cup of chocolate already was waiting.

Hypselodoris bullocki – one of my first nudi

The hot drink may sound unnecessary, but after a few days of diving in the 76-79’F water temp, wearing a 3mm suit, I sure appreciated the amenities. (I broad with me a dry suit (Waterproof D9,) about 12 dives old, but on a second day it begin to leak near the dump valve, and then the whole mechanism stocked in the closed position. It is not a bad dry suit and it’s very light to travel with; I only wished that quality of its craftsmanship matched its high price.)

White Spot Anemone Shrimp (Periclimenes brevicarpalis)

We had 3-4 divers per one Dive Master and at such ratio each had an ample time to get 4-5 shots before the other got a chance to “digitize” his or her observations.

Thecacera picta

Last year I dove with Herbert, great dive guide, who actually suggested returning in February, the water a bit colder, but more creatures moving  closer to the shores, into shallower, warmer water column. However, during this trip, I dove with DM Pong and I don’t know if someone could’ve topped up his outstanding performance. Besides the usual, more or less sizable suspects, he was able to find nudibranchs that could’ve easily passed through the eye of the needle. It takes great experience, enormous patience, boundless persistence and respectable knowledge to be able to find numerous interesting subjects.

Costasiella usagi

Rabbit Sapsucking Slug (Costasiella usagi) bearly 2-3mm in length

Essentially, at CBR, performance of each DM worth the highest regard, but I am considering myself very lucky to be guided by DM Pong. I am planning to come back to Anilao, but only if I dive with one of the guides from CBR team.

Hippocampus bargibanti

Pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

Hippocampus bargibanti

Pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

During this trip, I made 30 dives, the average duration was about 75 minutes. We visited many dive sites and I cannot name any spot that I’d called boring. Each site, thanks to our awesome DM’s, revealed creatures that I’ve never seen before, including … finally … a blue ringed octopus!!!

Hapalochlaena maculosa

Blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa)

Photo Classes with Mike Bartick

Right after two morning dives, and scrumptious lunch, we all, that is 6-8 divers, gathered in the classroom for instructions and reviews by Mike.

Photo class with Mike Bartik

Mike at photo class

Every session I spent in photo class with Mike gave me solid understandings and, what most important, the logical approach to underwater camera settings as well as consequences of strobe positions. After a few day of learning, I better understood the subsequent effects of the direction and the power of the light applied to the photographed subject.

Ceratosoma alleni

We also discussed the snoot photography. Very interesting idea to take pictures with a narrowed amount of light directed right on the subject, thus almost completely eliminating the presence of a backscatter. Basically, the whole concept resembles theater’s darkened stage with the beam of the floodlight intensifying presence of the performer.

Gymnodoris sp. 4

Thanks to Retra Underwater Technologies, I was able to make a few dives with the snoot perfectly fitted over Ikelite DS 161. There is some learning curve to master such technique, plus not every subject is a perfect candidate for the snoot photography (the subject, more or less, must be motionless) but if you get it – the final result may well worth the effort. I’ve “snooted” if I may say that, a few nudibranchs with the Retra LSD Prime (older design unit) and saw a lot of capabilities of such tool. Below you can clearly see the striking distinction of the final outcome. In both instances, all subjects were shot with the time difference just enough to add or to remove the snoot.

Phyllodesmium parangatum shot with the snoot

Phyllodesmium parangatum shot without the snoot

Ceratosoma sinuatum shot with the snoot

Ceratosoma sinuatum shot without the snoot

Retra LSD Prime snoot (older version)

In general, classes were very helpful and it seemed to me that Mike was holding nothing back, he quite cheerfully shared his extensive knowledge and expertise with all who was willing to listen and to learn. One of the topics was dedicated to the importance of the preliminary research of the animals that interest you. Knowledge of creature’s behavior and intricate features of its body would help you to get a “prized” shot. One of the examples – Jonolus sp. 7 – a beautiful and very photogenic nudi, but it is also the species that has a unique “mohawk” growing right between its rhinophores. Who knew?

Jonolus sp. 7


First of all, I would like yet again to thank all personal at Crystal Blue for their attentiveness, smiles and infinite kindness towards their guests. At dive deck, restaurant, boats and office, they all were working to make us feel welcomed and happy to dive with CBR’s dive teams. Well, they achieved their principal goal with the highest mark and that’s the main reason why I would wanted to come back.

And what concerned underwater flora and fauna – it is an amazing place to explore. I don’t think that anyone would ever be able to dive in the waters of the Anilao and resurface without exclaiming “WOW, that was a-a-a-awesome!!!” I also noticed very little of garbage that floats on the surface. Hopefully, this trend will continue, preserving and improving health and the fantastic beauty of our oceans.

Hymenocera picta

Harlequin shrimp. (Hymenocera picta)

What also worth mentioning, is that people from all over the world can gather together and get along just fine. Our group consisted citizens of US, Russia, Canada, France and Hong Kong. Therefore, I would like to express my gratitude to a good providence that I was able to meet and get acquainted with whom I dove and shared my leisure time at CBR – Jason, Alexi, Aleksey, Kent, Amy and Amandine – thank you, guys, I hope we’ll meet and dive together again.

Cassiopea ornata

Upside Down Jellyfish (Cassiopea andromeda)

Safe diving and cool new discoveries to all.

Canon 5D Mark IIIIkelite 5D Mark III housing, 2 DS-161 substrobesSola Photo 1200+5 SubSea magnifier+10 SubSea magnifier Special thanks to Mike B. for letting me use +10 SubSea magnifier lens.

About the author - Timur Kholodenko

Timur Kholodenko

Began diving in 2009 and instantly fell in love with the ocean. I like diving in cold waters, so, as of today, my favorite place for the underwater exploration is the Saguenay river, Canada. Hobby – underwater photography. I’m dreaming that people would stop dumping wastes into the ocean and learn to treat our planet with utmost respect.