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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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:

dives, equipment

Through the looking glass…

During a recent trip to lovely Loch Linnhe, I spotted a tiny juvenile squat lobster hiding in a decaying piece of wood. I have to confess to an addiction to these charismatic creatures; I love their bright orange colour, the Popeye aggression with which the wave their claws and the intricate detail of their jointed bodies. I had promised myself that I would not shoot any on this trip, but I decided to change that to “I won’t shoot any adults” (I *nearly* managed that).

In fact this gave me a change to try out two diopter lenses for getting closer to tiny critters. On the first of two dives at the same site from a beach in Kentallen, I tried out a fairly standard +5 wet diopter and the following day, I tried out a Nauticam SMC, a much heavier and powerful lens (lent to me by a friend).

I found the SMC easier to get focussed (for both lenses, I used autofocus to get the focus to the correct position and then “rocked” to get the subject in focus). The shallower depth of field of the SMC gives a more pleasing effect, but I was more interested in how sharp the images might be – it was hard to get the images properly focused, but I am pleased wit the results from both. The SMC gives higher magnification and adds drama to the image, but its much harder to get it in focus. In particular, it is important to get ones “ducks in a row” – in other words, the points in the frame which need to be sharp must be in the same plane. This makes framing the image hard at times – I like the composition below, but I was struggling to get both of the squattie’s eyes sharp.

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Both images have been cropped from portrait format but have the full width of the frame.

Top: D500, Nikon 105mm + Nauticam SMC, ISO200 f/32, 1/100s.
Bottom: D500, Nikon 105mm + AOC+5 diopter, ISO320 f/20, 1/125s

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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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.

 

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…