Bold colors of Cozumel

For years, i've wanted to visit Cozumel but was discouraged by the mixed reports of the lack of macro subjects and strictly drift diving and that it's not really for seasoned divers. Fortunately, after being encouraged by a friend and having had both vaccination jabs, i decided to hop down from So-Cal and check it out for myself. What I found was clean blue water, colorful reef's, great macro and a fun filled community of divers!

The island of Cozumel in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo is in the Caribbean sea, across the channel from Mainland Mexico's Playa Del Carmen on the Yucatan peninsula. Its a small island with a small town feel, great restaurant's and many ex-pat locals that call Cozumel home. The people are warm and friendly and there are also some great dive operations and guides. Not just "fun dive" dive- guides either but serious macro guides that know there stuff. 

Getting here was easy too. I flew from LAX with quick connectors through Dallas, right to the island. The water is 84º in May with the lowest temps of 78º'ish in January, so warm most of the year. The water color is a truly beautiful mix of cobalt and powder blue, reefs bright and punchy with fans and sponges and a topography of cuts, caverns, walls, pinnacles and even a few wrecks, and yes, there's is some great macro to be had as well. 

SI at a local beach

A diver passing one of the many cracks you can explore around the Columbia reef system

One thing about diving in Cozumel is that there are alot of divers here with all different skill levels. If your a photographer i suggest finding a nice place and then wait for a few minutes, a diver is sure to pass by and make for a great set up if you don't have a model.

The reefs are stunning and full of color. The reef systems are well managed by the government and the guides watch after them too. All dives are live drop, so no anchors are thrown onto the reefs. As a result, there are massive sponges, healthy sea fans and corals.  

Palancar reef system

The prevailing current turns most dives into drift dives. We had gentle currents for most of the trip pushing us along the sprawling reefs, im not a drift dive kind of guy but can appreciate the benefit of constantly moving water. The current keeps the reefs bright, vibrant and full of life which is easy to see as you drift through the vast beauty of the protected dive park area.

DM-Miguel, exploring a small swim through

Using the domed diffusers of the new Sea and Sea YSD-3 strobes added to the beam spread of the strobe flash. The light was easy to manage and really bumped up my shooting experience. I can honestly say that the YSD-3 is like shooting with the 250-pros sans the weight and bulkiness. 

A Yellow Faced Pike Blenny flaring in an aggressive posture 

If you like Blennies like I do then diving in Cozumel will make you very happy. Blennies in Cozumel are generally small but depending on the type you find, its smaller size is made up for with giant sized personalities and packed with character. While they are photogenic they can also be somewhat challenging to shoot. The Yellow Faced Pike Blenny is known to be somewhat shy when approached but If you take your time with them, they will become quite animated. Pike bennies are known to quickly spring up from their hole and begin bobbing up and down while flaring and posturing, particularly when they are within eyeshot of another pike blenny. This can actually be said for most bennies so when you see one acting up. bit, take a look around. When hunting Blennies, I've found it to be very helpful to keep your eyes trend forward and be on the lookout for movement. 

Spiny Cheek Blenny

With my blenny eyes on the ready, I spotted this over caffeinated little guy darting in and out of his hole.
My idea was to capture a photo of it moving through the water column but after a few humbling frames, I decided to re-work that strategy and go for something more realistic.  Spying the green background, I opened my aperture to give the image a nice bright feel and interesting bokeh.  

One of the wrecks at 2-boats

One of my favorite sites in Cozumel is called 2-boats which is in the downtown area.  The dive site is sprawling with large colorful blocks forming a trail that leads divers from one wreck to the next. Both wrecks and the reef blocks rest in shallow water and allows for long bottom times and plenty of sunlight. When im shooting wrecks, I feel there is an ALL or nothing feel and even though most stories are told in bits and pieces, the story of a wreck demands more for impact. Showing a large wreck in its entirety is important to me but it isn't always possible. Both of the wrecks at 2-boats are just small enough to frame well while large enough for intrigue. Im shooting without strobes and using ambient light and converted to black and white in Lightroom.

Across the channel from Cozumel is yet another place that should be visited at least once for every photographer, the Cenotes. Cenotes are basically sink holes and pits that are filled with fresh spring water, interconnected by a system of underground streams. The difficulty of diving these ranges from neophyte skill levels to the extreme. We booked with a local dive shop that handled all of the logistics once we arrived and because of that, we were able to make a day trip out of it. 
We grabbed the 8:00am ferry from Cozumel to Playa. The ferry was fast and clean and not that spendy but the schlepping of gear was a bear. I suggest doing this one-way and flying out through Cancun at the end of a trip. 
Ive never tried cave diving of any kind but im glad I did. I found the caverns, stalactites and stalagmites to be fascinating along with the giant cavernous rooms and melting limestone formations. Cave diving is certainly on my repeat list and knowing what I do now, I hope to be able to grab some better images.

I suggest using video lights and strobes for lighting, ask your guide to assist in lighting and defer to your guide for the best photo-ops. 

The Bat Cave

We dove the "Dos Ojos" cave complex that runs two separate circuits, the "Bat Cave" and "The Barbie line". Both were perfect for the day trip and for our skills as a group. The hardest part of diving the Cenotes was getting there and is definitely worth checking out.

The Barbie line

Aptly named for the Barbie being devoured by this mysterious fresh water crock!

Worlds best model-Gladys passing stalactites on the Barbie Line circuit

My buddy Walter shot a great video which you can watch by following the link below for a better idea and feel of our experience.

In addition to all of the other great diving, we also found time to work in some exploratory blackwater dives. 

Atlantic flying fish
Our blackwater exploration turned out to be very encouraging. The shallow channel allows for deepwater subjects to wash in and through with every tidal cycle and I enjoyed the blackwater opportunities immensely. The BW diving in Cozumel shows a lot of promise!

Larval lionfish

As I said in the beginning, I was hesitant to visit Cozumel and didn't know what to expect. I suppose dive trips and life for that matter are what we make of them and we certainly made the most of our visits. I found Cozumel to be easily accessible, fun and after the first trip, left me eager to return. With great Blackwater, beautiful wide angle, macro critters and cave diving, Cozumel is certainly someplace everyone should visit at least once....or twice!

Links to Walter's videos including the Cenotes and Blackwater are below, check them out!

All images were shot with:
Nikon D850|sigma 15mm 
Nikon D850|60mm with Kraken wide angle conversion lens
Nikon D850|105mm

Sea and Sea housing and the new YS-D3 lighting strobes using domed diffusers.

Special thanks to Scuba Playa

and Aldora Divers.

And a huge thanks to my sponsoring dive team that make every dive possible for me:
Sea and Sea underwater imaging
Ultralight Control Systems