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Scubaverse Underwater Photographer Interview: Robert Bailey

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In an ongoing series, Scubaverse’s Underwater Photography Editor Nick Robertson-Brown talks to underwater photographers from around the world that he admires. In this blog: Robert Bailey.

I grew up in the era of Jacque Cousteau. Those documentaries were ground breaking, they were adventurous, and they were unlocking the mysteries of the sea. Those explorations still fuel my inspiration today.  In Costa Rica, in the late 80s, I hired a mask and snorkel, floundered into the sea, and didn’t come out for 3 hours. I was completely hooked. That feeling is still with me nearly 30 years on. I got certified as a diver after that trip, and decided I wanted to teach. I trained to become an instructor in the US. I worked at the University of Calgary for 6 years training up to instructor level, staffed three full-time Instructor Training Courses over the years, and taught both dive rescue and Ice diving as specialities.

Being a dual citizen made the move from Canada to Europe in the late 90s an easy one, and after six years in the Netherlands I moved to the UK and have been based in the Midlands since 2005.  I joined BSOUP at that time, and BUPG a little later. Entering competitions and being surrounded by accomplished photographers established the benchmark for what makes a winning image. As a result of competing my images have been published in the London Times, Sunday Times Magazine, Outdoor Photographer, Dive, Scuba, and other publications. Winning sponsorship to compete for the UK in the Epson Red Sea competition in 2009, and placing in that prestigious event was a great achievement for me. I’ve accumulated a lot of other awards in UK club competitions and other events over the years. Although I’ve travelled frequently to warmer climes, I’m drawn to colder environments. I spend the majority of my time these days diving in the UK, and Canada as these locations are less photographed and less crowded than other areas. My website is www.RobertBaileyPhotography.com , established in 2007.


NRB: How did your underwater photography start?

RB: I’ve been interested in photography since an early age. Already being a topside shooter, using a camera underwater was a natural progression for me. My underwater photography started in the early 90’s as a way of augmenting scuba training materials for the program at the University of Calgary. After a while I found my interest in UW photography overtook my desire to teach. No longer content being a diver with a camera, I evolved into an underwater photographer obsessed with getting better pictures.

NRB: What is your favourite u/w camera equipment (past & present) & why?

RB: Like most photographers I love kit.  As Martin Edge once said, ‘It’s sexy’. In the film days I started out with a Nikonos V with a 35 mm lens, which is all I could afford at the time.  I had varied results using that setup, but was bitten by the bug, and kept working at it every chance I got.  Eventually I saved up enough to buy a 15mm lens, which was unparalleled for quality at the time. This was great to use, and I was able to make pictures I couldn’t have previously, especially close focus wide angle. After a few years I realized the limitations of working with a range finder camera underwater and set my sights on getting a housed system. I owned an Nikon F4 at time, so worked to get that into a housing with a Sport Finder (a lovely- and not cheap – optical view finder) I was able to get pictures more easily, especially of quick moving tiny fish, which proved a great challenge for me using the Nikonos.

My favourite camera out of them all is the one I use now, the Nikon D500. it’s nice to be able to take advantage of the latest digital technology. The autofocus system, in my experience, is better than anything I’ve used previously underwater. Having immediate feedback underwater is much easier than working with film. My work horse wide angle lens is the Tokina 10-17 mm fisheye, which is renowned for its close focus ability. I still use an old style Nikkor 60mm Macro lens which has excellent optics. I’ve used various brands of strobes over the years, but settled on Inon strobes which I’ve found to be hugely reliable, and easy to use. My Z240s are my go-to lights, and I use two S2000’s for off camera work. The Nauticam Super Macro Convertor (SMC) is a fantastic tool for unlocking the tiny marine life world not immediately apparent to the naked eye. When I dive with this, I feel like a kid looking at the underworld world through a microscope. I like kit that’s reliable, and built to last.

NRB: What would be your advice to anyone new to underwater photography?

RB: Revisit the fundamentals. Ensure your dive equipment is in order.  Confirm you’re correctly weighted for conditions. Achieving neutral buoyancy in my opinion is key to good photography underwater, and more importantly preserving the underwater environment, and conditions for other photographers who may be around you. You’d be surprised how often this is overlooked. Get in the water as much as you can, and always dive with a camera. Creating opportunities underwater is more important than the equipment you don’t have. Fully exploit the equipment you do have. Join an underwater photography club, submit images to competitions, and solicit as much feedback as possible about what you can do to improve. There’s a lot of talent around these days, many photographers are generous with their knowledge and love to wax lyrical about their experiences. Join trips with other underwater photographers. These trips are often setup by clubs to maximize photographic opportunities. Read and research. There are a lot of good books around, and I highly recommend the latest books from Alex Mustard and Martin Edge. Read these cover to cover. The internet also contains a wealth of knowledge. Table top experimentation can be massively helpful in familiarizing you with your equipment. When your diving, set your equipment up on the surface for what your trying to achieve. Minimize adjustments underwater where possible. Having a plan and being deliberate has helped me over the years.

NRB: What, or who, has been your single biggest inspiration for your underwater photography?

RB: I think when I first got into it, I was hugely inspired by the work of David Doubilet. His underwater stories in National Geographic were only available though the post, so those articles were like gold when they arrived. Doubilet’s book Water Light Time is still a favourite of mine, and now a well worn tome. In more recent years Alex Mustard, Flip Nicklin, and Thomas Peschak are a few of the underwater photographers I really admire. There’s so much talent out there these days. Starting to place and win competitions certainly has fuelled my passion in the past, and trying to stay in the top set of local photographers keeps me coming back today.

NRB: What image are you most proud of and why?

RB: Without hesitation a picture I made of a whale shark whilst on a live aboard in Egypt. Quite early one morning in the Gulf of Suez on mirror calm seas the skipper killed the engine. From our cabin I could hear a lot of chatter on deck, and went up to see what was going on. To my amazement four whale sharks were going about their business. We jumped in the rib and did some snorkelling with these gentle giants. Amidst the excitement I got the cox to take me back to the boat, and I did the fastest lens change in history and jumped back in equipped with a wide angle lens. I managed to make a few pictures complete with surface reflections. Having only seen Basking Sharks in the UK for the first time the week before, I quite excited by the whole affair. I still look at these pictures and remind myself I was there.

NRB: Where is your favourite dive location, and is it for the photography?

RB: It’s hard to settle on just one place. I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot during my diving career. The diving and topside experience off northern Vancouver Island in Canada has been remarkable over the years, and tops my list. The marine life there is prolific and many of the subjects are less photographed than those in the tropics. Being surrounded underwater by dozens of Pacific white sided dolphins ranks high on my list of underwater experiences. There are no crowds to speak of, the topside wildlife is abundant. Over the last few years we’ve run trips where we’ve seen coastal wolves, California sea otters, bald eagles, coastal deer, black bears, humpback whales, and orcas to name a few. I think Queen Charlotte Strait and Slingsby Channel would rival any topside safari. It’s home for me, and a lot of my formative experiences as a diver and photographer took place there.

NRB: What are you views on marine life manipulation, moving subjects?

RB: I do my utmost to respect the creatures I photograph, and not interfere with any marine life. I leave subjects alone that are inaccessible with a camera. I think humanity needs to be more courteous to the other inhabitants we share our planet with. Jeopardizing life for the sake of a photograph is not acceptable practice to me.

NRB: What do you look for when you are making your images?

RB: Clean, uncluttered backgrounds. Colour. High Contrast. Anthropomorphism

NRB: What motivates you to take u/w photos?

RB: My love of nature, photography, diving, being outdoors, and the great friends and family I’ve shared my experiences with.

NRB: If you could photograph any one thing/place what or where would that be?

RB: A blue whale is my ultimate dream. and I’d like to photograph it in a remote area, maybe in a polar region. Having said that I’d settle on being in the water anywhere, with any whale. I’ve seen a lot whales on the surface, and have been close enough to Orcas to smell their breath. I’m in awe of whales, and would love the experience of being close to them underwater.

Find out more about Robert Bailey by clicking here.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Exhibition: Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research

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From now until 30 October, the photo exhibition “Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research” features 21 photographs at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, as well as a digital edition.

Exceptional photographs highlight how innovative marine experts and scientists take the pulse of the ocean by exploring ecosystems, studying the movement of species, or revealing the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs. Scientific discoveries are more important than ever for the protection and sustainable conservation of our Marine World Heritage. This memorable exhibition comes ahead of the launch, in 2021, of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (“Ocean Decade”). The exhibition was jointly developed by UNESCO and the Principality of Monaco.

The 50 marine sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, distributed across 37 countries, include a wide variety of habitats as well as rare marine life still largely unknown. Renowned for their unmatched beauty and emblematic biodiversity, these exceptional ecosystems play a leading role in the field of marine conservation. Through scientific field research and innovation, concrete actions to foster global preservation of the ocean are being implemented locally in these unique natural sites all over the world. They are true symbols of hope in a changing ocean.

Since 2017, the Principality of Monaco supports UNESCO to strengthen conservation and scientific understanding of the marine sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. This strategic partnership allows local management teams to benefit from the results obtained during the scientific missions of Monaco Explorations. The partnership also draws international attention to the conservation challenges facing the world’s most iconic ocean sites.

The exhibition invites viewers to take a passionate dive into the heart of the scientific missions led by Monaco Explorations in four marine World Heritage sites: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines), Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Colombia), Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), and the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France). It is also an opportunity to discover the work of a megafauna census; the study of the resilience of coral reefs and their adaptation in a changing climate; the exploration of the deep sea; and the monitoring of large marine predators through satellite data.

To visit the Digital Exhibition click here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 7

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for the final part of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Deptherapy expeditions do not just magically happen, they need planning and they need funding.  This expedition was funded by our long-term partners the Veterans’ Foundation.  The funding is part of a grant they awarded us for programmes this year, which were then put on hold because of COVID.

All charities in the Armed Forces’ Sector are struggling for funds. Deptherapy desperately needs support going forward and every penny counts.

We know what we do works and at the end of this blog you will find details of the research studies into Deptherapy’s programmes and how they impact on the lives of our beneficiaries.  This includes details that are hot off the press about the latest study that reports that what we offer through scuba diving and 24/7 support has benefits beyond those found in other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

Well tomorrow we fly home, late in the evening with the journey home for some of the guys who live up North taking around 15 hours after leaving Roots.

We want to make the most of today but with the tide running we are not going to be able to dive until later this morning which means only two dives today.

Oatsie and Swars about to start their sidemount dives

Things, however are really busy over at the dive centre with Swars and Oatsie putting their sidemount kit together for their training dives with Steve Rattle leading to their RAID sidemount qualification.  It has been nice to be able to offer the guys this extra training, given the amount of work they have put in this week.  They have needed to get through their theory quickly but given the RADI online learning system this has not been too arduous.

Steve came diving with us yesterday to get some more photos and was really amazed at the progress that Corey had made. He was quite open in his praise, as in his view Corey has gone from a non-diver to being a very competent OW diver capable of diving, unsupervised, with a buddy.  Praise indeed.

Other than the sidemount course we are diving as a group today: Corey, Keiron, Michael, Moudi and me. Corey has been given some tasks – SMB deployment on both dives and the afternoon dive will be a ‘naturalist dive’.  Guy Henderson has set Corey a task: ‘to identify three species of fish and record the time into the dive and the depth at which each one was spotted’.  Guy runs Marine Biology courses on the reef and knows where the fish are to be found, how long into the dive, and at what time.

The two Toms are getting put through their paces. They have walked their cylinders down to the entry point, but Steve sends them back to the dive centre to collect other kit they should have brought with them.

Our general dive goes well and the sidemount guys appear from their sidemount dive some 90 minutes after dipping their heads under the water.

Corey enjoying being a RAID OW20 Diver

Lots of bubbly chat at lunchtime, a group of really happy divers. Corey really has benefited from the week and over lunch thanked the team for making him a diver. He has very quickly become part of the family and after returning home he published an amazing post on Facebook about his experience.  Corey really gets Deptherapy and had soon realised that we see past mental and physical injuries and see the person inside and work with that person.  He also realised that we want beneficiaries to see their fellow beneficiaries in the same light.  He knows he now has another ‘family’ – a family of brothers in arms who have two things in common, they served their country and they have suffered life changing injuries or illnesses.

Back into the water for the afternoon dive and Corey identifies the fish and records the details on a slate.  The two Tom’s complete their second dive and qualify as RAID Sidemount Divers. Great!

Kit packed away and it is time to return to the camp for a few well-earned last night drinks.

I am often asked why we use Roots as our exclusive base for diving. I have mentioned before that it offers us an ideal retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We are secluded and there are no distractions such as late-night bars etc.

Roots Accessible Room

The second reason is the amazing welcome we receive from Steve, Clare, Moudi and the team.  We have been going to Roots since 2014 and many of the staff have become good friends, they understand our needs and are the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet.

The third reason is the huge investment Steve and Clare have made in making the resort and dive centre accessible for those with physical injuries including those who need to use wheelchairs.  All our beneficiaries can enjoy Roots and, in fact, love it here.  The reef is perfect for us and in non-COVID times we can travel to the Salem Express and other dive sites to enjoy more of the Red Sea experience.

Accessible toilet on the Roots beach

After discussions with the team I was very proud to be able to tell Corey that his progress had been such that we were inviting him on the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust sponsored two-week Marine Biology Course at Roots in June 2021. There is lots of homework to undertake under the guidance of Dr Debbie McNeill of Open Oceans and Corey will be sent the Red Sea Guide which is the basis for study.

While on that programme, Corey with fellow beneficiary Dale Mallin, will complete his RAID Advanced 35 course.  This all builds to a 10-day Red Sea liveaboard in 2022, onboard Roots’ new boat Big Blue where 18 beneficiaries will compare the coral and aquatic life on the wrecks of the SS Thistlegorm and the less known SS Turkia that is to be found in the Gulf of Suez and is rarely dived.

Paul Rose, our Vice President, is supporting the programme and is seeking the support of the UN and the Royal Geographical Society. A comprehensive report will be submitted to our partners in the project and to the Egyptian Authorities.

Last night and chill

What we do works:

In recent years there have been three academic studies into our work:

2018 – A study by a team from the University of Sheffield Medical School.

2019 – A study by The Centre of Trauma at Nottingham University.

Both these studies reported very positively on Deptherapy’s work both underwater but also in terms of the provision of 24/7 support.

The following is from our press release which was issued on 26th October:

‘A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.

This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise. IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.

Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore. The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).’

This is amazing news and sets us apart from other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

We are currently working with our VP Richard Castle who is a Consultant Psychologist and our Dive Medicine Advisor Mark Downs to identify further areas of psychological and physical dive related research.

We end the week on a happy note.  A young man who has learned to dive properly with a RAID OW 20 certification, a new RAID Master Rescue Diver, two new RAID Sidemount Divers, 5 new RAID O2 Providers, many assessments for our DMs but most of all a week of learning, of making new friendships, renewing old friendships, and building on our family ethos.

Until we meet again…

For us, Deptherapy is a journey, a journey that continues to push boundaries in the use of scuba diving in the rehabilitation of those suffering life changing mental and/or physical challenges.  On our journey we want to change the way the scuba diving industry views diving for those with disabilities.

In the new year, we will be launching, with our diver training agency partners RAID, a new and exciting adaptive teaching programme that will offer diving to the disabled community. We can’t wait to share it with you!


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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