Category Archives: Freshwater Fish Photography

Making 2017 count

After nearly two years prototyping, my final design for a remote control system went to friend and colleague Pete Ladell who built it to engineering standards I could not match. I’m still shaking down the system, but here’s what it can do.

I wanted to use a Nikon Speedlight instead of the traditional underwater strobes. Why? Lots of reasons, but foremost is the ability to use a high speed synch and achieve shutter speeds well in excess of the normal. With subjects close to the camera and often moving at high speed, I have long wanted that capability. Too many images looked soft. But I can also now more easily build creative lighting systems using the Speedlight master and slave system. There’s lots I want to try from subtle backlighting to softer fills.

The custom-build D4 remote control system

The custom-build D4 remote control system

I’m already using the Speedlight above water with a white umbrella as a diffuser. It’s giving a more even soft and natural light to what has always been a dark world. Despite the shallow water, the sun is often blocked by bankside vegetation and good lighting has always been a problem.

The embedded images give you an idea of what the system looks like in and out of water. I control the camera with a Macbook Pro through the custom USB port and with Nikon propriety software. It gives a very high degree of control.

The above water lighting set up

The above water lighting set up

I’ve not had the right combination of natural light, water conditions, fish behaviour and technical set up to nail a good shot yet. But the system is starting to work and those images will come. Time to get a bit excited!

Happy New Year dear friends.

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New Secret Weapon Unveiled

I’ve been itching to build a new remote control system for a compact camera. The pole-cam design enjoyed some remarkable successes including best compact camera image in Underwater Photographer of the Year 2016. But the system had its limitations, so it could take weeks of work to realise your photographic vision and I soon yearned for a more flexible true remote control system.

Building the housing

Building the housing

The design and build is now finished and – as soon as I get a chance in my crazy Autumn schedule – I’ll be getting onto the rivers with it. Here’s what it looks like and how it works.

The camera is a venerable Olympus XZ-2, but I’ve wired it to take a radio frequency remote controller (shutter only) with a range of about 30 metres. I had to build a new housing to keep the electronics safe from water ingress. The receiver sits above water and the trigger is about thumb-size. I cannibalised pieces from a broken Olympus PT-054 housing to provide both the internal camera cradle and the external mount for a wide angle lens.  Simple!

Inside the housing - only 1 lead needed for shutter control

Inside the housing – only 1 lead needed for shutter control

The pictures speak for themselves, I think. I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

The aerial for the receiver and the small radio transmitter

The aerial for the receiver and the small radio transmitter

The tall picture to the left gives an impression of the overall system minus the mounting frame. The image to the right shows the camera sat in its cradle with a single lead connecting the camera to the receiver sitting above water.

The adapter for a wide angle lens

The adapter for a wide angle lens

The wide angle mount is absolutely essential.  Without the INON UWL lens, there is little hope of getting the colour and contrast into an image that will make it really sing.

The system ready to go

The system ready to go

 

 

And here’s the camera and housing mounted on a sturdy still frame that I judge essential for work in fast-flowing rivers.  I cannot wait to start using it, but after BIUPC, another trip to Egypt and some other work…that really is secret!

 

Best wishes dear friends

Paul

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Making those images count in 2016…

I’m excited about 2016.  Without setting out the full list of what is in prospect, let me highlight three important things that will feature in my programme this year.  I hope that all will result in more images that count in the conservation of our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Foremost is a photography commission.  A portfolio of images above and below water for Fauna & Flora International; a big conservation organisation that has a Marine Protected Area project in Cambodia in need of high quality imagery.  I will be there in February and March to start the work.  The Blue Marine Foundation recommended me for the job after my voluntary work to help create a marine protected area for Ascension Island, which has just been announced by the UK government.  Incidentally, I met Clare Brook, BLUE’s CEO and Charles Clover (Chairman and Trustee) in December.  You should watch this conservation charity in 2016; its people are achieving much and quickly.

I’m delighted to take a turn as Chairman of the British Society of Underwater photographers for 2016, following the footsteps of irrepressible Joss Woolf.  I’m fond of this organisation and want to help it sustain and develop what first attracted me to it as an aspiring underwater photographer.  It’s people were generous with their knowledge and profoundly helpful to me.  I would like to give something back by making the Society ever-more accessible to those who might benefit most from it.  I’ll be starting a dialogue about this with its members very soon.

the freshwater river project: trout and grayling on the river Anton in Hampshire

the freshwater river project: trout and grayling on the river Anton in Hampshire

The third thing I’m itching to resume is my freshwater river project (see previous blogs too).  This grew and grew in 2015.  I was interested principally in trout and grayling for 2015.  At an end-of-season charity presentation to the good folk of Stockbridge in Hampshire, who had helped me with the project, I made some interesting new connections who helped to fire my imagination ever further.  So I shall be  developing the technical, conceptual and artistic sides of this fascinating project.  I feel that this project is getting somewhere and that I’m on the cusp of some great work.  Maybe my best yet…

There’s always more to tell, of course; trips to new locations, some teaching through the traditional Red Sea workshops, my first formal exhibition of printed work and a speaker programme that gets broader and ever more interesting.  To chat about later, I think.

For now, let me wish you great success in your 2016 endeavours.  And a very happy New Year to all of you, dear friends.

Paul

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Hidden Peaks in Underwater Photography – and a BBC Interview

In the joyous peaks and frustrating troughs of life, what often makes the brief view from a summit rewarding is the effort involved getting there.  So as I briefly soak in the heady atmosphere of winning the coast and marine category of the British Wildlife Photography Awards at my first attempt, I inevitably reflect on what it took to achieve it.

Winner BWPA Coast & Marine and Highly Commended BWPA Animal Portraits

Winner (BWPA Coast & Marine)                                                  Highly Commended (BWPA Animal Portraits)

I think that a willingness to try something new and a determination to succeed feature high on my list.  Although other people photographed blue sharks before me and to a standard that inspired me to have a go, it is still a relatively rare subject.  I was lucky to pick up two awards for the shark photography: in one case using only natural light; in the other augmenting shallow water light ripples with a hint of flash.

But it was the highly commended image of a rainbow trout in an urban setting that gave me the greatest sense of achievement.  It is not my best trout image, because it was taken early in the development phase for my remote control underwater photography.  But it represents better use of my imagination.  A previous blog explained part of the uphill journey, but the modest height achieved served only to expose a hidden peak that I’ve yet to climb.  I’ve strapped on some intellectual crampons and re-designed a third underwater camera system that might now let me reach that final summit.

Highly Commended (BWPA Urban Wildlife)

Highly Commended (BWPA Wildlife in the Urban Environment)

All three designs have a common feature: operating the camera from a distance so that the fish are not spooked.  One design uses a simple mechanical trigger on the end of a pole.  Another uses a laptop to control the camera through a USB lead.  But this final design seeks to break free of physical tethers using a wireless transmitter.  As I write, I’m waiting for the final components to be delivered from Germany, after which I will assemble the camera and then test it on another UK chalk stream.

Meanwhile, I had another delightful four minutes of fame when one of the trout images hit the British press.  The image below was serendipity and a light-hearted by-product of the trout project, but it really caught the public’s imagination.

Duck photo bomb

Duck photo bomb – widely published in the British press

There may be a book to be written about this.  Not just to show the beautiful fish and other wildlife that inhabit these wonderful British chalk streams, but about the way you can become so immersed in the behaviour of animals and the exhilaration of capturing it on camera.  I have found few things in life that are all at once so completely absorbing and relaxing.  A real zen moment!  Watch these pages for more results – and look out for an interview about this on the BBC South regional news, on your screens some time on or after 2nd October.

Best wishes, my dear friends

Paul

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