presentations

Photo Talk – Aldridge Photo Club

I’m giving a talk tomorrow, entitled “Adventures in UK Underwater Photography”, to Aldridge Photo Club. If anyone would like to come along, you’d be welcome.

Aldridge Community Centre, Middlemore Lane, Aldridge, WS9 8AN. 7.45 for 8pm start.

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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.

   
   

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…

equipment, techniques

Macro magnification

Having tried my lovely new Nikon 105mm macro lens out on a recent trip to Scotland, I had borrowed a Nikon diopter and also used a teleconverter. Now I had discovered that I was able to get some pleasing images, I was interested in making some measurements.

By using different combinations of these three items (lens, teleconverter and dioptre) different magnifications can be obtained, but as usual there are trade offs to be made. On one hand, a teleconverter increases magnification without needing to get closer (ie same working distance), but the optics absorb some light, which means either brighter illumination or a larger aperture, which in turn reduces the (already very narrow) depth of field. On the other, a dioptre lens increases magnification without absorbing so much light, but reduces the working distance.

So which is the best combination to choose? The first step, I felt was to try all the combinations and measure the magnification, working distance and depth of field. This would provide me with objective data to make decisions.

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It seems to boil down to working distance- the dioptre is likely to give better results if the subject is suitable- shorter working distance (so hopefully less backscatter) coupled with higher magnification. However, the teleconverter will help with more skittish subjects because it gives high magnification at a longer working distance, but relies on not having too much suspended matter in the water. Using both is a possibility, will require some care to ensure that the appropriate part of the image is in focus, due to the wafer thin depth of field.

dives

Loch Creran narrows

Exploring sea lochs, I tend not to dive in places with strong tidal streams, because currents and photography do not usually go well together. However, the part of Loch Creran we chose today was definitely scoured by current. We managed to avoid strong currents by diving at high water (though even at slack the water was eddying around) and boy was this site a find. The sea bed was so clean and the site abounded with species quite different to those seen just a few hundred metres away in parts of the loch not affected by currents.

A good example is this rather fine Flabellina pellucida (not to be confused with Coryphylla browni), which was present in large numbers and huge in size too(4-5cm). This image was captured using a Nikon D200 and 105mm macro lens, fitted with a 4T dioptre.

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techniques

Small is beautiful

Polycera quadrilineata
A small nudibranch (Polycera quadrilineata) on a kelp frond in Loch Long. Nikon D200 + 60mm Micro Nikkor lens and single Sea & Sea YS-110 strobe and "bottle snoot"

This small nudibranch (less than 1cm) was one of very many crawling on the stalks of kelp in less than 2m of water in Loch Long. I took this image on the second of two dives at the site. The first time I had gone in with a wide-angle lens, looking to take some close-focus images and/or diver images. However the topology and poor vis did not allow me to produce any images I was proud of; in fact I lost my buddy for a large part of the dive. As we emerged together, I was feeling a little disappointed, but he was raving. “What a fantastic site! Did you see all those nudibranchs? I found plenty to work on“, and so on. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen them. It just goes to show how much the eye tunes in to a certain type of subject. Because I was searching for things bigger than a coke can, I did not notice the exquisite but tiny creatures.

On my second dive, after a swift lens change and grabbing my bottle snoot, I saw so many of the little critters that I was amazed I hadn’t seen them last time. They were so plentiful that I was spoiled for choice and able to find several subjects in just the right location to help me shoot them from a good angle. I’ll have to remember that when some divers say a site is boring because there’s nothing to see…