trips

Fireworks and flame shells

Underwater photographers tend to take a different view of dive sites on a trip to non-shooting divers. We will often be keen to keep returning to the same site repeatedly on a trip rather than trying to see a different site on each dive. So it was on a recent trip to West Scotland, I dived in only two sites. In each of two sea lochs, I dived in a single area. However these were very much contrasting locations, one a very clean high energy site needing slack water and the other a slightly murky low energy spot. Each is home to unusual but “locally common” species, well worth braving the 6-degree water temperature for.

Loch Duich is home to the impressive fireworks anemone and the maerl bed of the narrows at the head of Loch Carron is home to hidden flame shells, as well as a mass of macro subjects. Here are a selection of images to give a flavour of the sites.

First of all, Loch Duich:

And here’s North Strome on Loch Carron:

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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.

   
   

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

Cover of Scuba Magazine

Scuba Cover April 2013I’m really proud to be asked for an image to adorn the cover of Scuba magazine this month (Issue 17, April 2013). I was approached to provide an image specifically of the wreck of the James Eagan Layne, a liberty ship torpedoed by U-339 in 1945, which came to rest on the seabed in Whitesand Bay, just West of Plymouth.

This is a site I know really well and have many images of. I chose this image, which was taken in June 2005 at the bow, looking up with my underwater photography buddy, Trevor Rees acting as a model. It was shot using a Nikon D100 camera with Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens and lit with dual Sea & Sea YS-90 strobes, at a depth of probably 15-20m.

James Eagan Layne

The shot shows the vertical profile of the bow, which is well encrusted with marine life, particularly dead mans fingers (Alcyonium digitatum). I was very pleased to get a pleasant green tone to the water; often when looking up towards the surface, unpleasant artefacts are produced as the camera struggles to cope with the dynamic range. I have avoided this by not facing towards the sun and because I am quite deep.