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
Western Ecology Tour Expedition Report – Pembrokeshire
Whilst the team were in Pembrokeshire, we were supporting Neptune’s Army of Rubbish Cleaners, a charity run by divers who are passionate on keeping their local dive sites clean. They have been running clean ups since 2005 and were the first underwater clean up group. The team and I were guided by Lloyd Jones and David Kennard, who have been running the operation for several years now. NARC work alongside the local community as they help locate pollution and rubbish that needs to be cleared, a lot of these reports come from local fisherman who lose their gear and take a note of the location to tell the team later. NARC use equipment to aid their team and to maximise their efficiency, from cutting equipment, lift bags, and boat crews to help them in removing as much rubbish as possible. NARC also take a great stance on education and take the time to not only carry out these clean ups but to also educate the local community and public on the importance of clearing debris off our beaches and to pick up any trash you may see whilst diving.
The first day was spent working with NARC and diving a local dive site in the evening. The first dive was at Hobbs Point, and we were given a full briefing about what to expect on the dive and the kinds of rubbish that needed to be lifted from the site. The team were told that there were 12 Oil Drums, Nets, fishing line and a whole assortment of other rubbish, on this dive we were all equipped with net bags for smaller chunks, as well as Lift Bags for lifting the bigger pieces. There were several RIBs on standby to pick up what came up on the Bags and who also waited for our team to surface and bring us back to the dock. We were only working mere feet from the dock, but this was an active shipping lane with a Ferry actually just in from Ireland, unloading no more than 300 metres down.
Dave gave the go ahead to descend and the visibility was no more than 0.5 metres with some of us struggling to see our own hands in front of our faces, let alone seeing our feet or even our buddies. Therefor the work was done through a combination of touch communication, very close signalling and using torches to keep people together. Andy descended and dropped straight into a shopping trolley which he sent up along with nets, other members such as Lloyd, descended onto the Oil Drums with four of the twelve being lifted. There was a lot of rubbish present at this site unfortunately, with it being as easy to find as simply putting your fingertips into the mud and pulling up handfuls of discarded fishing line and lead weights. In total we managed to lift Four Oil Drums, one Scooter, one Shopping Trolley, and four Nets with one of them containing three fish which were saved and released. We also managed to retrieve bags and handfuls of fishing line and lead weights. At this point the team at NARC were due back at this site five weeks later with their goal to retrieve the rest of the oil drums and other large pieces of debris.
The second dive of day one was at Martins Haven, a dive site situated inside the Skomer Island Marine Reserve, during the briefing we were told about what to expect at the dive site and were also told that if we were to remove any Lobsters and Scallops at the site, it would incur huge fines along with the confiscation of our dive gear. The site was truly breathtaking, with large kelp beds that flattened out on to Sand flats that were covered in huge Scallops, some reaching 6 inches in width! There were large Spider Crabs who littered the bottom searching for food and a mate. The turning point of the dive was when the team came across a Pink Sea Fan, something that looked as if it belonged on one of the worlds tropical reefs rather than in the UK’s frigid waters. On the way back in we came across beautiful walls lined with kelp, anemones and barnacles, with copious amounts of Moon and Purple Jellyfish sitting in the surface water.
The final day of the expedition was a single dive at Stackpole Quay, a shallow site with easy access to the water. The crew parked at a National Trust Car Park and kitted up before walking 100m to the shore, some members of the team, including myself, were yet to see a single Catshark during the expedition and we were hoping to see some before the trip came to an end. This dive definitely didn’t disappoint, with many Small-spotted Catshark’s resting amongst the gulley’s and Kelp, some of us counted upwards of 15 Sharks on this single dive. Other sights on this dive were large shoals of Sand Eel and Sprat, young pollock and huge male Spider Crabs which had managed to gather up a number of females and whom fiercely protected them from those who came in to close to take photos. The visibility on this dive was around 3 metres so caution was took to keep close to one another and to ensure that none of us became separated.
After the dive was done, we returned to the campsite for a debrief, not only the final day, but also from the trip, along with a final meal at a local pub.
Surprisingly for some of us, the trip was not quite over as when we arrived in Pembrokeshire, we heard about spaces being available on one of Celtic Deep’s trips, namely their snorkeling trips, on this trip you get taken out to snorkel with Puffins, Razorbills and potentially Seals. There were 2 spaces available on the Saturday and Sunday with 4 of us taking up the opportunity to go out and experience another unseen story and finish the expedition with a bang.
The boat left shore at 9am but everyone had to arrive at 8:30am for briefing before disembarking, the briefing was led by Richard and Nicki of Celtic Deep. Everyone was told about how the trip is to be structured and how to effectively swim with the Puffins and how to get in close to take photos, after the briefing it was a 40-minute steam out to Skomer Island, once moored up we all jumped in off the back the boat and began to slowly approach large amounts of Puffins, Guillemot’s and Razorbills. The birds were a little shy and aired on the side of caution even if they are naturally curious, thankfully one person in each buddy group had a puffin decoy on a string, painted and donated to Celtic Deep by David Millard. These decoys were larger than an actual Puffin, so this of course peeked the Puffins interest, however as the birds approached and a camera appeared from under the water this of course scared the birds away. Nicki and Richard mentioned that the birds were unfortunately a little more skittish than usual and judging by some of their images it shows that the birds do indeed come much closer.
After spending 2.5 hours in the water with the birds it was time for us wll to get out and warm up for an hour before heading to the next site at Skokholm Island, here everyone was told that there was a chance to swim with Grey Seals or as the Skipper Fen calls them, “Maggots”, due to how they move when out of the water and how they look from a distance. Everyone jumped in and the rule of thumb to stick by was to allow the animals to get confident with us all being there and then allow them to come you, after around 2 hours in the water and the animals popping up to have a look at us all at distance it was time to head back to the boat to head back to port. As everyone was exiting a young seal came and approached the group and even grabbed onto cameras with her paws resulting in some truly close shots.
In total the trip with Celtic Deep was truly amazing with some breath-taking encounters and the opportunity to experience something truly wild, the team were professional and incredibly knowledgeable allowing us to truly enjoy a British wildlife encounter unlike anything else.
Expedition WET Summary
In conclusion the UK is almost a hidden gem of diving, many people would argue that going abroad is better. But as our team experienced during the trip, there is some truly breath-taking diving and wildlife encounters to be had, the UK has Sharks, Seals and Nudibranchs that rival that of those overseas. With a wealth of Charities carrying out hard work, experts who lead them, and life that is truly special, it’s difficult to say what the UK doesn’t have to offer for keen Divers and Photographers alike even if you must look that little bit harder to find it.
Not only is diving just as good as places abroad but it’s also easy to access with all the sites described in this report being accessed by simply walking off the beach and taking the plunge. Not only is it easy to access but it’s also better for the environment and our planet by diving local sites rather than only diving abroad. The team may have done a lot of driving during the expedition but in terms of our carbon footprint, it is a mere drop in the Ocean in comparison to getting a flight.
Keep an eye out soon for Expedition WET’s Film, which is currently in production with Ollie Putnam & Andy Clark. It will show more about the projects that were supported, the team, and life that was found during the expedition.
The Scuba Genies head to Bonaire! Part 2 of 2
In the second of this two-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from the Come Dive with Us hosted trip to Bonaire in September 2021. Missed Part One? Read it here!
There is another dive we just must share with you and one that we can confidently call a ‘Dive of a Lifetime’. There were 12 of us in our group, and collectively we have logged in excess of 8000 dives in some very special places around the world. And every one of us was totally blown away by this dive! A fellow diver, by way of the Girls that Scuba FB group mentioned that if the timing was right, an ostracod dive was one not to miss. A link to an online article noted that 2 to 5 days after a full moon and 45 minutes after sunset, was the best time to observe the mating ritual of these tiny creatures. And only if they have not been exposed to light of any kind. That meant no streetlights and no torches. NO TORCHES!
We lucked out and were in Bonaire during a full moon and planned our Ostracod dive carefully. One the fifth night after the full moon we headed south to Red Beryl, a site we had previously been to and knew the terrain. We were in awe of the soft coral forest at the site, and this was the perfect environment for the ostracods. As the ‘show’ only lasts about 20 minutes, we entered the water while it was still light and left a beacon on the shore to help guide us after the dive. We gently finned out over the sand and hovered above the soft coral at around 8 metres as the dark crept in. Little sparks of light started to appear in ones and twos, and then just as we had hoped, chains of these tiny creature were all around us, in hundreds and then thousands! Everywhere you looked, the ostracods were rising to the surface, like underwater fireflies linked together flashing their bioluminescence one after the other, giving us nature’s most amazing firework show! The only way I can explain it is seeing thousands of Tinkerbells all at once! 20 minutes later, it was all over so we turned on our torches and headed slowly back to the shallows, happy to find a sleeping turtle, scorpion fish, more octopus and lots of little creatures.
As our holiday inevitably came to an end, we chose a site within minutes of Buddy’s called The Invisibles. A highly recommended dive site, we parked up alongside the beach, kitted up and walked down the rock beach and into the water. 95 minutes later, we walked back up the beach with memories of green turtles feeding, free-swimming moray, immense sponges and a plethora of anemones with their tenant critters – shrimp, crabs, and all things fascinating. And back in the sandy shallows we didn’t know where to look! A golden spotted snake eel, juvenile angel fish and a box crab that scuttled across the seabed before vanishing into the sand in a finger-click.
In summary, the diving here was very special – it truly lives up to its reputation of being one of the best destinations to visit, and in fact, over-delivered when it came to our expectations from the Caribbean. To mix it up, in addition to shore diving we also scheduled 4 days of boat diving right from the dock at Buddy’s. We were able to explore all around Klein Bonaire and reach some of the more difficult shore-entry sites including Karpata and 1,000 Steps. We would recommend this highly if only to get away from a daily dose of sand in your boots!
Buddy’s is a full-service dive operation, offering quality accommodation, good food, and the dive centre is as slick an operation as we have ever seen or experienced. The drive-thru tank station is genius for shore diving, the house reef is easily accessed, and the boat diving from the dock on one of their 5 purpose-built dive boats is organised perfectly. Catering for newbies all the way through to technical and rebreather divers, Buddy’s delivers it all, and very well. The staff are fun, highly professional, and the whole set-up is geared to making a dive trip work without any fuss. Even the shop is very well stocked with kit, spares, forgotten stuff and replacements for broken things!
Importantly, Buddy’s is also a supporter and enforcer of the Marine Park protection rules – the whole of the island is surrounded by a protected marine reserve, so no touching, no gloves, no pointy-sticks. Turtle nesting and coral regeneration programmes are evident, and given the fantastic health of the reefs, the protection initiatives and regulations work.
Would we go back? Without any hesitation, and repeatedly!
Bonaire delivered the goods. Great diving, great accommodation and freedom to dive wherever and whenever you want – especially with the tanks on the house reef available 24/7. A perfect destination for dive clubs and groups as the 3–bedroom apartments really work.
Bonaire is exceptional value for money. There are very few places on this planet where you can dive so much for so little in a great marine environment.
- Getting there: Flights with KLM to Bonaire depart from any major UK airport via Amsterdam. From London Heathrow it was a 12-hour total flight time. An extra 23kg bag also costs less than £90 return if booked in advance.
- Air temperature: Tropical – average daily temperature throughout the year is 31’, reasonable rainfall (passes quickly) and the sea breezes are most welcome!
- Water temperature: 28-30°C. A 1-3mm full suit is recommended to protect from scratches and stings and to keep the sand out.
- Visa requirement: No tourist visa was required, but under COVID there are protocols in place. See https://www.bonairecrisis.com/en/travel-to-bonaire/ for the current requirements.
- Currency: US Dollar with ATMs easily found, and all major credit cards are accepted.
- Electricity: 120V with American 3- and 2-pin plugs. Our US/UK converters worked without issue
Accommodation: You mention Bonaire and Buddy Dive Resort is the first place people mention. Only 10 minutes from the airport makes for a super simple transfer. Multiple room types, all with kitted out kitchens and air-conditioned bedrooms. Two pools, two restaurants, full-service dive shop and staff always around to answer questions or lend a hand.
Diving: With both world class shore and boat diving available, warm and clear water, abundant marine life, coral and sponges like you’ve never seen, what more could you ask for?
Price Guide: Expect from £1500 per person based on two sharing for 7 nights with bed and breakfast. Unlimited shore and house reef diving, Nitrox and car rental all included. Return flights and transfers also included.
- STINAPA Marine Park passes: $45 per calendar year. We purchased ours online prior to departure and carried a copy in the vehicle when shore diving.
- Buddy Dive Vehicle Insurance: $19 per day of vehicle rental for one named driver for the duration of your stay. For an extra $5 you can name another driver for a day. This was added to the room bill, and we split the cost with the rest of our apartment.
Our Advice: Stay longer…. 10 days would be the perfect amount of time in our opinion to get the most out of the shore and boat diving. And with numerous flights during the week to choose from, any duration can easily be arranged.
Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.
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Egypt | Simply the Best Itinerary | 04 – 11 November 2021 | Emperor Echo
Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies with a ‘Book 5 and 1 dives for FREE’ offer all year round.
Price NOW from just £1275 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including:
- Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
- 7 nights in shared cabin
- 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
- 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
- Free Nitrox
Subject to availability.
Alternative departure airports available at supplement.
Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Less
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