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Shooting in Less than Perfect Visibility in the Maldives

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I’ve recently returned from the Maldives on the rather swish and fabulous MV Orion, one of the stars of the Constellation Fleet. Your approach to taking pictures in the Maldives has to be altered as the seasons and locations alter.

At times of the year the visibility can rival the Red Sea; however, a lot of the time it is compromised by comparison. One of the reasons that the waters in this area are frequented by large pelagic beasts like Manta and Whalesharks is because of the tiny plankton providing the major food for these ocean giants. This tiny plankton, in the main, is what hampers the visibility. If you’ve kept track of my recent Facebook posts of those Manta and Whalesharks though, you could be forgiven for thinking that the visibility was crystal clear. And certain adaptations are what is needed to shoot in this less than perfect visibility to make your photos look like the viz is clearer than it is.

I find that the age old adage of underwater photographers to “get close” is never more apt than when in these slightly murkier conditions.

This is exactly the sort of example that pictures the Maldives looking its most colourful, it's a deception really as without the colourful balled up anemone in the foreground, shot using a fisheye lens so I'm shooting through only inches of water at this point, the less the perfect viz is hidden.

This is exactly the sort of example that shows the Maldives looking its most colourful. It’s a deception really due to the colourful balled up anemone in the foreground, it’s been shot using a fisheye lens, and I’m shooting through only inches of water – the less than perfect viz is disguised.

A Fish Eye View

So I choose to shoot with a fisheye lens and really get close when shooting reef scenes, placing the main object of interest  in the forefront of the frame. This tends to lead the eye into the picture which is a great compositional stand by, and it also has the benefit of shooting through much less water for this close object, so even if the background isn’t crystal clear and distinct, the foreground will be.

One of the more frustrating creatures to shoot well in the Maldives is the relatively frequent visiting reef sharks. Usually White Tips swirling in the currents at the edges of channels, but occasionally you may get visited by Grey Reefs too.
I have always had difficulty shooting these with my standard weapon of choice, the fisheye lens.

Ok, here is a subject that demands a dramatic angle, I was shooting with a longer than normal focal length, so unable to let the drama by ramping it up with a "fisheye in it's face" sort of a composition, which just wasn't possible. Fearsome though they may seem, this shark like most was quite shy. So I opted for a short telephoto lens to make them big in the frame. This meant that to turbo charge the dynamics a bit I simply tilted the camera, well actually I didn't, I lie. What I did was take a pretty straight shot and after converting it to black and white I cropped it in Lightroom with a bit of a tilt. Simples. Although to be perfectly honest if you can remember to frame like this in the first place you won't waste any valuable pixels, and keep the quality high.

OK, here is a subject that demands a dramatic angle. I was shooting with a longer than normal focal length, so unable to let the drama by ramping it up with a “fisheye in it’s face” sort of a composition, which just wasn’t possible. Fearsome though they may seem, this shark like most was quite shy. So I opted for a short telephoto lens to make them big in the frame. This meant that to turbo charge the dynamics a bit I simply tilted the camera. Well actually I didn’t, I lie – what I did was take a pretty straight shot and after converting it to black and white I cropped it in Lightroom with a bit of a tilt. Although to be perfectly honest if you can remember to frame like this in the first place you won’t waste any valuable pixels, and keep the quality high.

And so on occasion  I have resorted to using longer focal lengths, from standard wide angle lenses all the way through to short telephoto or macro lenses. This is of course a compromise, and you still end up shooting through plankton-filled water, but at least you can get something. In fact if you have a compact camera with a range of focal lengths you may well end up getting closer and often better shots than those of us sporting super wide fish eye lenses.

Go Big, or Go Home

Luckily the largest of the Maldives marine life, the Manta’s and Whale Sharks, are usually quite easy to get close to, so it’s back to the fisheye and wide-angle lenses for these.

You still have to be careful though as one of the other unwanted side effects of shooting in plankton-rich water is that your strobe positioning needs to be attended to with more care, as the plankton will cause back scatter really easily. So I always make sure that my strobes are positioned well behind the dome lens front, and also pointed slightly out.

My strobe positioning for these two (3) manta circling overhead was more a case of luck than judgement. As they happened to be at just the right distance from me to get proper strobe coverage, with minimal backscatter. You can see it's not as clear by the manta in the distance, bottom left.

My strobe positioning for these two (3) manta circling overhead was more a case of luck than judgement, as they happened to be at just the right distance from me to get proper strobe coverage with minimal backscatter. You can see it’s not as clear by the manta in the distance (bottom left).

For the picture below of the Whale Shark I’ve used the exact same technique that I used in Mexico to shoot the Whale Sharks there, with Shutter Priority.

The Whale Shark was only encountered from a snorkelling viewpoint and so to make myself more streamlined and hydrodynamic I removed the strobes from my rig. Just like in Mexico I only managed a few shots, before I ran out of steam, as the Whale Shark “sped” by me in a rather languid fashion!

I was lucky that this Whale Shark turned towards me, and as it's relatively slow moving shutter priority has frozen its languid movements.

I was lucky that this Whale Shark turned towards me, and as it’s relatively slow moving shutter priority has frozen its languid movements.

So in summary the trick to getting clearer shots is very simple – you need to get rid of as much water between you and the subject as possible, so the order of the day is a wide angle lens of some description, and generally with the exception of shooting shy sharks the wider the better.

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Scuba Travel new logoDuxy is the in house photo-pro for UK-based dive tour operator Scuba Travel. To find out about availability on Scuba Travel’s underwater photography workshops hosted by Duxy click here.

Duxy has worked for nearly 20yrs in the dive industry, starting at the pointy end of dive tourism in Sharm as a guide and videographer, transitioning into a fixture back home in the U.K. helping and advising on all things underwater photographic, and as a popular speaker at shows and dive clubs delivering talks. He now works as the in house photo-pro for ScubaTravel and has conducted nearly 40 overseas workshops for them, helping all flavours of underwater photographer with everything from GoPro's to DSLR's to improve their shots. He speaks fluent Geek but his motto is that what really counts at the end of the day is 'pictures not pixels'.

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Rowen Hemsley-Harding, third place winner of the See You at the Sea Festival Film Competition (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-large, chats to Rowen Hemsley-Harding, third place winner of the See You at the Sea Festival Film Competition. The See you at the Sea Festival was an online film festival created by young people, for young people.

Rowan’s film – Ocean Art and Facts – can be seen here:

Fourth in a series of six videos about the competition. Watch the first video HERE with Jenn Sandiford – Youth Engagement Officer with the Your Shore Beach Rangers Project and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust – to find out more about the Competition. Each day this week we will be sharing one video in which Jeff talks with the young contestants about their films and what inspired them.


For more information please visit:

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News

NUPG Lockdown Best of…

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Usually the January NUPG meeting involves a guest judge coming to Manchester to talk through the very best images members had taken in the previous 12 months. However, this year, due to COVID19 restriction many of the members had not had the chance to dive. The NUPG committee decided to change the rules a little. So this year members judged a series of Best of the Century images online and were also invited to take part in a lockdown underwater bath tub category.

There were five categories for members to enter. Here are the winners of each…

British and Irish Close Up

Octopus in St Abbs Marine Reserve by Mike Clark

British and Irish Wide Angle

A Basking Shark off the coast of Cornwall by Nick Robertson-Brown

Overseas Close Up

A squid at night in the Lembeh Strait in Indonesia by Ken Byrne

Overseas Wide Angle

Hammerhead Sharks in the Red Sea by Justin Beevor

Under Bath Water

Lockdown fun in the tub by Caroline Robertson-Brown

The next NUPG meeting will be held on Monday 8th February and the guest speaker is John Bantin.

For more information on the NUPG please visit their website by clicking here.

Header image: Lionfish hunting in the Red Sea by John Spencer

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Competitions

This is the perfect start to your 2021 diving season… and at an incredible lead-in price of just £885 per person.

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. This itinerary takes in the wonderful South & St Johns from 26 February – 05 March 2021.  

Subject to availability – limited flight seats at this price so don't delay!

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk to book your spot!

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