Author Archives: Paul Colley

About Paul Colley

Paul Colley is an internationally recognized and published underwater photographer.

movement in still images…experimenting

I think that I know the theory, but find it really tough to express movement in underwater still images and I fail far more than I succeed.  So I followed some sage advice and devoted some proper time to experimenting.  Not just with a few images, but whole dives dedicated to the idea with well thought out plans in mind.

The real break was finding a school of Indian Mackerel on my current trip to the Red Sea.  I could find this school on most dives and the frenetic pace of these fish moving up & down the reef near the surface (which has texture) is ideal.

using slow shutter speeds to express movement in a still image

using slow shutter speeds to express movement in a still image

I tried every technique that I know, from the well-documented slow shutter and rear curtain flash, to panning in natural light and panning ahead with front curtain flash.  Shutter and aperture priority both worked (as did manual exposure modes), but I had to work the ISO hard to get the right combinations and used low power flash to allow burst shooting using a moderate frame rate (composition is very difficult with such fast moving subjects).  I had poor early results, but persistence working the subject and the techniques tends to pay off.  I think that the results are still a work in progress, but my ideas are now much better formed and I’m ready to attack the next opportunity subject with more confidence.  So thank you to Alex Mustard for encouraging his students to devote time to experimentation.  I’m hugely encouraged to do more of this!  Check out the 3 minute video at this link to compare some traditional images of the school with slow shutter speed work of various kinds and – the only thing that really captured the character of these fish (thus far) – some video footage.

Happy New Year, dear friends.

Paul

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Cuba – opening up to the World…

Silky shark in the Gardens of the Queen

Silky shark in the Gardens of the Queen

The historic announcement this week by President Obama heralds a long-overdue warming of the US relationship with Cuba.  It came as I finished another fantastic photography trip to the Caribbean island. I had been wondering ever since I first visited Cuba, to dive in its amazing waters, what the impact of a thaw in US relations might have on the country and in particular on its apex-predator-heavy coral reefs.

Foremost might be the pressure for more diving inside long-established marine reserves, where most of the predators find rare sanctuary.  It could be hard for Cuba to resist the assumptions that might come with any new investment in the diving infrastructure.

But the Cubans have a great feel for conservation of their resources, so I hope that they will resist any pressures that ultimately threaten what they currently have, which is a reef system in balance and dominated by hundreds of predators: sharks of many types; huge groupers in big numbers; saltwater crocodiles; and big schools of large game fish like Tarpon.

I’m optimistic that sense will generally prevail.  But having seen this coming for some time, I’ll repeat what I’ve been telling many of my friends over the same period: if you want to guarantee seeing Cuba at its best – above and below water – visit in the next few years before the big corporations make their moves on property and the leisure industries.  Although some investment will be essential and create very welcome improvements, Cuba may never be the same again.  So go now!  Here’s a link if you’re interested in the diving: Shark Diving in Cuba

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Royal Photographic Society Award for “Winning Images”

There’s a risk of sounding self-congratulatory when announcing personal achievements, but in truth most of us are modest and simply express pride in what we occasionally achieve.

I had a nice surprise 2 weeks ago; the best way to receive good news. Subject to minor bureaucratic process, the Royal Photographic Society are about to award me Associate status of the organisation for the contribution that “Winning Images” has made to the research, education and practice of underwater photography.  This follows an RPS gold medal last year for the image below of my niece.

Winning Images & the Royal Photographic Society gold medal image

Winning Images & the Royal Photographic Society gold medal image

I’m naturally quite proud of this formal recognition for the book, which comes from outside the normal lanes of critical acclaim for underwater photography.

I believe that the book is helping photographers at many levels better understand that all important topic of composition.  Independent reviews out there support this view, as do reviews by regular customers.  So…if you are interested in learning why “Winning Images” is beginning to achieve serious acclamation, do buy a copy and take a deeper look.

I’ll be on overseas assignments in Spain, Cuba & Egypt most days until New Year now, so at the risk of breaking cover rather early, I wish all of you a peaceful & relaxing holiday period.  For BSoUP colleagues, I will be back in country briefly for our Christmas gathering on 16th December, subject to my flight getting in that morning…see you in London!

Best wishes, dear friends

Paul

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“Winning Images” – Book Reviews

Here’s what the Dive press are saying about “Winning Images”.  Buy the book through this link.

UWP review

UWP Magazine (review by Dan Bolt)

Diver Magazine review by technical editor Nigel Wade

Scuba magazine review by editor Simon Rogerson

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Beautiful blue beasts

I just swam with and photographed my first blue sharks off the south coast of UK. A sublime experience.

Electric blue and gunmetal: the blue shark

Electric blue and gunmetal: the blue shark

These so-called wolfs of the open ocean pick up scent trails quickly. Less than an hour after settling down to drift south of Cornwall, a tell-tale tug against a lightly-tethered bait announced the cautious arrival of our first shark. When it finally showed near the surface, it was a beauty at over 2m long. Images of blue sharks have long inspired me to photograph them, but I was not well prepared for that first look at a really elegant shark with its gunmetal blue back and huge pectoral fins. Stunning!

Frustratingly, she was reluctant to close in.  Eventually a more confident smaller shark came to the boat.  After taking a few images by hanging my camera over the side, I slipped into the water with mask & snorkel. Straight away she came to check me out. It was quite hard to concentrate on the necessary work to get the images.  I just wanted to marvel at the exquisite lines and colours of this gorgeous shark.

An inquisitive juvenile

An inquisitive juvenile

The visibility was initially quite poor, which made things testy.  I occasionally lost sight of her in the gloom and my heart rate would rise as she bounced me unseen from behind and below. Keeping eye contact was difficult. But the images were coming nicely, so I soon had those that I had visualised and, beginning to feel the cold, climbed out.  How useless I’ve become in cold water – in the same wet suit that I used a few weeks ago in 31 degrees water off Cuba, 16 degrees in the Atlantic felt icy by comparison.

My new favourite: blue sharks rule!

My new favourite: blue sharks rule!

Soon, more sharks arrived, including a cute juvenile only 1m or so long.  In the improving light and visibility, we think that there must have been 7 separate visitors to the boat and I certainly counted 5 all at once in the water.  For those interested in the photography, I was experimenting with very high ISO and very low strobe settings to allow high frame rate flash-filled images.  I’m quite pleased with the results; it lets me nail peak of the action more reliably, especially as these sharks can move very quickly.

So as much as I love the silky sharks of Cuba, I now have a firm new favourite: blue sharks rule! My thanks to Charles Hood for his patience and persistence to finally get me among these exciting sharks; he runs a superb operation out of Penzance.  Watch out for my best images on the competition circuit…

For those interested in underwater photography, I have just opened a new purpose-built classroom in Wiltshire for teaching 1-to-1 and 1-to-2 entry level underwater photography, advanced photographic composition and post-production skills.  All courses are tailored to individuals.

With best wishes to you all my dear friends

Paul

 

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using bait to attract sharks…the risk

a young reef shark, just before it mouthed my camera...

a young reef shark, just before it mouthed my camera…

Using bait to attract sharks so that divers & snorkelers can more easily observe these over-fished but wonderful creatures is controversial.  I’m in favour of these controlled encounters, because it helps the education and advocacy that these endangered animals need. But there are some risks.

I became more alert to it after a friend expressed her discomfort while trying to exit the water at the end of a dive.  The sharks had been attracted by a steel box containing fish remains, but in open water the guides lift the box onto the boat until divers safely exit.  Only then do the sharks get the reward of a fish head or two.  But the sharks had learned to anticipate it and started closing in as the dive was finishing.  I found myself in the same position recently and watched sharks come very close aboard as I climbed onto the boat.  But it was my experience in water where I felt the risks more acutely.  Here’s what happened.

In open water, 3 young reef sharks broke away from a stately group cruising in big circles.  One came to investigate my flash guns, which emit electrical fields that the sharks’ amazing sensors can detect.  Sometimes the sharks mouth the flash units to test what they are. It’s happened to me before, but on this occasion the young shark grabbed the strobe a bit more forcefully.  My reaction was wrong.  I shook the camera hard to encourage the shark to let go.

The sudden movement made the shark back off, but it also peaked his interest and he turned back hard into me, at which stage his 2 buddies sensed something interesting might be happening and in a heartbeat they closed in at an alarming rate.  One mouthed the dome port of my camera and left a small scratch to add to one that I had recently collected from some human mishandling.  The other sharks did not touch anything, but for a few seconds they circled at speed within touching distance.  My heart rate went up and they seemed to sense that too.  I was relieved to be joined by a dive guide who saw what was happening.  The pattern of shark movements soon returned to normal.  My heart rate took a bit longer to recover!

An experienced shark diver declared to another diver/photographer friend that of all the sharks he had dived with, reef sharks were the most twitchy.  I should put this in perspective, though.  My overwhelming experience of shark diving is of controlled engagements with inquisitive creatures that are interested in us, but which very rarely threaten.  Statistics reassure: I am at far greater risk of injury every time I drive my car, no matter how carefully I do that.  So I’m certainly not put off diving with sharks.  I’ll just learn from this experience to control my body language more carefully when around sharks (keep cool)…and continue to respect these wonderful animals when I enter their world…

…on which note I’m out looking for blue sharks in British waters again.  I’ve been unsuccessful finding and photographing these elegant sharks thus far.  Tomorrow’s another day as they say…and I’ll be in the water solo with them if we’re lucky enough to find them, so should get plenty of opportunities for good images.  Fingers crossed…

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A case of the blues, some jellies & a selfie

I’ve long wanted to photograph a blue shark, but like all wild animals, they’re all the more exciting to see precisely because they’re wild and – in their choices of where they swim – difficult to predict.

So I spent 2 days searching the sea off North Cornwall looking for these sometimes-elusive creatures. I did not see one this time, but I love it when you have time to swim in open water and just play around with a camera. Many in my delightful group (the Bristol Underwater Photography Group) turned to the ubiquitous jellyfish for some light relief and I have to say that I have barely tapped the potential of these subjects. We also saw seals & dolphins (images coming up elsewhere), so what’s not to like about hanging around on our oceans?

Jellies helped pass the time...

Jellies helped pass the time…

Jellies helped pass the time...

Jellies helped pass the time…

And who, when slightly bored of waiting for the star of the show to pitch up can resist a selfie? I also succeeded in photo-bombing a colleague through Snell’s window!  Here’s my product of the boredom, but I also had the great privilege of joining a colleague on his 1200th dive. What better way than to drop to 57 metres and photograph a WWI submarine?  Now that really was exciting!

boredom = selfies!

boredom = selfies!

In all, a delightful week in Cornwall. I shall be going back soon to keep exploring this gem a coastline with its wonderfully diverse marine life.

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Back to School

Of all the sites that I go to in Egypt, I would dive Shark & Yolanda another thousand times and never get bored of it.  I’ll let these images explain why:

There is just something about fish schools that draws photographers in like magnets.  It’s one of nature’s great spectacles and I always feel privileged to observe and try to capture the essence of schooling behaviour in a still image.  I recently started shooting video, but not as often as I should and not as well as I might.  A certain friend will beat me up for not remembering (in my huge excitement to swim with these schools and take the still images that come more instinctively) that my camera has a good video capability that could capture this unity of movement more easily.

One image that I liked was somewhere between order and chaos.  I had been with the barracuda school for almost 15 minutes and it accepted my presence so well that I could almost move inside it.  Apart from the immensely powerful experience of being that close to a big mass of fish, which move in unison without visible signal, I loved the images that transpired.  But they were challenging compositions: frame-fillers that had as much chaos as they did formal structure.  What do you think?

inside school (2)

Best wishes, dear friends

Paul

 

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fix the largest solvable problem on our planet

an image that is supporting conservation projects

an image that is supporting conservation projects

I thought that life might feel flat just after the book launch, but not a bit of it.  An unintended consequence was a stream of interest in the announcement that I made about working with the Blue Marine Foundation or BLUE.  Like many of you who have direct experience of the underwater world, my instinct is to protect what we have become part of and I have always found ways for my images to support the protection of marine species, for example the Bluefin tuna campaigns and very recently a sea turtle project in Barbados – because good images help to draw people into conservation initiatives.

BLUE is in a different league, though.  It has an instinctive vision that we would all easily buy into: a world in which marine resources are valued, carefully managed and used sustainably.

But what rings my bell is BLUE’s intent to:

fix the largest solvable problem on out planet, which is the crisis in our oceans

That’s quite a statement.  And when you look below the surface it is more than an eye-catching strap line: BLUE’s declared mission is the active and effective protection of 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020, delivered through a network of marine reserves and private sector led solutions in the sea.

What really impresses me is BLUE’s early success in establishing reserves, one twice the size of the UK in Chagos, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.  This makes BLUE a serious and high-achieving charity.  Why do I tell you this and why have I so readily initiated a self-imposed call to arms?  Well, through one of those happy coincidences, a friend working in conservation noted that BLUE might be able to use some of my Ascension Island images to support fundraising for “Protecting Paradise”, a project seeking to provide evidence for what could be the biggest marine reserve in the Atlantic around that island.

This is ambitious work.  But I’m convinced that the crisis in our oceans caused by over-fishing CAN BE REVERSED.  It is too easy to leave the challenge to others, but as divers I think that we have a moral obligation to help if we can.  What these charities benefit from just as much as donations is volunteered expertise.  We all have some, whether it is project management, marketing, fund raising, translation, artistic skills – whatever.

So take a look at what BLUE is doing through the link below and – if you can – offer support. Even if you cannot support directly, the least that you could do for me is to spread the word of this noble work around your own networks.  That is how BLUE found me and there will be others willing to support out there.  Use the social network share buttons below to help us find them!

Protecting our Oceans

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where to invest that most precious resource: our time…

for future generations to see too...

for future generations to see too…

This Wednesday 11th June, with the help of Alex Mustard, Ocean Leisure Cameras and Dived Up publications, I will launch a book of which I am proud.  I hope that it will answer something about how we invest that most precious resource when we’re engaged in underwater photography: our time.

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera” addresses photographic composition in depth.  The investment that you’re really making if you commit to a book like this is not money.  By any measure in the underwater photography world that you might use, a book is not expensive.  The biggest investment that we can make is setting aside time to learn something that might help us become better underwater photographers.

If you’re not already committed to joining us at Ocean Leisure Cameras this Wednesday at 6:30pm onwards, do consider buying a copy of the book.  I believe that it will push you – like me – a few steps further towards making images that might count.  Crucially for me, this means engaging those outside of our community who also need to see what the underwater world is about.  We can inspire those people with our images to support the policies that we more instinctively embrace: to protect the lakes, rivers & oceans that are home to those beautiful creatures that we all have the privilege to interact with.

As ever, my best wishes to you dear friends (and wish me luck too).

Paul

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