British and Irish Underwater Photography Championships 2015

The results of the British and Irish Underwater Photography Championships 2015 were announced today and I was delighted to learn that I been awarded both wide-angle category winner and the overall title of BIUPC Champion 2015.

BIUPC Champ 2015

The winning image was an in-camera composite of two images taken at the same site in Loch Long in SW Scotland. The competition is an on-the-day event, where competitors could capture images at any site in Britain and Ireland, but the images had to be captured within a 24-hour window and submitted electronically before the end of the day. The image made the news here too

The weather leading up to the event had not been great and the vis reports from the South coast of England had not been good, so my buddy Trevor Rees (who won the compact category) and I chose to make the long drive to Scotland from our homes in the midlands. A round trip of over 700 miles in 48 hours was worth the time on the road, as we were able to complete four dives each on the day for a total of over 250 minutes underwater. This allowed us plenty of dive time to nail the shots we wanted when conditions were perfect (and it was a lovely day that Saturday).

Traditionally “wide angle” and “macro” were types of image dictated by the narrow range of lenses available to underwater photographers. Nowadays the range of cameras and lenses used underwater produces a sort of continuum with no clear boundary between the two. I wanted to create an image which sat firmly in the “grey area” between the two and showed a small creature large in the frame, but with a dramatic depiction of its environment.

The foreground image is of a Sea Loch Anemone (Protanthea simplex) which is a very small creature common in Scottish lochs. I used a macro lens (Nikon 60mm) and a narrow snoot to make sure that only the creature itself was illuminated and the rest of the frame was black.

I then got out of the water and switched to a wide angle lens and shot a variety of shots looking up out of the water. I was attracted by the lovely green colours of the trees, seen through the water’s surface. On that sunny day, I also worked hard to create a sun burst too, although it is difficult with my camera (a 10-year old Nikon D200) and very easy to burn out the highlights.

Wide angle image of my buddy Trevor Rees, which was Highly Commended

When I had a pair of images I was happy with, I combined them in-camera with the image overlay function (I had checked in advance that this was allowed within the rules). The rules allowed for very limited editing of the image, so I adjusted levels, colour balance and sharpening on the raw files and converted to JPG.

I also spent some time with my patient model, working on a more traditional close-focus wide angle image. The visibility was about 4m, so I had to keep both my model and subject close to the camera to maintain impact. It was also a struggle against the suspended particles and the fine silt easily stirred up from the sea bed. Images taken in strong sun in the afternoon on a rising tide were definitely superior to some earlier shots with weaker light and more turbid water. This image was Highly Commended.

Being in an area with very poor phone signal, we had a bit of a pantomime being able to upload the images, but were glad to find a bar in Arrochar with wi-fi (thank-you Ben Arthur’s Bothy!) so Trevor and I could submit our images.



Scuba Cover shot

I arrived home from holiday today, to find the September issue of Scuba magazine waiting for me on the doorstep. I am both delighted and honoured to find that not only does it contain my feature on shore diving in the North of Scotland, but I also have the cover shot with my image of a purple nudibranch (Flabellina pedata). This lovely image is one of two nudibranch shots discussed in the regular Photo Quest column, which I write jointly with my dive buddy Trevor Rees

The image was one I took a few years back on the breakwater at Plymouth sound. I was very pleased with the image and entered it for several competitions, with no luck at all. A large print of it hangs on my kitchen wall and I often looked at it and said to myself “that’s a strong image”, and over time it has won me a big competition prize, as well as this cover shot. It just goes to show that sometimes you need to stick to your guns and not be discouraged.

The feature, “Two snappers, a compressor and a campervan”, tells the story of a road trip I took with my buddy. Our aim was to dive the most northerly sea loch in mainland Scotland, but the motivation for doing this was to try to find some rarely (never?) dived shore dive sites, in more remote locations away from the usual limitations of dive centres and RIB launch points. We certainly had a most enjoyable week; like any “expedition” dive trip, we had our share of dud sites and challenging clambers into the water, but it was worth it for the collection of really memorable dives we did discover.



Farne Seals

It was my pleasure to dive with seals in the Farne Islands in June this year, during a Bristol Underwater Photography group trip. Its quite an experience to enter the seals’ territory- I got the feeling that they were watching us, rather than the other way round. Certainly, any encounters were on their terms. Dog-like in their behaviour, these powerful predators displayed a very endearing gentleness, sensitivity and curiosity.


The video footage was shot using a go pro hero 2, which was mounted onto my stills camera. This go pro had no view screen, so my framing is a bit hit and miss. We were very much in the shallows, so the colour balance is a bit variable- some clips were shot with a colour filter and others not. See what you think…


Reassuring light

The worst nightmare for any underwater photographer is a flood. You know what they say: there are two types of underwater photographer- those that have flooded a housing, and those who haven’t…yet. Every time I get in the water with my camera, I always wonder if water will get into the housing. I think most underwater shooters have a ritual to follow when setting up the camera to avoid a leak, and I for one never used to deviate from mine. After all, some of the steps in my setting up process might be unnecessary, but my fear of a flood prevents me from changing the ritual.

Well, for a year now I have been using a leak detector, which lets me pressure test my housing before every dive, and it has made a massive difference to my confidence in how I have set up the housing (as well as allowing me to streamline my setting up ritual).

DSC_7365I use a device called Leak Sentinel, purchased from the very helpful Miso Milivojevic, who designed and manufactures them in Slovenia under the company name of Vivid Housings. The device fits into a spare strobe port on my housing; some of the air is evacuated from the housing with a small pump. If this under-pressure remains stable, then the housing has no leak and is safe to dive. The leak sentinel indicates this with a reassuring green flashing light.

DSC_7320 copy DSC_7313 copy

I have just upgraded mine with a new circuit board which adds some new features. The Leak Sentinel can now compensate for temperature changes (which are likely to affect the pressure and potentially cause a false positive); it now allows me to test the housing a day or so before the trip, and also warns me when the leak sensor battery is getting low.The device has already paid for itself because it detected a leak in the system, which I spotted and corrected, rather than finding out when I got in the water….


What weekends are made for…

Finally I have been able to take advantage of the summer light and good visibility. I have been rewarded with an excellent dive on HMS Elk. This is a trawler that was pressed into service during WWII, but sank not far from the entrance of Plymouth sound. When I dived it last Saturday, the visibility was excellent; though I have dived this wreck a number of times, I don’t remember there being this much light. The wreck is relatively small, but resting on the seabed at around 35m, this makes it a good size to get a good look around without clocking up too much deco.The bow of HMS Elk

I’m very grateful to my buddy Darren Ashford for patiently modelling for me for about half of our bottom time. 

A shoal of bib on the boilers of HMS Elk

An impressive shoal of bib hanging over the boilers. I did not have enough bottom time left to do this scene justice. There’s always a reason to go back….

Hang time

The inevitable end to such a dive- waiting out the deco time on the line. In this case, well worth it.


Salcombe Pea Soup

Sometimes called by divers “May bloom”, “snot” or terms less repeatable in polite circles,  there comes a time each spring in temperate waters when there is an explosion in the algae population. So it was in the Devon waters I dived with my club last weekend. Its not often a trip is a photographic washout, but my recent trip to Salcombe was almost so. Last time I went, early in April the water was clear (but very cold) and the visibility was excellent due to bright sun. That same sun, a few weeks later had caused the same stretch of sea (East Rutts) into murky pea soup, with countless green spheres in the water column from the surface to below 20m. Conditions were not helped by choppy seas and overcast skies. Still, a bad day’s diving is better than a good day in the office, as they say….

Red Fingers (Alcyonium glomeratum)
Red Fingers (Alcyonium glomeratum)
Hangin' out in the soup

dives, trips

Devon weekend

Oaten Pipe hydroids
Oaten Pipe hydroids
Sending up the shot
Sending up the shot
On the bottom
On the bottom
Waiting on the line
Waiting on the line

I greatly enjoyed a trip to Devon last weekend and, though the water was cold, the visibility was surprisingly good. I managed four dives- two reefs and a wreck (twice). The reef, East Rutts was a very pleasant place to spend an hour and this early in the season is covered in Oaten Pipe (Tubularia indivisa) hydroids. Those hydroids won’t be around for very much longer, as they are the food for nudibranchs (sea slugs). We saw many spiral swirls of eggs, but no slugs yet, but I would expect that by May the hydroids will be gone.

The wreck was called the Riversdale. It’s large and intact (except for the bow), with an impressive rudder and prop. It’s a while since I dived and took photos on wrecks at this depth (38m to the deck) and, photographically it was quite a challenge, due to the narcosis and the limited time. Even with good vis, lighting is difficult. We dived it twice, on consecutive days, as we could not get the shot line up after the first dive, so had to leave it in overnight and send it up on a lifting bag at the start of the second dive!

The vis was very good (about 8-10m), but I could see the beginnings of a “May bloom” of algae in the top few metres. Let’s hope that comes and goes quickly and does not spoil the view too much.