Category Archives: new underwater photography book

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


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Gorgeous Gentle Giants

Giant Manta Ray - I need a wider lens!I’m not long back from what might have been the best dive expedition of my life.  It would be easy to overdo the superlatives, but three things made the trip to Socorro in the Pacific Ocean stand out.

First the boat, Nautilus Belle Amie, and its crew.  Outstanding in every respect.  It can be tough diving in strong and unpredictable currents over very deep water.  But the balance between safety and freedom to get on with your dive was perfect.  5 star accommodation and food, wonderful service from a friendly and very interesting crew.


Secondly, the geology above and below water.  Volcanic, big, stark, spectacular.Paul_Colley-29

whitetip close up-2

And then the animal encounters.  Uber-playful dolphins, huge swirling schools of jacks parading against the azure blue, sharks coming out of your ears.  But also what we really went for, which was the giant mantas.

If you follow the brief and don’t chase them, you can get some amazing encounters from these 6 metre wingspan intelligent giants of the ocean.  They look like stealth bombers in their sometimes all-black livery as they approach silently out of the deep.

I don’t want to say much more.  Just to retain the images and emotions of diving at such a remote location with some of the Pacific ocean’s most charismatic creatures.

Magnificent.  Wonderful.  Exceptional. shark_jacks


Best wishes, dear friends.


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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


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Whither conventional wisdom in photographic composition?

I liked this image of a saltwater crocodile, but never thought it particularly special. You cannot even see its eyes, and that is often a critical factor. But at nearly 84,000 views on one site alone (500px), it has become my most looked-at image and in the space of only a few weeks…so what’s engaging people?  I put a little thought into it, if only to discover what might draw the next 84,000 people to look at one of my images..!

Saltwater Crocodile

Saltwater Crocodile.  Copyright Paul Colley 2015

Overall, not too many people photograph these animals and novelty has always been a valued commodity in aesthetics and composition. I also think that the open mouth & sharp teeth may be a draw and the legs are not streamlined as they usually are when a crocodile is swimming in open water; they are temporarily splayed out to slow down the crocodile, which had just been swimming towards me.  But is the absence of the eyes a positive factor? Does the viewer, forced as ever to take the photographer’s selected perspective, feel safer engaging with this potentially dangerous creature from underneath, where its soft belly is more visible?

As one fellow photographer told me recently, I tend towards over-analysis of images. But in my short experience as an underwater photographer, thinking about these things more deeply tends to lead to useful discoveries.

This is one of many reasons why I studied underwater photography composition in depth for 2 years and then wrote a book about it. Even if people argue that there’s not too much new in this field, my riposte is that new and updated perspectives often help to unlock the mysteries for others. So do feel free to dig in: Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera.

best wishes, dear friends


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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.


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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


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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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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



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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).


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gearing your photography for success

Reflections at 1 week to book launch

the technical & artistic path to winning images (there is a 3rd axis - drive & involvement)

the technical & artistic path to winning images (there is a 3rd axis – drive & involvement)

The book “Winning Images” makes an argument for 3 axes along which underwater photographers make progress, but that you have to make progress on all 3 if you are to create admired, stunning or (for a lucky but talented few), iconic images.

Axis 1 is technology and technique.  You can buy your way along the technology path, but even a modest compact camera is so powerful these days that we are all pretty well along that road.  Technique takes some training and practice.

Axis 2 is your personal drive and the degree to which you become immersed in the underwater photography world, be it in clubs, societies, competitions…the list is endless, really.  You need a will to succeed and the means to inspire and help you.  Friends really do help.  I was genuinely inspired when I first started underwater photography by people within the British Society of Underwater Photographers.  And I’ve made some wonderful new friends since.

Axis 3 is artistic vision.  Not everybody has it from scratch, but it can be taught and the basic building block is composition.  Unfortunately, many people wrongly suppress this axis to pursue technology.  Technology can help, but you can invest thousands of dollars, pounds or euros in it when by comparison only a very modest investment in deeper knowledge of composition could provide far greater gearing for your success.

That’s my argument and I believe it passionately.  If you agree, consider buying “Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera”, which is the first book for underwater photographers that seriously addresses some searching questions that we all need to answer about composition – if we really are determined to produce better images.

If you can, do join me and Alex Mustard at the book launch in London (details below); I extend an open invitation to everybody who is interested in taking composition to the next level of understanding and I will provide you with some wine, soft drinks, canapes, a few words from me & Alex and an opportunity to buy a signed copy of the book.

Wednesday 11 June 6:30pm at Ocean Leisure Cameras near Embankment Tube station. “Winning Images” book launch – additional details

Best wishes to you, my dear friends


Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

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