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The Top Five Dive Locations to Photograph… Big Stuff!

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In this series we’ll be looking at the world of underwater photography. There are many articles written both on-line and in magazines about UW photo technique and equipment but not so many about where to go to get the best shots and that is obviously very important. A well-thought- of underwater photographer, a friend called Simon Rogerson, was once asked what his most important bit of kit was. His response? “My flight ticket”.

Says it all really.

Just as you would travel to different locations on land to photograph different subjects so the same applies underwater. Different types and species of marine plants and animals obviously inhabit different parts of the world, so if you’re serious about what you want to shoot you need to know where to go. Having said that a very large number of recreational or holiday divers are now taking cameras underwater with them. Long gone are the days when the serious underwater photographer required thousands of pounds worth of elaborate kit, the size of which meant only the most ardent were prepared to put up with the years of crippling back ache sure to follow just from lugging it around. Nowadays with the advances in imaging technology even a modest compact (with the right criteria) will produce excellent images, and underwater photography is thankfully much more accessible today than it ever has been. The aim here is to point you in the right direction to find those great underwater photo opportunities without waffling on too much about the complexities of equipment and technique – just enough to ensure some great images from our selected locations.

We’re going to start with a subject that will appeal to divers and non-divers alike: the big beasties – Sharks, Manta Rays and those larger animals that we all find fascinating and maybe even a little bit scary.

Underwater photography is surprisingly different from land based photography as I found out the hard way when I first ventured underwater with a camera. Certain cameras work better than others and accessories, like wide angle lenses, are essential to get the best shots.

The biggest problem with shooting underwater is, quite simply, the water itself. It acts like a huge murky filter even if you’re somewhere tropical with beautiful clear water. Water so efficiently absorbs light that even after only a few metres your subject will become poorly defined and washed out. This is why wide angle and fish eye lenses are so frequently used underwater; and it’s nothing to do with taking large sweeping panoramas, it’s all about reducing the distance between your subject and the camera – quite simply the less water you shoot through the better the picture will be. Unfortunately for taking pictures of a lot of these bigger creatures a W/A or fisheye lens ordinarily doesn’t help much as most of them will be heading in the opposite direction the moment you try and approach. That is why the locations mentioned here are renowned for not only the quantity of these larger marine fauna but also the proximity at which you can approach them, or more correctly, they approach you.

Anyway enough of my waffle; let’s get on with it.

 

 

The Brothers, Southern Red Sea

Little and Big Brother Islands are a pair of islands in the Southern Red Sea. Both islands are rich in marine life and the reefs are abound with small Anthias and Glassfish. Impressive hard and soft coral formations make for spectacular diving. Little Brother attracts many smaller reef sharks and the occasional Hammerhead but the larger Big Brother Island really is the place to see the larger pelagic species. On the South Eastern point of the island in spring and autumn you are likely to encounter many reef sharks and Hammerheads. You can also see Oceanic White Tips, which are large ocean-going sharks and can be quite intimidating. Seldom-seen Thresher sharks are also reported around this point and many divers – myself included – never see one of these elusive creatures. There’s always the chance though! More experienced divers often preserve their air to spend time at the end of a dive here as the sharks congregate under the dive boats and will come in very close indeed, offering  great photo opportunities.

Aliwal Shoal, South Africa

Just south of Durban lies the town of Umkomaas where the Mkhomazi River meets the Ocean, and just offshore is the world famous dive site at Aliwal Shoal. Named after a ship that ran aground there in 1849, it is renowned for its shark diving – and many species can be found in abundance there. Most popular in this area are the local Ragged-Tooth Sharks, affectionately known as “Raggies”. Despite their ferocious appearances these sharks are normally very docile. Raggies are normally deep water creatures but return to Aliwal throughout June/July whilst the females prepare to give birth and can be very approachable in the water. Also found here is the elegant-looking Dusky Shark; with its long streamlined body these fish can exceed 4 meters in length. Oceanic Black Tip and Tiger sharks are also regular visitors here. If your repertoire extends beyond just sharks there are large Marble and Sting Rays cruising around to tickle your fancy.

The Seychelles

High on the bucket list for many aspiring underwater photographers is the opportunity to get some action pics of the largest fish in the world: the whale shark. Despite being a member of the shark family, this 12-metre monster is a gentle giant and is popular not just for its size but also for its docile yet curious nature, its tendency to swim and feed at shallow depths and, most of all, its affinity for only the warmest and clearest of tropical waters. So put that wet suit away and dig out your sunnies!

The Seychelles are a group of tiny islands glistening in the middle of the Indian Ocean off the east coast of equatorial Africa. Pristine white sun-kissed beaches, misty forested peaks, palm trees and crystal clear seas teeming with marine life make this a tropical haven and a great place to get in the water with whale sharks – not to mention the turtles, mantas and dolphins that can be regularly seen. With water temperatures of up to 30oC there is no excuse not to practise your underwater skills! Several friendly dive companies can take you to the best sites around for the greatest photo opportunities.  During the whale shark season (usually August to the beginning of November) the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCSS) run dedicated whale shark trips where the boat is guided to the sharks with the assistance of a “lookout” microlight overhead. What’s more, if you can get good pictures of the whale sharks you can help with research into the lives of these fabulous creatures by submitting ID pictures to MCSS of the spot pattern above the fins – a whale shark’s ‘fingerprints’ if you like. Of course, after a day in the water it’s time to head to shore to regale your tales over a cocktail or two…

Galapagos, Eastern Tropical Pacific

Everybody has heard of the Galapagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin’s studies whilst on board the exploration vessel Beagle back in the early 1830’s. 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the islands sit right on the equator, truly a tropical paradise.

Above and below the water Galapagos is a photographer’s dream location. Well environmentally protected, Galapagos is home to many unique species which thrive on these lush islands. In the water you can expect to see a diverse selection of marine wildlife; pods of dolphin, hammerheads, sea lions, manta rays, whale shark, and not forgetting the marine Iguanas that populate the islands. These prehistoric lizards can grow up to 1.5 metres in length and weigh in excess of 10 kilos and whilst most often seen sunning themselves on rocks along the coast, once in the water they are a graceful, quite elegant swimmer.  Also found here are the diminutive Galapagos Penguin which is one of the smallest Penguins in the world and only grows to around half a metre in height. It is the only penguin found north of the equator. These are going to be hard to photo as they zip around in the water like miniature torpedoes. The post dive chat is always going to be lively here! Of course there is a down side to this beautiful destination and that is the cost! It is without doubt one of the most expensive places on the planet to visit.

Lundy Island, UK

If your budget perhaps won’t stretch to a trip across the world, or you perhaps prefer a traditional British sea-side holiday, then don’t despair. The UK coastline offers a range of diving that is comparable (albeit considerably colder!) to a lot of the more exotic locations and boasts some of the most impressive sea beasties around.

Lundy lies off the coast of North Devon, in the Bristol Channel, so requires a bit of a boat journey in order to reach – a journey which you may be joined on by travelling porpoises and dolphins. The main attraction for divers here is the opportunity for some amazing close contact with the local seals which playfully dart around and between divers, curious and bright-eyed, offering themselves very considerately as excellent photographic subjects and will swim right up to a camera lens in order to investigate. If you can escape the mischievous antics of the seals there is plenty more to see including sea fans and soft corals, lobsters and – if you are really lucky – perhaps even a basking shark taking lunch in the area, another gentle plankton-feeding giant.

Topside photo opportunities are aplenty to keep you satisfied when the diving is done, especially if you wander down towards the seabird colonies. Lundi is believed to originate from an old Nordic word for “puffin” and there are plenty of these quirky characters around along with a variety of other coastal breeding species. There is a lot of history and heritage behind the island, much of which is in evidence. Well worth a long weekend away!

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BSAC launch #DiscoverUKdiving video competition

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BSAC is launching a new video competition which aims to get the diving community sharing and discussing the highlights of UK diving to inspire others to give it a try and discover it for themselves.

They are inviting you to share short UK diving or snorkelling videos – tagged #DiscoverUKdiving or #DiscoverUKsnorkelling – to be in with a chance of winning a Fourth Element Hydra Neoprene Drysuit worth £999 (or an alternative non-diving suit if a snorkeller wins). There are other prizes up for grabs too, with a Fourth Element duffel bag going to second place and a year’s BSAC membership for third.

The #DiscoverUKdiving video competition aims to get the diving community talking about the highlights of UK diving and/or BSAC club life by sharing short videos to surprise and inspire others to discover it for themselves.

BSAC is looking for videos that show an exciting moment, unique insight or anything that exemplifies why diving in the UK is so much fun and can encourage others to take up UK diving. People will be invited to vote for the entries they find most inspiring on the competition gallery website.

BSAC CEO Mary Tetley said: “We want to show others who haven’t experienced UK diving why we love it so much, and we need your help! Use your phone, GoPro or pretty much anything to share a short video that encapsulates why you love diving in the UK. Ideally, showing off UK diving the BSAC way!”

The competition will be open for entries until midnight on Monday 30 November.

The videos can be either be above water (e.g. a RIB ride out to a dive site), below water (e.g. exploring a wreck with your buddy) or a combination of both. Each video should be short (no longer than 15 seconds) and you can enter up to three videos. The winner will be the entry that receives the most votes. Voting will remain open for a further week and close on Monday 7 December. The winners will be announced the week of 14 December, good luck!

Full terms and conditions, including how to enter as well as how to vote on your favourite video can be found here.

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Henley Spiers: Black & White Photography at the September NUPG meeting (Watch Video)

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The September NUPG meeting saw Henley Spiers take to the virtual stage. Henley decided to divide the evening into two topic areas for discussion: Black and White Photography and Pelagic Encounters – his two biggest passions in underwater photography at the moment.  Henley showed off his stunning black and white images to the NUPG audience, talking about why he selected each image to convert to monochrome and was generous enough to share the photoshop techniques with the group too. He then went on to wow the group with images from the deep blue sea, with some simply stunning pelagic encounters. 

As always, the NUPG members also had a chance to show off some of their images in the monthly competition. This month’s theme was “Invertebrates” and it saw a range of ideas and images from the group.

The winning shot of a sea lion was taken by Maggie Russell

The runner-up was by John Spencer

Third place was taken by Justin Beevor

The next meeting was held on Monday 12th October, a talk from Simon Rogerson: Difficulties with Sharks. Check back soon for the video!

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

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