Shetlands – day 5

Divers on the stern of the Gwladmina

On our cruise back south to Lerwick from Unst, our first stop was the Gwladmina, a large Victorian steam ship which sank upright in 38m. Most of the cargo seems to have been recovered and, descending the shot line amidships, we were able to complete a circuit of the ship – bow first and then astern along the exposed prop shaft and then to stern with rudder blown off to salvage the prop.

Our first sight was the Gwladmina’s substantial boiler
Wreckage as we move aft
Deck gear fallen into the wreck, as the tops decayed during their century underwater
Almost to the stern (see top image)
We had time to view the bow as well
Is this what remains of the bosun’s stores, or perhaps the remnants of previous buoylines to the site of Gwladmina?
A brief inspection of the triple expansion steam engine as we return to the shotline for our reluctant ascent to the surface (not forgetting the deco stops…)

The second dive was not a wreck, but a scenic site for a change. The Giant’s Legs is an iconic geological feature at the southern end of Bressay, where the headland has been eroded into a series of broken stacks. Underwater, the terrain consists of series of submerged stacks. We saw many nudibranchs, but I had camera problems and had to return to the boat, before getting back into the water agains. Two dives for the price of one!

Polycera faeroensis munching on the abundant bryozoans
A tiny juvenile scorpion fish hiding amongst the kelp
An impressive Dendronotus frondosus feasting on the bryozoan mat covering the weed



Easter slugs


I enjoyed yet another early-season pilgrimage to the West coast of Scotland this Easter. I have often been even earlier in the season and there was more life to see by going a little later. I joined friends from the Bristol Underwater Photographers Group, including regular buddies Trevor Rees & Rob Bailey and linking up with fellow underwater wildlife shooters Jason Gregory and Colin Samuel to re-visit Loch Creran (which was really murky) and then Loch Duich and Loch Carron. Whilst the South coast was battered by stormy weather, we experienced some good diving conditions in these cold sea lochs and were rewarded with some lovely photo subjects. This time there seemed to be an abundance of nudibranchs (sea slugs)- a range of species and some really large specimens. Great trip- thanks guys.


Stormy Shuna

I have been very lucky in my regular February sojourns to Scotland. They have been very productive photographically and we have been blessed with more than our fair share of good weather. The weather on this trip has been quite a bit more, er, Scottish this time. There’s a saying about Scottish weather that if you don’t like it, wait 5 minutes and that has certainly been true today. The common factor has been a keen southwesterly, but we have had sun, rain, sleet and horizontal hail.

We have manage two good dives, though. Due to the steady rainfall over the last few weeks, the heads of the sea lochs seem pretty murky, so we moved to a site which we hoped would be less affected by run-off; we went to the stretch of water in loch Linnhe by the island of Shuna.

This site is easily accessed from a handy car park via an old slipway into the water. Once in the water, the a steep rocky bank slopes steeply to a gentle silty slope to 20m plus. This combination offers a wide range of subjects from those which frequent rocky substrates, to the classic low-energy site denizens.

For example, the sound of Shuna is home to all three UK species of sea pen and I made these the focus of my efforts today. I chose my 105mm macro lens with a 4T dioptre and a snoot made from the end of the sleeve of an old drysuit. I was very pleased with my results and managed close-ups of the polyps of these strange and beautiful animals.

The phosphorescent sea-pen (Pennatula phosphorea) is probably the most attractive, with its chunky pink body, but the elegant Tall Sea Pen (Funiculina quadrangularis) has the largest and most impressive polyps. One needs careful technique in this still water and fine silt, not to mess up the visibility. The snoot on the strobe helps to keep backscatter under control, but means that the strobe needs to be aimed carefully.

Hopefully, the results speak for themselves. These subjects look quite exotic and show the quite exquisite fine detail of these beautiful animals.




I have the honour of giving a photo talk

Next week, I am giving a talk to Leek Photographic Club and I’m really pleased to be invited again to a camera club to talk about underwater photography. I hope that I can dispel a few misconceptions and show everyone the variety and beauty of the wildlife around UK shores.

Reviewing my most recent work I realise several things. The first is that I am really looking forward to getting back in the water in earnest, after my accident. The second thing I have appreciated is the number of different places I have been within the UK to go underwater shooting. It’s been such enjoyment with so many good friends and, even though there are subjects I tend to shoot over and over again, I have never lost that thrill in getting in the water, wondering what I will see this time…

I only hope Leek Photographers are ready for a whole evening of me talking about my photos!



Scotland Road Trip Day 6

I’m told that the mountains of Scotland are rising up, following the melting of the glaciers from the last ice age. That’s roughly how I felt after our first dive; I think I regained another inch of height having toiled up the hill from the dive site! It was worth it though…


We made an early start and left our lovely location on Ard Neakie on the shore of Loch Eriboll in time to dive at slack water in the narrows at Kylesku. Earlier in the trip, we had noted how the current ripped through such a narrow channel.

moon jellyfish
Moon Jellyfish

The water is much clearer here than many of the other lochs we have dived, and any sediment is swept away by the fierce tides. The visibility is not perfect though, and the loch water draining through still held a frustrating amount of sediment.

Kelp thrashing in the current
Kelp thrashing in the current


Getting snooty

Backscatter is a constant problem in underwater photography. So, the less water is lit up, the “cleaner” the image. I have always struggled with backscatter in these turbid UK waters and I have marvelled at the spotlessly clean images produced by other photographers. My buddy Trevor introduced me to the idea of “snoots”, which limit the area of lighting from a strobe, and which produce noticeably cleaner images, as well as opening up interesting lighting possibilities.

In his typically practical way, Trev uses various plant pots and cut-down drinks bottles to produce the fabulous lighting in his images. I’ve made my own “Trev-style” bottle snoot and very much enjoyed the images it has allowed me to produce.

Here’s a pic of Trev at work, with his Nikon 85mm macro lens and dioptre (which is why you can’t see the subject of his photo!).

Trevor Rees at work in Loch Long using home-made snoots. This one in use is made from a Tonic Water bottle, so making it involves drinking a Gin and Tonic! This image was taken with D200 and Tokina 10-17 lens @10mm and lit with dual Sea & Sea YS-110 strobes.


Loch Striven

Cruising along the Eastern shore of Loch Striven, we found a nice spot to pull the camper off the road. The sea bed falls away very quickly and the Vis is quite good, with sandy, stony base. Not a great variety of subjects to go at with my camera, but some very co-operative long-clawed squat lobsters made the gas time pass pretty quickly.

Braving the rain for a second dive, we took a different direction and found different terrain and different species. Much more sandy/silty and lots to see, though at this time of year we did miss the fish.



A time for reflection…

The end of the year is a time to reflect, and I have obviously been reflecting on my diving and photography. 2011 has been a good season for me, with a number of good trips in great company. I have put a few more pins in my “diving map“, as well as visiting some old favourites. What will 2012 bring? More UK shore diving certainly. At least one overseas trip, I hope…


Remote strobes


Following our dip in Hodge Close with Worcester Divers, Trevor and I had used a dip in Capernwray to practice with remote strobe illumination. Trevor was using a wireless trigger and I had decided to have another go with my fibre optic cable. In the past, although the cable had been clumsy and quite time consuming to set up, it had at least been reliable. This time, I struggled not only to set up the remote strobes, but the triggering also seemed hit and miss too. Maybe it’s time to upgrade my home-made fibre-optic connections; the trouble is, the commercial products dont look any less Heath Robinson than my own efforts….