trips

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.

ERB_4461

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…

https://vimeo.com/135683576

equipment

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….

trips

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.

dives

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.

dives, musings

Stargazing

This hermit crab looks for all the world as if he's looking up at the stars!
This hermit crab looks for all the world as if he’s looking up at the stars!

 

On a recent trip to Scotland, we were dogged by poor visibility. This image of a hermit crab (Pagarus bernhardus) shows how much silt was suspended in the water. This site was actually one of the better ones (the shore of Loch Sunart, at a place called Camas Torsa) and I like the way the hermit crab seems to be looking up into a starry sky. I find hermit crabs endlessly entertaining and I have mused about them before, but it did make me smile. This particular individual had lovely iridescent hairs on it which have been picked up by the well-snooted strobe. I was shooting using the Nikon 60mm macro lens on my trusty D200. The critter was conveniently walking on an old crate in the water, which provided a fantastic stage from which I could take his portrait as he looked up and wondered if alien life existed out there…

publications

Photo Quest

The first three Photo Quest articles
The first three Photo Quest articles

Oriental Sweetlips

Inside the Eagan LaneI am very proud to have been offered a regular column in Scuba magazine. It is an interesting commission because each monthly article is written jointly with my long-time dive buddy and fellow underwater photographer Trevor Rees. Each month, we are showing a pair of images and using them to exemplify a particular photo subject or style. It’s just as well that Trevor and I get on well, because it has taken quite a lot of discussion to evolve our own style and I’m grateful for the advice and encouragement of Scuba editor, Simon Rogerson.

We started with some obvious topics – wrecks, fish, big animals – and we’re hoping to touch on the whole range of underwater photography, UK and overseas. We’re trying to focus on camera technique, rather than post-processing and also to keep to ideas and advice that divers can try, regardless of their camera kit. I’m looking forward to shooting some images to demonstrate our ideas and I hope that the series might inspire others to take photos underwater, especially in the UK.