In an ongoing series, Scubaverse.com’s Underwater Photography Editors Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown talk to underwater photographers from around the world that they admire.
This interview is with award-winning photographer Joe Daniels.
Thank you for asking me to participate in this interview! Originally I am from Suffolk, England and I am now based in South West France. For the past ten years I have been fortunate enough to work on various different marine conservation projects and diving operations around the world. Through diving and spending a lot of time underwater I developed a passion for underwater photography. Now I can’t bear to be in the water without a camera, whether it’s a murky pond or bustling coral reef.
My highest achieving image so far would probably be my Tunicate Shrimp which earnt gold in the Traditional Macro category in the Our World Underwater competition. I have also placed in Outdoor Photographer of the year twice, HIPA Life in Colour and World Oceans Day photo competition. A Whale Shark image of mine was used in BEIJING by Humane Society International and the Jane Goodall Institute. The exhibit, entitled “The Price Behind the Taste—Protect Sharks, Don’t Eat Shark Fins,” was to enlist public support for the protection of sharks. I was very proud to be included in this campaign.
So far in my career I have spent the majority of my time across two locations – The muck diving mecca of Ambon in eastern Indonesia and the idyllic Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles. The two locations could not be more different photographically which I think helps diversify my portfolio. I have also been to Raja Ampat twice in the past three years, the marine life there is astounding and is very hard to beat.
N/C: How did your underwater photography start?
JD: As soon as I left college I went and volunteered on a Marine Conservation Project in Seychelles. There I was involved in reef monitoring where we did 2 survey dives per day from Monday to Friday. This wasn’t enough in water time for me so I spent all my spare time and weekends snorkelling. One weekend I borrowed a small clear dry bag for my pentax point and shoot camera. After going out snorkelling with the camera and taking some terrible pictures of Turtles and various corals I was hooked.
N/C: What is your favourite u/w camera equipment (past & present) & why?
JD: I love to shoot cfwa images so my Nauticam mini dome and Tokina 10-17mm fisheye is a favourite set up of mine. I have also recently acquired a Trioplan 100mm f2.8 so I am looking forward to shooting and experimenting with that later this year.
N/C: What would be your advice to anyone new to underwater photography?
JD: Not to get obsessed buying the latest and greatest camera setup. Of course buy the best you can afford, but it’s not everything. Focus on subject selection, composition and light. It also makes a huge difference if you are a comfortable and competent underwater.
N/C: What, or who, has been your single biggest inspiration for your underwater photography?
JD: When I first started taking pictures underwater I loved to show people what I had seen whilst I was underwater, I still do. Now I like to show people things that they may have never seen before, or animals they know of but shown in a different way. I just want to share my enthusiasm for the underwater world and hopefully get others excited about it too. There are many photographers that inspire my work, notably Thomas Peschak his images continually amaze me. Alex Mustard’s images are a technical masterclass and are always a joy to behold. Eduardo Acevedo Fernandez, Laurent Ballesta and David Doubilet all produce jaw dropping images and all have large influences on my work.
N/C: Where is your favourite dive location, and is it for the photography?
JD: This is a tough question. I have favourite locations for differing reasons, and there are many places I have not had the chance to get to yet. For macro it has to be Ambon. The abundance of subjects there is endless. The thing I like most about diving in Ambon is that it’s not just macro. There are incredible jetty’s, caves, reefs and even a wreck. So photographically its fantastic. For wide angle I would have to say Misool in Raja Ampat. The health and diversity of the reef systems there are world class. It is also a massive conservation success story being protect by a patrolled no take zone which is twice the size of Singapore. The Yucatan Peninsular, Mexico also has some spectacular photographic opportunities with its Cenotes, Sailfish and Sharks. Finally Seychelles will always be a special place for me where I’ve had many special encounters.
N/C: What are you views on marine life manipulation, moving subjects?
JD: With regards to moving subjects especially in macro photography I am against it. Picking animals up and moving them just for a photo is not acceptable. I would be a hypocrite if I was to say that I didn’t have images where the animal had been coaxed a little to get a better image. I think there would be very few photographers that have never coaxed a critter to a different position for a better image, if they are honest. I think with the rise of social media it has got out of hand as macro photography is very competitive now, photographers are so focused on getting as many likes as possible their ethics go out of the window a bit. On the other hand I have been on dives with photographers that are very anti manipulation and will not tolerate it at all, but will then take hundreds of pictures of one subject then swim straight over the subject wiping it out in one fin kick and not even noticing.
Every time we enter the water we make an impact, it’s what we do to reduce this impact. Don’t forget those basic diving skills you learnt in your open water course and be specially aware. Talk to your dive guide and ask them just to show you, instead of positioning. They are just trying to please you when they move things as it usually increases their tip. The dive operations can also have a code of conduct for photographers to abide by whilst diving to reduce their impact. Marine life manipulation is not isolated to macro photography. Tiger Beach is a good example, the sharks are lured in front of photographers cameras with bait for sunset splits or a perfect pass. I’m not saying I’m against shark diving practices, quite the opposite. If we can make them financially profitable sharks are much less likely to be killed for their fins. I suppose what I am trying to say it that it’s not a Black & White issue. We have to be responsible in our actions and have some foresight to ensure these amazing creatures continue to thrive and photographers can continue to photograph them. So the less we poke and prod them the more likely they are to stick around.
N/C: What do you look for when you are making your images?
JD: It depends on what I’m shooting and in what conditions I am shooting in. For macro I am looking for a willing subject in a good position, generally raised up off the substrate if I want a black background. What I really like to shoot is a subject with an attractive background. If there is current or surge I will try and stay away from super macro and shallow DOF. For wide angle I am always looking for the best light, I can’t resist a Indonesian jetty with shafts of light streaming through the wooden slats. When the light is good I’m looking for a subject to fill the foreground and complete the image. I also love to incorporate the surface into my images, whether it’s a split image or incorporating Snell’s window. These are usually the images that stand out to people that are not divers or spend much time underwater. I think it gives the viewer something to relate to. No matter what technique I’m using I always shoot to the conditions. Whether that means streamlining my gear to catch up with speeding Sailfish or simplifying my images when there is current. When the conditions change so does my plan for making images, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Varying conditions may diversify your portfolio. One of my favourite images is a Turtle silhouette, instead of the classic sunbeams behind it (which I was initially after) it poured with rain so it has rain drops hitting the surface filling the rest of the frame. Shooting in those conditions created an image that stands out from the rest.
N/C: What motivates you to take u/w photos?
JD: Simply because I love it! I love the whole process of making pictures from deciding what set up to use, setting everything up and being underwater searching for a subject. I love that I can use my images to promote marine conservation issues and to just show to people how amazing the underwater world is. I’m constantly learning and driven to take better pictures.
N/C: If you could photograph any one thing/place what or where would that be?
JD: Although I have been to Raja Ampat twice I would love to go back and visit the Blue Water Mangroves of Misool. A shallow coral reef with over hanging Mangroves and shafts of light streaming through onto Barrel Sponges and Soft corals sounds incredible, everything I like to shoot all rolled into one dive site.
Follow the work of Joe Daniels at or on his Facebook page and instagram @j_l_daniels
Dive into Festive Fun With PADI
Marina Scuba School’s Santa Splash Discover Scuba Experience
Join the festive fun at Marina Scuba School’s Santa Splash on the 16th of December in Crosby. While the real Santa may be busy, Marina Scuba School’s staff members will be dressed up in festive attire for a 2-hour DSD with a Christmas twist.
Open to adults, families, and children over the age of 8, this festive dive is jam-packed with Christmas treats.
The festive fun begins at Marina Scuba School, where you’ll be greeted with a warm welcome and some delicious Santa snacks. During the 2-hour Discover Scuba Diving session, you’ll have the chance to learn essential skills required for scuba diving, all while searching for some Christmas goodies hidden beneath the surface.
This holly jolly dive experience takes place on the 16th of December in Crosby and only costs £40 per participant.
To book this exciting dive contact the dive centre by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vobster Quay in Bristol is thrilled to announce the return of the Vobster Santas, a spectacular yuletide diving event that promises to make waves for a cause. This festive fun is open to all levels of divers and invites participants to don their Santa gear and dive into the holiday season in style.
Scheduled for the 10th of December, the gates to Vobster Quay will open at 7:30 am, with a comprehensive dive brief at 09:30 am, leading up to a mass dive at 10:00 am. The goal? To surpass the previous record of 185 Santa divers in the water simultaneously, promising a visually spectacular and undoubtedly jolly spectacle.
Vobster Santas isn’t just about the joy of diving; it’s a mission with heart. The event serves as a vital fundraising opportunity for two esteemed charities, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Help for Heroes. Both hold special significance for Vobster Quay, and participants are encouraged to secure sponsorships through JustGiving to support these worthy causes.
Since its inception, Vobster Santas has successfully raised over £40,000 for these charities. This year, the bar is set higher, and Vobster Quay is committed to leading the charge. To kick off the fundraising efforts, Vobster Quay has generously donated £1000 to each charity, igniting the holiday spirit of giving.
For more information, sponsorship opportunities, and to download the event poster, visit: Vobster Quay – VOBSTER SANTAS 2023
Photos: Jason Brown
Diving into the World’s Fastest Tidal Rapids
In the mystical waters just north of Vancouver, Canada lies a narrow channel called the Skookumchuck Narrows, or simply “The Skook.” It’s a hidden gem in the Salish Sea that boasts a unique spectacle – a tumultuous dance of tides and currents that draws adventurers and spectators from far and wide.
Imagine this: a channel so narrow and shallow that a single tide can unleash an astonishing 200 billion gallons of water, creating a tumultuous display of standing waves, whirlpools, and currents surging at 16 knots (18 mph or 30 kph). Such speeds may seem mild when driving a car, but the erratic water is a different ballgame. Skookumchuck Narrows is a contender for the title of the world’s fastest tidal rapids, rivaled only by Nakwakto Rapids further up the British Columbia coast.
But there’s a twist – this aquatic battleground isn’t just for adrenaline seekers; The Skook is an oasis for life beneath the waves. April 2023 marked a rare convergence of perfect conditions: a celestial alignment allowing divers to witness The Skook in all its glory. And who better to guide this daring expedition than Porpoise Bay Charters, a family-run venture led by the seasoned Kal Helyar and Ann Beardsell?
Raging currents = an abundance of life
The allure lies not in the danger but in the vibrant marine ecosystem fueled by the relentless currents. Ocean currents act as nature’s turbochargers, transporting nutrients that transform places like Skookumchuck Narrows into underwater havens with colorful life thriving amidst the rocky terrain.
It’s important to debunk the myth that this is a reckless plunge into chaos. Diving The Skook is not about courting danger but choosing the right moment: at slack when the tide turns, the water experiences minimal movement, and the currents are a mere 4-5 knots. Picture this – a scuba diver slipping gracefully between tidal changes, maneuvering with precision as the water changes its course and gradually picks up speed. Timing is everything, and finding the rare dates when daylight piercing through the emerald-green water coincides with navigable water conditions is critical. April 2023 granted us a mere handful of these golden days of nature’s alignment for the first time in four years.
Entering the abyss
As our vessel, under the watchful eye of Captain Kal, approached the infamous Skookumchuck rapids, a tangible excitement filled the air. These cold-water adrenaline-filled dives are the scuba diving equivalent to scaling Everest. The unpredictability of The Skook, where currents can whisk you in any direction, demanded respectful caution from our experienced salty crew.
With a reassuring smile, Captain Kal dismissed the notion of a toilet bowl experience, where divers are pulled in a circular direction by the currents as if flushed down a toilet. He emphasized that they only dived during an easy drift in the current, which was hard to fathom possible in such treacherous waters. Approaching the narrowest section of the channel, where the current was fastest, Kal’s experienced eyes scanned for the telltale signs of slack tide. Tidal ripples slowed, and we entered the water in the few precious minutes within the next year when it was possible to witness Skookumchuck in all its sunny glory.
As we descended into the underwater world, a mysterious algal bloom cast a dark green haze, unveiling a breathtaking palette of colors below. Bright red and pink anemones, neon orange encrusting sponges, and deep purple ochre sea stars adorned the rocky canvas, showcasing nature’s artistic prowess.
Surrendering to the sea
Descending further, we felt the force of the tide, like a river yet to subside. Gripping onto rock holds and kicking into the current, we felt like underwater rock climbers. Adjusting our underwater camera settings and getting comfortable with the flow of the water, we marveled at the transformation of the underwater landscape. Slabs of rock, once pounded by the current, now hosted a vibrant community of marine life.
After a mesmerizing twenty minutes of relatively gentle water, the current intensified, signaling the roller coaster drop ahead. We surrendered to neutrality, letting the current guide us along the wall. Boulders and back eddies added a touch of unpredictability; with trust in our abilities and Captain Kal’s promise of a safe pickup, the thrill was exhilarating rather than menacing.
As the current ebbed, we found ourselves in a tranquil cove adorned with green sea urchins, marking the end of our underwater odyssey. The Skook had shown us its splendor: a delicate balance of chaos and life beneath the surface – leaving us with memories as vivid as the colors we witnessed.
About the Author
Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles, he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. After working as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific, Nirupam became the Editor-in-Chief of the Underwater Photography Guide and the President of Bluewater Photo – the world’s top underwater photo & video retailer. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!
US-based divers: explore more close-by dive destinations with Bluewater Dive Travel here.
All photos: Nirupam Nigam
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