Anilao Underwater Shootout



It all started 5 years ago, when Anilao was starting to gain traction from divers all over the world. Since then, it has been hailed as the holy grail for macro photography in the Philippines. This year, Studio H2O covered the journey of the competitors in uncovering and discovering the marine biodiversity in Anilao.


I was sitting with a cup of coffee at Wowie’s house with Jan at 5 in the morning. We were laughing and talking about the marathon they just conquered, their plans for the shootout, and Wowie shared insights about the directing masterclass he took. I can see how much they looked forward to this project. I haven’t gotten enough sleep the previous night but I’m glad the caffeine’s starting to make me feel human again. Every sip from the warm cup brought slow shocks of realization, fear, and excitement. After months of preparation, it’s time! We were about to do a 5-day coverage of the Anilao Underwater Shootout!

As the sun slowly rises, we loaded our luggages (that probably weighed 5x more than our combined weight) at the back of the car. I reflect back on the past years and how Anilao contributed to my beliefs and being. To me, it is not like any other event I have covered because Anilao is not like any other place to me. Do you know that this is where I first learned how to dive? That this is where I met friends who supported me back when I felt stuck and demotivated? And I know that this weekend, I will be with underwater photographers (and very legendary ones) that I look up to. I’ll be honest: I was scared. I was scared because I know that everybody will see the work we created. I was scared because I honestly hope to God they will like it.

We checked in at Casa Escondida, the resort beside Acacia where the judges and the registration are. First day’s task: shoot the registration and the opening ceremony. While doing so, I was getting in touch with the vibe of the place and the emotions of everyone around. I needed to feel the area first so I could recognize the hum in my head — this humming will tell me what kind of music would perfectly reflect the video I’ll be editing later that night. The humming will tell me my work’s pace and how I’ll tell the brewing story.

Day 1 and 2 passed by. I was watching divers get in and out of the water, countless boats dropping enthusiastic photographers in different dive sites, speakers onstage sharing their experiences, cups of coffee and cans of beer on the tables, and different faces of friends and divers. I actually found myself one cold morning doing 2 dives because how can I be in Anilao for 5 days and not reacquaint with the sea? Oh but I only lasted 30 minutes because cold shuddered all over me and I still needed more sleep. I surfaced early for some hot cups of Milo & slept like a baby while waiting for everyone to resurface.

Later that night, I already have onhand beautiful shots from the team. Boogs, Wowie, Bobbit, and Jan were definitely killing it underwater! Watching the clips had also been a learning opportunity for me because I saw some animals and behaviors I’ve never encountered before while diving. That was the beginning of more sleepless nights.

When day 3 started, I’m telling you: I was slowly losing my shit. I couldn’t find a song that sings to the story. Plus, I had 350Gb of files to sort (with 2 more shooting days’ worth of files coming up). I’d crawl back in my room whenever I can to calm myself and think…and think some more. After a very long shower, I rummaged my bag for a pen and notebook. This is what I do whenever I don’t know how to piece a story: I write and draw. I made storyboard boxes and envisioned filling them with the clips I have onhand.

I remember how it felt when ideas finally started coming to me! When I got my pace, I couldn’t stop. I edited the whole day and presented a very short draft to the Dive Philippines team to get their concept and song approval. Once I got my yesses, I happily got back to work.

The next day was even more exciting. I almost have all the clips I needed and the video is almost done. I started to color grade too and review the draft, collect inputs from everyone, and sleep with a smile.

On the last day, I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. I sleep later than everybody else so I remember being alone in the dining area for breakfast. I loved the silence. I loved sitting alone in the balcony to watch the boats and the waves lapping on the rocky shore while checking on everyone in the other resort (which is conveniently beside where I’m staying). All I have to do now is get ready for the night’s awarding where the video will be played.

I want to tell you about the video but I think words wouldn’t suffice. I want you to watch it because we really poured our hearts into it. After 5 days, I finally got to drink beer and eat without worries too!

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When the video finished playing and our friends’ emotions and hugs warmed our hearts, I knew it was worth it. I realized that at the end of the day, the mission was not about producing a beautiful video. It was about telling the story of every diver and dive guide present through the video, and reliving their experiences with the beautiful creatures below. It was about letting the world know about out thriving seas. It was about reminding everyone to take care of our ocean because it is so damn alive and worthy of love and care.

Studio H2O, I am grateful to have worked with you. Thank you.




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