After five years, Trevor aims to get out of auto mode.

STEP ONTO ANY DIVE BOAT, anywhere in the world, and youre likely to be sharing it with several divers armed with underwater cameras, mostly compact digital packages.
I can remember when diving was a leisurely and relaxing affair, but for a group of divers I observed recently in the Caribbean, each dive was their chance to be underwater paparazzi as they chased fish, harassed morays and surrounded turtles. As for the pictures, they were mostly dreadful, blurred pictures of petrified marine creatures against a backdrop of backscatter.
This is where Maria Munn, the compact digital camera aficionado of Ocean Visions, believes she can help.
Recently, I joined a group of Marias students at Eynsham Hall in Oxfordshire. Under her tutelage the idea was that they would, in one day, learn how to improve the quality of their pictures without becoming a contender for next years top fish harasser.
Maria targets her courses at beginners and improvers. According to her website, they are for those who are looking to achieve confidence to be able to use their camera in a mode other than automatic in a short space of time.
At the course introduction she claimed that digital compacts were perfect for travelling with, as they can take a lot of punishment.
The question is, can they take decent pictures Maria believes they can.
What this day will provide you with are the tips you wont find in the manual: how to adapt the settings and flash for underwater use - how to take pictures that look good.

THE STUDENTS WERE A LITTLE LESS SUBTLE about what they wanted. Steve had recently flooded his SLR, so he wanted to get better snaps with his compact digital, which would lead to the courage to take out the SLR again.
Or maybe not, as the experience had made him wish I hadnt started in the first place!.
Dale just wanted to get beyond her photos that are all blown out with no colour phase. While for Robert, this was a final stab at getting his investment to do something useful. Hed stopped using his camera two years ago as I spent all my time looking through the lens and my pictures were rubbish.
Perhaps the biggest challenge would be from Trevor, who wanted to do more than point and shoot. For five years Ive been pressing the shutter on auto.
It looks like I know what Im doing, but the reality is that I havent got a clue.
As for me, Ive been taking pictures under water for 17 years; Ive done OK in several competitions and for more than a decade Ive had my photographs published in DIVER. But I havent moved on - I still use the same old trusty Nikonos V, the film camera that launched me into this world all those years ago. I was hoping to learn how to make the jump from film to digital.
Maria appeared to take the groups angst in her stride; I guessed she had heard similar tales of woe before. I liked her confidence as she promised to help everyone over their problems.
She started the first session by painting a short picture of her own journey - how she had started with compact cameras as opposed to housed SLRs because of the size of the equipment and cost, a major factor for most divers.
Over the years she had built up a bank of top tips, and fellow-divers would ask her questions about how they could get good photos. All of which led to her setting up Ocean Visions and running courses such as this one.
What makes a good photograph is very subjective, as we soon learnt by critiquing a series of pictures taken by Maria and some of her previous students.
Blurred coral in the foreground: distraction or enhancement The rule of thirds: slavishly follow it, or can the paintbrush of your mind take a more interesting picture
And who says the built-in flash wont work under water We contrasted several pictures where there appeared to be strong evidence that it can work well with the right settings.
For all the pictures we viewed there was a common denominator - none of them was taken in automatic mode.

AS WE WENT THROUGH MARIAS EXAMPLES, it struck me that her own pictures werent exactly brilliant. None of them would win any competitions, but they were all in focus and they did demonstrate effective composition.
Ive been slammed before, she said. People have told me that I cant take good pictures, but its my art, and whether you like them or not, its the me that matters. What makes a good picture is a very individual judgment.
For those of you who have ever witnessed the wide range of scores awarded by judges at underwater photography competitions, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Maria has a point.
Im from the school of Will it look good on my wall, so I was with her on this one. Besides, this group didnt want to win competitions. They just wanted to learn how to take a half-decent picture.
After the theory, where the settings for underwater use were explained, it was time to start putting it all into practice with some desktop exercises. Once everyone had got their heads round the difference between above-water and underwater settings, it was time to kit up and get in the pool for a multi-wreck dive with added anemonefish, turtles, seahorses and a wind-up Superman.
Maria explained how each of the plastic toys would present a challenge that would build on the earlier learning - for example, how to adjust the settings to bring out the colour, the use of the macro mode, internal flash and, in the case of Superman, reflections against
the surface.
The next hour was spent putting the mornings knowledge and understanding into action, as each student took numerous shots of the toys. To start with, most of them slipped back into their old comfort zones, leading to disappointing pictures. But Maria was on hand to get them back on track, and soon everyone was getting comfortable with their new-found skills.
So what did I learn To start with, my worst fears were confirmed - the jump from slide film to digital will be a big one. With cameras as complex as they are today, the self-taught approach of just fiddle around with the f-stop thingy until the blinky light says 1/60th is no longer a viable option.
But did the students get what they wanted from the day Trevor and Robert were happy that they had learnt what isnt in the manual, whereas Dale believed that she now had it cracked, but still needed some work on her flash settings.
The final comments from my pictures were rubbish Robert and I havent got a clue Trevor said it all. Robert believed his skills now enabled him to take pictures that are in focus and have colour - a huge improvement on what I was doing before.
Trevor now had the confidence to play around with the settings. Ive got out of the auto mode - I just want to get back into the water again!
The owner of any underwater camera system, compact digital or SLR would be well advised to sign up for a course with the likes of Maria. One day of learning versus several years of frustration has to be worth it.

Maria Munn's One Day Underwater Photography Intro Course at Eynsham Hall, Oxford costs £139. Other Ocean Visions courses for small groups include Photoshop for Underwater Photographers (£129) and Get Creative Underwater with Your Compact Camera (£149).
Visit or call 07957 621915.

Photo instructor Maria Munn.
The sort of shot Dale had been taking before.
Dales wreck shot with added flash!
Roberts original octopus shot and with added focus