Tag Archives: diving

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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Volunteering for Adventures…

_2293564-2Psychologists argue that people who volunteer their time or other resources are generally far happier in life than those who do not. It’s a chance to give something back. And to feel good about it.

I try to set aside a few weeks every year for good causes. It means that I earn less, but in reality we all become far richer through these experiences. This year I agreed to work with Fauna and Flora International, an organisation that is supporting an important initiative by the Cambodian government to create a Marine Protected Area in the Koh Rong archipelago. The organisation wanted a portfolio of images above and below water to communicate what was at stake.


Volunteering does not necessarily mean that you pay for the privilege too! In this case, the organisation funded my logistic and field costs. My concession was to not over-burden a hard working charity, so I lived at modest cost within the local economy and waived my normal photography fees. To offset loss of earnings, the organisation happily accepted a non-exclusivity clause and I hope to recover a modest amount through articles and talks. For the most part, the deal involved living in remote fishing villages with no running water or flushing loos and to use fairly austere sleeping quarters. This just meant living properly with the locals.  A problem? Certainly not; it just adds to the sense of adventure and it’s amazing how soon you forget all those silly luxuries that we don’t really need._DSC4712

I’m writing an article about this for DIVER magazine, so will not tell all the stories here. But with three weeks of solo diving in some quite novel settings that included jumping off commercial fishing boats, it had more than its fair share of excitement. I came back quite battered physically, coming as close as I ever have to breaking a limb. And I even ended up in hospital just after I got back to UK, having collapsed with a nasty lung infection.

But the rewards were huge.  I met some wonderful people during my time in country. Young and old. Most of them Cambodian. But some other nationalities too trying to help the country on its way, or to carve out new businesses. Nearly all of them completely positive in their outlook.



There’s something profoundly rewarding about volunteering. I think it gives us better perspective about how fortunate we really are in life.  And a chance to help others who might not be.

We should all do more of it.

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.


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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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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



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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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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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