On this occasion we were holding the video course on the Blue Planet liveaboard organised by OonasDivers and following the Northern Red Sea Wrecks route to combine scrap metal on the sea bed with good wildlife. I’m not an over keen wreck diver just for the sake of the wreck itself; the main interest I have in them is the habitat they provide for a huge variety of marine life, and as luck would have it our Egyptian dive guide Ashraf Hassanin felt the same, and turned out to be not only enthusiastic but also very knowledgeable. During our 5 diving days we explored large wrecks such as the Thistlegorm to the smaller and less distinguished. In between we dived local reefs and it was one close to Hurghada where we did our check dive.
After a very long journey by car and plane, it is always thrilling to wake up on the first morning of the trip to see the blue sky above and a wonderful multicoloured reef stretching out before us. The crystal water was full of promise with relaxed diving and a multitude of marine animals to film.
Liveaboard schedules can be very military in their timings and goals, but I was so happy to find that our guide Ashraf was relaxed and accommodating. There were places he wanted to take us but at the same time he was quite open if we wanted to change things. In fact, it is worth saying at this point, the whole crew were extremely helpful, friendly and professional and as a side note, the food was really good.
Some of our dives were on the bigger wrecks such the Thistlegorm, Rosalie Moller and the Carnatic. Theoretically these should be home to an abundance of wildlife, but pressure from countless divers does take its toll and only the most hardy of species stick around. However, it was on our first descent that several dolphins cruised by. They didn’t stay as we all hoped, but slowly and effortlessly eased away into the deep blue. A wonderful start.
Wrecks can and do provide great backdrops for video and still photography. Twisted structures add drama to the wildlife and stark silhouettes add mystery. Wide angle lenses are undoubtedly a bonus when filming large wreck areas but at the same time the more standard longer focal lenses are good for concentrating on the smaller wildlife close ups. With this in mind I mounted a Gopro on top of the Gates housing for my Sony handycam. I now had the option of very wide shots from the Gopro and the normal variety of framing options given by the handycam.
When filming wrecks there is nothing quite so impressive as a clear water shot of the entire ship, especially if you have a diver in frame for scale. This gives a sense of location by letting the viewer know the context in which any other images are taken.
Having established the nature of the ‘studio’, we are then free to explore the more detailed images that make the wreck so interesting. A variety of mid shots and close ups on different subjects will convey this interest and entertain your future audience.
As well as the larger wrecks, we also explored a few smaller ones and a couple of natural coral reefs. It was thanks to Ashraf that we were able to avoid the diving crowds and pick our spots accordingly. I do enjoy small wrecks as they concentrate the inhabiting wildlife into a small area and thus reduce the time searching and using precious air finning from one end of a wreck to the other. An important part of any new dive is research on the site you are visiting. Dive guides will tell you about currents and depths and how long your dive should be. Ashraf did this, but also included his enthusiasm for wildlife, telling us what species to expect as well as the best places to look. Really helpful!
The bigger wrecks are of course more dramatic but it is these smaller ones that provide more opportunity for filming wildlife. Full of easily accessible nooks and crannies these small wrecks come to life when you look closely.
While drifting around the outside of one small wreck I spotted this Devil Scorpionfish hobbling across the sand. In fact there were two of them and as I watched, so they passed a third one, motionless under a small piece of coral. Walking Scorpionfish really are an extraordinary sight as they amble along on their pectoral fins trying for all the world to convince any onlooker that they are nothing more than a loose piece of coral. But the slowness of their movements belies the incredible speed with which they snatch their prey. It is estimated to be less than 15 milliseconds. The dorsal fins of these fish carry very potent venom and can cause fatalities in humans, so be careful where you put your hands. But, as we should all know, putting hands and feet down on reefs is bad practice.
Night diving anywhere is exciting be it on reef or wreck. Lionfish use the darkness to hunt for prey such as small fish, crabs and shrimps. Yet they have learned that a diver’s light can temporarily confuse and immobilise these small animals and so will follow the beam waiting for the opportunity to strike at some unsuspecting prey. It is a very clever adaptation. I have seen other species do it, such as moray eels, but the Lionfish are the true masters.
Here we can see a Lionfish slowly drifting towards a small fish caught in my light, seconds before making its lunge. It strikes with incredible speed and in the blink of an eye the small fish is gone. I couldn’t take a still frame of the actual strike from the video, as the action was too fast and the resulting still image was too blurred. Looks good on the video though.
Whether videoing by day or night, it is important to have a good video light. One that will give you a wide and even spread of light. They are not that expensive and well worth looking seriously at.
As always, time seemed to fly by and it was too soon that we are drying our gear and packing for the return flight home. Thinking back on the week I was certainly very pleased with putting my Gopro on the handycam housing. It literally doubled my framing abilities and without too much extra cost. My initial concern of matching material from the Gopro with the Sony in the edit was unnecessary. The quality of the Gopro was superb and with a little white balance correction it cut perfectly with the Sony images. One of the students on this trip was filming exclusively with a Gopro and was delighted with his overall results. His video testimonial of the course can be seen here.
The next Red Sea underwater video course is in March 2014 and held at the eco diving resort of Marsa Shagra with Red Sea Diving Safaris in the southern Red Sea. The course is again in association with OonasDivers.
Further details can be found on my web site at www.jeffgoodman.co.uk