Category Archives: new underwater photography book

Launch minus 3 – the saturated image market

The underwater photography market is saturated with images…how can our images stand out in this noise?  Reflections at 3 weeks to book launch

The underwater photography market is saturated with images…how can our images stand out in this noise?

The underwater photography market is saturated with images, which are now produced by the million every year.  There are lots of average pictures out there, but there is also an explosion of good images too.  How can our images stand out in this noise?

The book that I’m advocating has some answers. But I already anticipate a cry that the book market is equally saturated.  Or is it? Although I draw heavily on the existing body of knowledge, I seek to differentiate too, so the book “Winning Images” dives into some unexplored gaps in our knowledge of underwater photographic composition.

Our top-side photography cousins made more progress than divers with this.  We know the basics, I’m sure: negative space, the rule of thirds and so on, which are valid and worth developing.  But nobody has articulated 2 important things in its underwater context. Foremost is a detailed model for composition.  Not rules, but a structure for thinking more consistently about the issues. I’ve provided us with a starting point.  Next is consideration of the weight that we attribute to each of the different and sometimes competing composition concepts. The book deals with – and develops in detail – 8 concepts, but more critically an overarching theory of how they all fit together.

Although the independent first reviews of the book are not yet published, I do know that one notable critic already believes that this will become the bible for underwater photography composition.  So consider making a modest investment in something that I am confident will make you a better photographer.  Signed copies of the book for those who want it quickly are on sale now in the UK through this link.  But if you can wait, do join me and Alex Mustard at the book launch in London (details below); I extend an open invitation to everybody who is interested and will provide you with some wine, soft drinks, canapes and an opportunity to buy the book.

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

all the best, my dear friends


Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

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the press release is out & the office is full…

the office is full of books - only temporarily, I hope!

the office is full of books – only temporarily, I hope!

Well, the office is now piled high with copies of “Winning Images“, but only temporarily, I hope!  I’m delighted with the quality of the books from the main production run.  Initial sales of signed copies to UK-based friends are now under way through the web site and postage is free.  Here is the official press release.

The book will be on general release from 29th May, available through stores like Ocean Leisure Cameras and through Amazon.  And don’t forget the 11th June London launch at Ocean Leisure Cameras, starting at 6:30pm.  It’s an open invitation to all who are interested; enjoy a glass of wine or two on me!

best wishes, my dear friends,


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Joss Woolf (Chairman BSoUP) interviews Paul

Joss Woolf interviews Paul for the BSoUP magazine “in focus”; click the book image below to listen…

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

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First copy of the second book!

an exciting moment for any author - first book off the press

an exciting moment for any author – first book off the press

I think that it’s great when we can still feel a child-like excitement now & again.  Today was such an occasion when I met my publisher in Oxford and finally put hands on one of a few pre-production versions of the book, Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera. It’s such a great moment to see the hard work of over 2 years presented so professionally by the publisher. Thank you Alex Gibson!

Two copies of the book already went out to the UK dive magazines that will lead the initial book reviews and the other 2 copies are being used for publicity leading up to the book launch.

On that latter score, please do come along to the book launch if your schedule allows.  It is an open invitation to anybody who is interested in underwater photography generally and photographic composition specifically.  The event will start at 6:30 pm on Wednesday 11th June with drinks leading to a 7:30 pm opening address by Alex Mustard.  I’ll follow up with a short pitch about the book and my humble aspirations for it.  The venue will be Ocean Leisure Cameras, right next door to Embankment tube station.  I would just love to see you there!

Over the next few weeks I will run some articles here on why I hope that this book will be an important contribution to the body of knowledge about underwater photography.

all the best, Paul

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Ambiguous images



I had great fun photographing free divers recently and I particularly liked some of the images that were ambiguous. Why? Because they seemed to hold the attention of the viewer more strongly than regular images and so keep them engaged. When I showed these 2 images to the divers immediately after their free diving session, the pictures induced that important little word, ‘wow!’

I think that the silhouettes of the divers against Snell’s window look more like astronauts from the film ‘Gravity’, with our blue planet far below. I can even believe that the clouds look like a map of Africa and Asia!

I really like the way that images can play with our senses and this is an important part of composition. Something that I have been delighted to research and write about in my forthcoming book, Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera. The emphasis is most definitely on the word ‘any’. Because this will be a book for all underwater photographers from beginners with compact cameras to experienced SLR users and everybody in between.  Book launch 11th June!

best wishes to you all


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Once in a while…

montage Indonesia

Just once in a while, the possibility to do something special drops into our lives. Sometimes you have to be cautious and sometimes bold. My latest opportunity seemed to require a measure of both when I was asked whether I would consider teaching underwater photography to a high-profile but complete novice underwater photography client, who had heard that I had a reputation for good instruction regardless of camera system. But the prospect of setting up a major camera system, housing and teaching package for a client, despite an “all expenses included” tag is not for the faint-of-heart. Your reputation is on the line in a major way and, whilst you might cope with the occasional less-than-glowing review if you have hundreds of other positive accolades, it might take only one mistake with a high-profile client to completely ruin your reputation.  And the economics of 1-to-1 teaching are not as simple as you might think.

Nevertheless, a chance to travel to Indonesia and work on the very best live-aboard in the region was tempting enough for me to commit. I did so with a vengeance, seeking unequivocal success from the outset by over-delivering on every aspect of the commitment. I had hoped for more opportunities than those that actually transpired, to dive outside the instructional periods in order to build my own image stock.  But when a client is footing the complete bill, you work to a different drum beat. He was also learning to free dive and wanted me to capture that. And he had an appetite for knowledge of composition that allowed me to test the framework of that soon-to-be-published book, Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera.

So I took part in one of the most interesting diving adventures of my career, travelling in a style that so far I had only dreamed about. My 4 fellow travelers were the very finest company and the crew of 17, a ratio of over 3 crew members to each guest, provided absolutely exceptional service. I chose to wake at 0600 and retire at 2330 in order to squeeze the most out of almost 2 weeks in such a wonderful place on an amazing ship.  It was in many ways hard work and in others fabulously relaxing.

Normal discretion for client confidentiality prohibits me documenting too much (images included), but I have attached a few pictures of the trip and a link below to a short video & still image montage, which between them give a little taste of what what this venture was about.

I’m told by others, critically by my client, that this went well. I shall be very interested to see whether it leads to similar work…

And finally, serendipity: passing through Singapore on the way back home yesterday, my client passed a magazine stand and opened a copy of Sport Diver US, where he found an article by Paul Colley about mastering light in underwater photography.  It was one of 10 articles for a column that I’m writing this year for that magazine (and the first time that I had seen any of the articles in hard copy).  My credibility (and my pride) soared.  Thank you Alex M for the associated earlier introduction to the picture editor!  I’m just loving writing my first column.

all best, Paul

Link to video montage

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“I always go for simplicity”

I like this David Bailey quote.  When all else fails, simplicity often leads to great compositions.  There are many potential dimensions to it: filling the frame with a subject to remove extraneous clutter; using viewpoint or choice of lens for the same reason; careful selection of background; and so on.  But I’ve also always been attracted to simple monochrome images and some subjects suit this treatment so well.  Turtles are an interesting case, because on the one hand their shells are so beautiful that you can ignore the usual advice and so shoot from directly above to capture rich colours and patterns.  On the other hand, the patterns can be so strong that you crave to see only that, which was the case with this compact camera image.  Simple.  This and dozens of other composition concepts are documented in my forthcoming book, ‘Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera: the essential guide to creating engaging photos’, which Dived Up Publications will publish at the end of May.  The book launch will be on 11 June at 6:30 for 7:30pm in Ocean Leisure Cameras, Embankment London (a short preview of the book and more details of the launch is at this link).  It is an open invitation; everybody is welcome to attend and Dr Alex Mustard will open proceedings at about 7:00pm, when everybody should have a drink & some nibbles in hand courtesy of the author!  I hope to see you there…

best wishes to all, Paul Colley

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Winning Images: Book launch

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

Well, after an amazing trip to dive with friends that I met in Cuba, I captured the final 3 images for my next book, Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera. Those final images were harder work than I imagined, not least due to some social pressures that I take quite seriously! I also worked with the publisher whilst in Barbados on the first full design of the new book and it now begins to look and feel like a professional product; a big step forward from the raw concepts, words, images and diagrams that comprised my original submission to Dived Up Publications.  As in hillwalking and climbing, there are still erstwhile hidden ridges to climb, so the route to final publication is still steep and will need more hard leg work. But we now have the summit in very clear sight.

To that end, I feel on track for the projected end-May publication and a first book launch on the evening of 11 June at Ocean Leisure Cameras in London, to which everybody with any interest in this publication is invited. Alex Mustard has very kindly agreed to provide an opening address and I will provide refreshments, some light bites, a short pitch about the book and a signature for anybody that buys it. Other launch details are already out there and embedded in this link to a short presentation on Facebook.

I will follow up the first launch with a presentation to the British Society of Underwater Photographers on 15 July in London at its new meeting place, for which I shall share more details later.  Meanwhile, thank you to those many friends & fellow photographers that have given their support to this project in so many different ways.  I hope that it will add to our corporate body of knowledge about underwater photography.

all the best to you, Paul

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Why composition matters: aesthetics and photographic intent

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Ansel Adams

composition is a supremely cost-effective way of improving our images

composition is a supremely cost-effective way of improving our images

For the next 5 months as I make the final run-in to an end-of-May 2014 publishing date for my new book Winning Images with any Underwater Camera, I’m going to set out a few of the big ideas in the hope that I might gain your interest in it.  This could be the first underwater photography book that has tried to weave together ideas from traditional theory and contemporary science. I aspire that it will add something to the corporate body of knowledge and advance our mutual quest to more consistently produce images that win the minds of our friends, family, peer photographers, judges of competitions or editors of magazines and books. The emphasis in this book will most definitely be on any camera, because its thesis is that composition (and not technology) is the supremely cost-effective way of improving our images.

Although underwater photography can be functional and therefore a craft, for example in journalism to tell environmental stories or in marketing to advertise scuba equipment, most people interested in this book will be pursuing underwater photography for its pure enjoyment and therefore more closely associate their images with creative or fine art. Your photographic intent is generally to draw attention to some of the finer things in life, for example the sleek lines of dolphins and sharks or the exquisite geometry, shapes and symmetry in a big fish school. Your images are communicating extraordinary things and good photographers develop this clear intention to communicate. To portray something rather than just record what they see. The difference is subtle, but vital. To communicate, you need to understand a little about aesthetics, which people define differently, but which I like to think of as perceiving and feeling. I always feel the undercurrents of emotion when I see certain spectacular things underwater, but also when I see some of those beautiful images that successfully capture it.  It is easier to remember this idea of perceiving and feeling if you think of anaesthetic, which is something to stop you feeling.

This emotional response from a viewer is what you’re looking for; a genuine appreciation of your work in the eye of the beholder. But here’s our first problem, because I deliberately avoid the word beauty, which is so often associated with aesthetics. Unfortunately, beauty has been a contested concept since the time of Plato, who demonstrated that it was paradoxical, illusive and complex. And many successful underwater images can depict quite ugly things, albeit in a way that still holds the attention of a viewer. So this will be how the book starts: a little bit of philosophy to understand why aesthetics are so important. But the book will then draw on contemporary scientific research to understand exactly how people look at and think about images. From these starting points, it will develop a new model of composition specifically for underwater photographers.

If this subject interests you, please follow this blog to see the story of winning images unfold and to learn more about the book launches in London.  For those that I have not already greeted in 2014, I hope that it is not too late to say Happy New Year to you and the very best of fortune with your own photography!

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Composition: a supremely cost effective way of improving your underwater images

modern compact cameras are powerful: all images n this article were created with an Olympus XZ-2

modern compact cameras are powerful: all images n this article were created with an Olympus XZ-2 all images copyright Paul Colley 2013











Yesterday was an important punctuation mark in that occasionally-torturous passage that comprises a new book’s gestation. I completed the final draft of Winning Images with any Underwater Camera andnearly 2 months ahead of schedule.  There is some serious follow-up work to do in Bonaire next week and Cuba in January, so I can already feel you weeping for me!  But I do want to produce those final few images to a standard that might meet some high expectations, mine included.  Although I never underestimate the gradient that a book designer and publisher must climb to translate raw material into a quality publication, yesterday did herald the finish line and I inevitably felt a crackle of excitement looking at the book cover mock up, which unfortunately I cannot show you just yet.  The book will be published at the end of May, so in the New Year I will use this blog to progressively introduce what my thinking about underwater composition will be about.  But I can tell you now what the big idea is and why.

composition: a supremely cost effective way of improving images

composition: a supremely cost effective way of improving images

Despite my great fortune to own one of the most capable cameras in the world, I proved to myself during the course of writing the book that composition was probably the most dominant factor in winning images and that technology was a relatively small, albeit necessary part of the equation. For the best part of a year, I put down my SLR and dived with a simple compact camera and housing costing no more than a few hundred pounds. I called the modest project back to basics and was absolutely delighted with the results, much of which will be included in the book. Every image on this page was taken with that compact camera. Good results came more from thinking about the pictures that I wanted to create and less about the technology that I often desired. Modern compact cameras are very powerful and micro 4/3rd performance is already entering SLR territory. But even if you have the same good fortune to own a high-end SLR, it will not necessarily make you a better photographer.  I think that the greatest leap in performance will always come from learning more about composition and aesthetics.  It is a supremely cost effective way of improving your underwater images.

For those that I know well, and also for the many wonderful new friends that I made this year, have a joy-filled Christmas and a very peaceful New Year.  I hope that you will all be blessed in 2014 with some images to win the hearts of your friends, families, competitions judges and magazine editors!

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