Tag Archives: fish

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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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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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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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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fix the largest solvable problem on our planet

an image that is supporting conservation projects

an image that is supporting conservation projects

I thought that life might feel flat just after the book launch, but not a bit of it.  An unintended consequence was a stream of interest in the announcement that I made about working with the Blue Marine Foundation or BLUE.  Like many of you who have direct experience of the underwater world, my instinct is to protect what we have become part of and I have always found ways for my images to support the protection of marine species, for example the Bluefin tuna campaigns and very recently a sea turtle project in Barbados – because good images help to draw people into conservation initiatives.

BLUE is in a different league, though.  It has an instinctive vision that we would all easily buy into: a world in which marine resources are valued, carefully managed and used sustainably.

But what rings my bell is BLUE’s intent to:

fix the largest solvable problem on out planet, which is the crisis in our oceans

That’s quite a statement.  And when you look below the surface it is more than an eye-catching strap line: BLUE’s declared mission is the active and effective protection of 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020, delivered through a network of marine reserves and private sector led solutions in the sea.

What really impresses me is BLUE’s early success in establishing reserves, one twice the size of the UK in Chagos, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.  This makes BLUE a serious and high-achieving charity.  Why do I tell you this and why have I so readily initiated a self-imposed call to arms?  Well, through one of those happy coincidences, a friend working in conservation noted that BLUE might be able to use some of my Ascension Island images to support fundraising for “Protecting Paradise”, a project seeking to provide evidence for what could be the biggest marine reserve in the Atlantic around that island.

This is ambitious work.  But I’m convinced that the crisis in our oceans caused by over-fishing CAN BE REVERSED.  It is too easy to leave the challenge to others, but as divers I think that we have a moral obligation to help if we can.  What these charities benefit from just as much as donations is volunteered expertise.  We all have some, whether it is project management, marketing, fund raising, translation, artistic skills – whatever.

So take a look at what BLUE is doing through the link below and – if you can – offer support. Even if you cannot support directly, the least that you could do for me is to spread the word of this noble work around your own networks.  That is how BLUE found me and there will be others willing to support out there.  Use the social network share buttons below to help us find them!

Protecting our Oceans

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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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