Tag Archives: winning images

Making 2017 count

After nearly two years prototyping, my final design for a remote control system went to friend and colleague Pete Ladell who built it to engineering standards I could not match. I’m still shaking down the system, but here’s what it can do.

I wanted to use a Nikon Speedlight instead of the traditional underwater strobes. Why? Lots of reasons, but foremost is the ability to use a high speed synch and achieve shutter speeds well in excess of the normal. With subjects close to the camera and often moving at high speed, I have long wanted that capability. Too many images looked soft. But I can also now more easily build creative lighting systems using the Speedlight master and slave system. There’s lots I want to try from subtle backlighting to softer fills.

The custom-build D4 remote control system

The custom-build D4 remote control system

I’m already using the Speedlight above water with a white umbrella as a diffuser. It’s giving a more even soft and natural light to what has always been a dark world. Despite the shallow water, the sun is often blocked by bankside vegetation and good lighting has always been a problem.

The embedded images give you an idea of what the system looks like in and out of water. I control the camera with a Macbook Pro through the custom USB port and with Nikon propriety software. It gives a very high degree of control.

The above water lighting set up

The above water lighting set up

I’ve not had the right combination of natural light, water conditions, fish behaviour and technical set up to nail a good shot yet. But the system is starting to work and those images will come. Time to get a bit excited!

Happy New Year dear friends.

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New Secret Weapon Unveiled

I’ve been itching to build a new remote control system for a compact camera. The pole-cam design enjoyed some remarkable successes including best compact camera image in Underwater Photographer of the Year 2016. But the system had its limitations, so it could take weeks of work to realise your photographic vision and I soon yearned for a more flexible true remote control system.

Building the housing

Building the housing

The design and build is now finished and – as soon as I get a chance in my crazy Autumn schedule – I’ll be getting onto the rivers with it. Here’s what it looks like and how it works.

The camera is a venerable Olympus XZ-2, but I’ve wired it to take a radio frequency remote controller (shutter only) with a range of about 30 metres. I had to build a new housing to keep the electronics safe from water ingress. The receiver sits above water and the trigger is about thumb-size. I cannibalised pieces from a broken Olympus PT-054 housing to provide both the internal camera cradle and the external mount for a wide angle lens.  Simple!

Inside the housing - only 1 lead needed for shutter control

Inside the housing – only 1 lead needed for shutter control

The pictures speak for themselves, I think. I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

The aerial for the receiver and the small radio transmitter

The aerial for the receiver and the small radio transmitter

The tall picture to the left gives an impression of the overall system minus the mounting frame. The image to the right shows the camera sat in its cradle with a single lead connecting the camera to the receiver sitting above water.

The adapter for a wide angle lens

The adapter for a wide angle lens

The wide angle mount is absolutely essential.  Without the INON UWL lens, there is little hope of getting the colour and contrast into an image that will make it really sing.

The system ready to go

The system ready to go

 

 

And here’s the camera and housing mounted on a sturdy still frame that I judge essential for work in fast-flowing rivers.  I cannot wait to start using it, but after BIUPC, another trip to Egypt and some other work…that really is secret!

 

Best wishes dear friends

Paul

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Cambodia’s first large-scale marine protected area declared

I’m just back from the Red Sea buzzing from the excitement of running a pilot new underwater photography course, but even more overjoyed to hear news from colleagues in Cambodia.

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Cambodian local community crab fisherman

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Cambodia has just approved Cambodia’s first Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA) in the waters of the Koh Rong Archipelago.  Situated approximately 20 km off the coast of Sihanoukville and home to coral reef, seagrass and mangrove habitats, it supports many charismatic species including sea turtles and seahorses as well as three Community Fisheries located across Daem Thkov, Prek Svay, Koh Touch and M’Pai Bai villages.

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Cambodian local community squid fisherman

The Fisheries Administration and conservation organisations have been working tirelessly for more than five years within the archipelago to consult with local stakeholders and communities and gather baseline data about the area’s biodiversity to support the designation of the site.
Fauna & Flora International and other organisations including Song Saa Foundation and Save Cambodian Marine Life have also played an important part in protecting the site and supporting the designation of the MFMA.

Although I can claim no direct role in this, I was delighted to support Fauna & Flora International and to work with both the Song Saa Foundation and Save Cambodian Marine Life. The images from that project continue to support the initiative and, as with all these ventures, there is still so much to do.

But for now, I offer huge congratulations to those hard working scientists, project managers, government officials and local fisheries community staff who made this happen, against difficult odds.

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The enigmatic seahorse

 

For my fellow underwater photographers who care about the environments that they dive in, this is another example of how images can count in the conservation of our oceans, lakes and rivers.

Best wishes, dear friends

Paul

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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.

Paul

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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

Paul

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Whither conventional wisdom in photographic composition?

I liked this image of a saltwater crocodile, but never thought it particularly special. You cannot even see its eyes, and that is often a critical factor. But at nearly 84,000 views on one site alone (500px), it has become my most looked-at image and in the space of only a few weeks…so what’s engaging people?  I put a little thought into it, if only to discover what might draw the next 84,000 people to look at one of my images..!

Saltwater Crocodile

Saltwater Crocodile.  Copyright Paul Colley 2015  www.mpcolley.com

Overall, not too many people photograph these animals and novelty has always been a valued commodity in aesthetics and composition. I also think that the open mouth & sharp teeth may be a draw and the legs are not streamlined as they usually are when a crocodile is swimming in open water; they are temporarily splayed out to slow down the crocodile, which had just been swimming towards me.  But is the absence of the eyes a positive factor? Does the viewer, forced as ever to take the photographer’s selected perspective, feel safer engaging with this potentially dangerous creature from underneath, where its soft belly is more visible?

As one fellow photographer told me recently, I tend towards over-analysis of images. But in my short experience as an underwater photographer, thinking about these things more deeply tends to lead to useful discoveries.

This is one of many reasons why I studied underwater photography composition in depth for 2 years and then wrote a book about it. Even if people argue that there’s not too much new in this field, my riposte is that new and updated perspectives often help to unlock the mysteries for others. So do feel free to dig in: Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera.

best wishes, dear friends

Paul

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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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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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