Category Archives: Photo workshops

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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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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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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Ambiguous images

ambiguity?

ambiguity?

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

Paul

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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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Diving to photograph or photographing dives?

Southern Red Sea wrecks & marine life

Southern Red Sea wrecks & marine life

Whilst diving in the Southern Red Sea this week, I was reminded of the question that is the title of this blog: do we dive to take photographs or just photograph our dives?  The question was posed to me by Alex Mustard & Martin Edge at a great briefing they gave a few years ago in Imperial College London, when at the time I was trying to absorb as much as I could about underwater photography.  Last week, although I was teaching basic underwater photography to a group during the evenings and doing some individual photographic mentoring during the days, we were essentially on an expedition to dive wrecks and that drove the style and tempo of diving.  So much so, that on one dive I even left my camera behind in order to instruct and safely supervise a decompression dive onto a deep wreck.  We also dived 2 wrecks that I have never seen before, one of which very few people have seen and which we started to map in quite poor underwater visibility.  So I was often just photographing the dives, which is an inefficient and ineffective way of creating good images.

So the distinction implied in the title is important and I stressed it to my photography students.  But I also mused that a few years of dedicated photo workshops tends to improve your ability to make higher quality and quicker decisions about artistic intent and photographic technique, even if only photographing a dive that has priorities higher than photography.  Good snapshots are possible if you are well trained and prepared.

So I did not produce my best work this last week, but I had immense fun with a fabulous group and made plenty of notes that will inform later attempts to properly photograph some amazing wrecks.  Meanwhile, enjoy a couple of snaps that I did manage to capture…

all the best, Paul

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Shark photography: Cuba November 2014

Dear friends,

If you are interested in the superb shark, goliath grouper and saltwater crocodile photography opportunities available in Cuba later this year, check out the attached itinerary for the photography-biased trips to Jardines de la Reina and Cayo Largo.  There will be a similar trip in January 2015, for which more details will follow later this year.

all best, Paul

Cuba photo workshop Nov 2014

workshop thumbnail

 

 

 

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Photography workshop Jan-Feb 2014: Iconic Cuba

 

Cuban waters brim with life: sharks, crocs, turtles & colourful sponges

Cuban waters brim with life: sharks, crocs, turtles & colourful sponges

It is quite a while since I’ve been completely enthralled by new photographic opportunities.  And so after my recent fabulous experience in Cuba, I readily agreed to host a photography workshop there during one of The Scuba Place’s excursions, from 23 January to 6 February 2014.  I regularly shoot with both SLR and compact cameras (the embedded images are a mixture of both), so I can provide just about any kind of support that people need, from full-on instruction for beginners with compact cameras through to occasional tips for experienced SLR users (I am an accredited INON UK underwater camera instructor).

The diving in Cuba is diverse, but this trip will focus on some real excitement that beckons in the Jardines de la Reina, a marine reserve off the south east coast.  But it is also right to dwell a while in the capital and not rush headlong into the diving.  Havana is awash with iconic images and a photography-rich environment.  1950-vintage classic American cars by the street load.  And an amazing colonial architecture that harbours cottage industry rum and tobacco houses amidst the rhythmic pulse of salsa music floating from vibrant bars.  Soak it up!

Havana's pulse of life: classic cars & salsa bars, amazing people & and colonial architecture.  Hemmingway loved it...

Havana’s pulse of life: classic cars & salsa bars; amazing people; and colonial architecture. Hemmingway loved it…

A fast transfer boat from Jucaro will get us aboard the floating hotel/barge live-aboard la Tortuga in the Gardens of the Queen.  The efficient and affable crew will then get you to the dive sites daily using fast skiffs.  Day-end post-diving rum cocktails will put you in a pleasant frame of mind for highly-sociable and (for the photographers) educational evenings.

For those who love shark diving, or for people just yearning to see these magnificent creatures up close for the first time, the over-used adjective is the right one.  It’s awesome.  Diving with reef and silky sharks in big numbers is genuinely awe-inspiring.  Although such activity inevitably has a frisson of excitement, which sustains a healthy respect for these apex predators, for the greatest part you will just see these sharks swimming in their graceful, carefully-ordered sinuous ballet, giving divers a respectful distance, whilst still providing photo opportunities a-plenty.

above water treats: fast skiffs to see hermit crabs, jutias & iguanas in the mangroves, with gorgeous sunsets every day.

above water treats: fast skiffs to see hermit crabs, jutias & iguanas in the mangroves, with gorgeous sunsets every day.

With frequent sightings of goliath groupers and some delightful trips to the fringing mangroves and islands to see juvenile saltwater crocodiles, hermit crabs, iguanas and a cute little rodent called the Jutia, for me the experience is as good as diving gets.  For more information or to make a reservation call or email the Scuba Place sales director John Spencer-Ades (020 7644 8252, john@thescubaplace.co.uk).

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