Tag Archives: underwater photography

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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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

Paul

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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

Paul

 

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using bait to attract sharks…the risk

a young reef shark, just before it mouthed my camera...

a young reef shark, just before it mouthed my camera…

Using bait to attract sharks so that divers & snorkelers can more easily observe these over-fished but wonderful creatures is controversial.  I’m in favour of these controlled encounters, because it helps the education and advocacy that these endangered animals need. But there are some risks.

I became more alert to it after a friend expressed her discomfort while trying to exit the water at the end of a dive.  The sharks had been attracted by a steel box containing fish remains, but in open water the guides lift the box onto the boat until divers safely exit.  Only then do the sharks get the reward of a fish head or two.  But the sharks had learned to anticipate it and started closing in as the dive was finishing.  I found myself in the same position recently and watched sharks come very close aboard as I climbed onto the boat.  But it was my experience in water where I felt the risks more acutely.  Here’s what happened.

In open water, 3 young reef sharks broke away from a stately group cruising in big circles.  One came to investigate my flash guns, which emit electrical fields that the sharks’ amazing sensors can detect.  Sometimes the sharks mouth the flash units to test what they are. It’s happened to me before, but on this occasion the young shark grabbed the strobe a bit more forcefully.  My reaction was wrong.  I shook the camera hard to encourage the shark to let go.

The sudden movement made the shark back off, but it also peaked his interest and he turned back hard into me, at which stage his 2 buddies sensed something interesting might be happening and in a heartbeat they closed in at an alarming rate.  One mouthed the dome port of my camera and left a small scratch to add to one that I had recently collected from some human mishandling.  The other sharks did not touch anything, but for a few seconds they circled at speed within touching distance.  My heart rate went up and they seemed to sense that too.  I was relieved to be joined by a dive guide who saw what was happening.  The pattern of shark movements soon returned to normal.  My heart rate took a bit longer to recover!

An experienced shark diver declared to another diver/photographer friend that of all the sharks he had dived with, reef sharks were the most twitchy.  I should put this in perspective, though.  My overwhelming experience of shark diving is of controlled engagements with inquisitive creatures that are interested in us, but which very rarely threaten.  Statistics reassure: I am at far greater risk of injury every time I drive my car, no matter how carefully I do that.  So I’m certainly not put off diving with sharks.  I’ll just learn from this experience to control my body language more carefully when around sharks (keep cool)…and continue to respect these wonderful animals when I enter their world…

…on which note I’m out looking for blue sharks in British waters again.  I’ve been unsuccessful finding and photographing these elegant sharks thus far.  Tomorrow’s another day as they say…and I’ll be in the water solo with them if we’re lucky enough to find them, so should get plenty of opportunities for good images.  Fingers crossed…

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A case of the blues, some jellies & a selfie

I’ve long wanted to photograph a blue shark, but like all wild animals, they’re all the more exciting to see precisely because they’re wild and – in their choices of where they swim – difficult to predict.

So I spent 2 days searching the sea off North Cornwall looking for these sometimes-elusive creatures. I did not see one this time, but I love it when you have time to swim in open water and just play around with a camera. Many in my delightful group (the Bristol Underwater Photography Group) turned to the ubiquitous jellyfish for some light relief and I have to say that I have barely tapped the potential of these subjects. We also saw seals & dolphins (images coming up elsewhere), so what’s not to like about hanging around on our oceans?

Jellies helped pass the time...

Jellies helped pass the time…

Jellies helped pass the time...

Jellies helped pass the time…

And who, when slightly bored of waiting for the star of the show to pitch up can resist a selfie? I also succeeded in photo-bombing a colleague through Snell’s window!  Here’s my product of the boredom, but I also had the great privilege of joining a colleague on his 1200th dive. What better way than to drop to 57 metres and photograph a WWI submarine?  Now that really was exciting!

boredom = selfies!

boredom = selfies!

In all, a delightful week in Cornwall. I shall be going back soon to keep exploring this gem a coastline with its wonderfully diverse marine life.

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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).

Paul

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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

Paul

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

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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

Paul

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

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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