dives, techniques

Remote strobes

ERB_4588.jpgIt’s been a while since I played with remote strobes, so this weekend (having been been blown out by poor Bank Holiday weather) decided to try this technique in a local quarry. In a bid to get the creative juices working at a less familiar site, my buddy and I picked the National Dive Centre in Chepstow, a location I have dived less often than other fresh water sites in the Midlands.

The idea with remote strobes is to light a subject without using the strobes attached to the camera. This has the advantage of using a light source close to the subject but further away from the camera and so giving good lighting but with a minimum of backscatter.

The NDAC, like many quarries has a lot of scrap metal and I chose a Wessex helicopter as my subject. The aircraft was reasonably intact and has a large (dark) internal space. There’s a lot of setup time needed for remote strobe work and I was privileged to have a buddy prepared to set aside his camera and carry the extra strobes for me. It was just as well really, as of the two strobes I was hoping to place, one of them refused to work at all (despite having worked when I tested it before the dive). The vis was quite good (about 8-10m) and so I tried working from further back than usual, to catch the whole aircraft. I tucked the strobe (a Sea & Sea YS-110) inside the doorway, set on half power and pointing inward toward my buddy, who swam slowly out of the doorway.

The exposure was set as if for available light only, with the ISO high enough to provide a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the bubble motion (1/100s); since I was at least a few feet from the nearest part of the wreck, an aperture of f/8 was enough to ensure the whole frame was in focus. I used a single strobe on a low power setting solely to trigger the remote strobe.

I had my buddy shine a torch towards the strobe so that the flash light is “connected” to the subject. It takes a lot of practice to get all the aspects of this technique right and in hindsight, the strobe is not far enough behind the doorway, some flare is still visible. The diver is perhaps rather small in the frame and so the effect of the remote strobe is rather subtle; on the whole I think it needs a smaller subject, so that I can have the whole wreck but with the diver larger in the frame. Just another reason to go back and try again…

dives

The Blue Lake

2017-03-18 09.52.48A dive in the clear blue waters of a secluded quarry, whilst the early Spring weather is doing its best to stir up the vis all along the coast? Yes please- win win, surely! Well, that was till I saw the hill I had to walk up to reach it!! The hidden quarry is located about half a mile along a very steep path leading up from the road.

The Blue Lake is a quarry near the Welsh coastal village of Fairbourne, on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. It is a rather odd experience to march in scuba gear up a very steep hill and, reaching the top to see the coast spread right across the view, turn away towards the craggy rocks. The quarry is surrounded by cliffs on all sides, so can only be reached through a low tunnel, once used to remove the quarry workings. The Blue Lake fills almost the whole space as you emerge from the tunnel and is indeed very blue. This colour is due to the copper in the water which inhibits the growth of algae.

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My buddy Trevor and I were hoping for some undisturbed, crystal clear water to practice some wide-angle photography techniques. The lake, though small was indeed very clear, though as with many of these places, the clarity is very easily disturbed with a single unwise fin-kick.

The sheer cliff wall led down to a gently sloping bottom covered in broken slate and the rusting odds and ends left over from quarrying. Depressingly there is also quite a lot of the evidence of summer barbecues- broken bottles, rusting cans and even one or two pots and pans.

We practiced some selfie shots- me by using the time honoured holding-the-camera-at-arms-length and Trev by using a Tripod. The main challenge was not stirring up the silt. Was the strenuous pre-dive walk (carrying the scuba gear) worth it? Well, it was certainly quite a different diving experience and I am glad to have done it, but I am not sure if I am going to be back. We gave the passing hill walkers a smile though!

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dives, trips

1000th dive

I logged my 1000th dive whilst on this trip to the Red Sea. I know that this is not an especially remarkable total, but it is still a large number of dives for a recreational diver. It felt as if that dive should have been accompanied by fanfares and mermaids (or maybe one of the local Dugong).

However, it turned out to be quite a low key leisurely shore dive from the dive centre at Marsa Shagra. I think it sums up what I love so much about scuba diving- it was in the company of a like-minded buddy; in this instance we had been strangers 24 hours before, but we felt like firm friends after a couple of shared dives.

During the dive, I didn’t notice any species I had not seen before, but it was a pleasure as usual to waft weightless through the water. It has to be said that it was most welcome to escape the English winter and drift over a Red Sea reef in the late afternoon sun, observing the fish going about their normal business and shooting images as I went.

I saw a Stonefish hauling itself across the sand, a Lionfish hunting for prey and flocks of Goatfish prospecting in the sand. The Anthias were pulsing in and out of the coral heads, whilst Groupers drifted across the reef, hoping to pick off an unwary small fish. Humbug dascyllus played hide and seek among the branching corals, whilst iridescent Pale damselfish rose high above the reef feeding on tiny particles in the water.

Here’s to the next 1000 dives…

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trips

Red Sea Safari

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I usually spend February half term in Scotland on a shore-diving, camper-van trip. This year I have no camper van, but I am having a camping shore-diving trip, albeit in a rather different location. In September 2015 I won the grand prize of the British and Irish underwater photography championships, run by BSoUP and generously sponsored by Oonasdivers.

So here I am in Egypt, sat in a tent feet from the shore of the Red Sea. Although Marsa Shagra is South of Marsa Alam (which has an international airport), my flight was from Gatwick to the more northerly Hurghada. The airport is large and modern-looking but was pretty quiet. I did not see any other arrivals from UK; most of the other flights seemed to be from Germany and Russia.

I had gone all through UK security without opening any of my bags, but I had to open both camera boxes for Egyptian security. He asked me various questions about my gear, but did not seem interested in the answers. His parting shot was “don’t get bitten by a shark” and then was amazed when I said I’d be very glad to see one, he insisting that it was bound to eat me.

Following that, I was the sole passenger on a very entertaining four-hour minibus drive south to Marsa Shagra. The roads are very straight, but vehicles appear to completely ignore the road markings. The rules seem complex at first- use main beam when overtaking, but switch off lights if you’re giving way; alternatively flash furiously for either of these situations. Hazard warning lights indicate imminent lane change in any direction, sometimes taking a turning or else coming to a stop. The vehicle horn is used to say “here I am”, “get out of my way”, “hurry up” or just to play a tune.

Speed limits are entirely notional, so physical means are used to control speed- there are vicious speed bumps when passing a hotel or through a settlement; the police check points have chicanes and tyre puncturing devices on hand.

At one point, we drove through a town where a slow speed (speed bumps instead of road markings) game of chicken ensued, with cars darting from one side of the road to the other, three abreast in a narrow street, seemingly without reason. Priority is mostly based on size- don’t mess with a lorry, but a van clearly beats a car. The cars maintained distances of several inches apart and there was liberal use of the horn, but no physical contact was made and it all seemed good natured.

Lots of trucks have very colourful decorations, many celebrating their teutonic origins, though usually badly spelled. Many vehicles have flashing LED lights of many colours and some have lights under the vehicle too. In the other hand, I saw a number of vehicles with no tail lights. I saw an open truck full of camels at a petrol station and a pair of locals sitting in the road by an open locker in their HGV trailer, seemingly cooking a meal. No one seemed in the least bit perturbed by any of this.

So, after this eventful journey, I reached the tent where I write this, 18 hours after leaving home. Sleep now, and then some diving….

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Location:Marsa Shagra

 

dives

Stoney Cove

The first dive of the 2017 season was in Stoney Cove, my dive site of choice for a quick dip in the winter. There is always plenty to see and there are lots of subjects to practice my photographic technique on. This time I was joined by two fellow divers from the Bristol Underwater Photography group, Kirsty Andrews and my regular buddy Trevor Rees. The visibility was quite good and we were treated to some bright winter sun, which contributed to some very enjoyable shooting conditions.

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publications

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.

   
   

publications

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.