School of Snappers
PHOTOGRAPHERS USED TO BE GENTLEMEN. Then came David Bailey, Brian Duffy and Terry Donovan. They were the ones who broke down barriers and introduced the world to the scallywag photographer of the 1960s, and the era continued through the 70s and 80s.
Of course, they were incredibly talented and had paid their dues learning their craft. I was one of a generation of young photographers lucky enough to plunge in through the breach of opportunity they opened up for us.
We too had learned our craft, usually the hard way. This was before digital image-gathering and computer retouching. Much later, I got my job at DIVER because the skills and disciplines I had learned as a photographer in the advertising industry translated into an ability to take a picture under water that was colourful and in focus and well-composed. In those days it seemed to be a rare skill. We used to say, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Times change. Now it is easy and everyone is doing it. Just before he died, in a biographical film made by his son, Duffy observed that anyone who picks up a camera can now get some sort of result, whereas you cannot do that with, for example, a violin.
With underwater photography there are still pitfalls. I once observed to a fellow-diver that I hoped he got a good picture of the schooling barracuda after he had elbowed me out of the way armed with his digital compact.
And he might have done, had he held on tighter to his camera as he climbed into the RIB. Now it lies in deep water somewhere off Ras Mohammed.
Another time, I had playfully remonstrated with another group of divers who had swarmed around me during what had until then been my peaceful encounter with a hawksbill.
The flashes of light emitted from my flashguns had attracted them.
That was my turtle! Get your own! I complained light-heartedly later.
We saw it first! they had claimed. That was before I countered by showing them a sequence of shots on my computer of what had taken place.
Its even got my name written on it, I exclaimed, as we came to the last shot of the reptile hastily retreating from the ensuing chaos with my initials apparently engraved (thanks to a quick bit of Photoshop work) on the back of its shell.
THE DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY REVOLUTION has changed everything, and is no more evident than in the world of scuba diving. Though a few enthusiastic underwater photography buffs now plunge in with the expensive digital equivalent of former film camera set-ups, it appears that everyone else on a diving holiday now goes in armed with a compact camera in a little watertight housing. What is revolutionary is that the financial outlay is minimal.
Digital photography gives instant gratification. What a pity that so many people have seemed content to come back with muzzy, monochromatic, low-contrast images that serve merely as a personal aide memoire, rather than something that will appeal to those who were not present at the time, or indeed are not even divers.
Well, thats changing too. Many inexperienced photographers are now coming back with in-focus, colourful, nicely composed shots to show their envious friends, and the idea is catching on. It seems you dont need to remortgage your house to get good underwater photographs. You simply need to be schooled in a few basic skills.
Underwater photography courses run by the likes photographic- equipment retailer Cameras Underwater, on week-long liveaboard trips with vessels such as those operated by the blue o two fleet, are becoming oversubscribed.
I joined a group led by Paul Duxy Duxfield and Mario Vitalini from the popular underwater camera retailer on board Blue Melody for a week, embarking at Hurghada in Egypt. Both photographers had once been Red Sea dive guides, so they knew their subject both geographically and zoologically as well as photographically.
Duxy has the height and demeanour of an old-fashioned northern policeman; you almost expect him to start every encounter with: Ello, ello, whats going on ere Marios confused nationality embraces two continents across both the old and new worlds, resulting in someone who comes across as very Italian but with a British sense of humour.
DONT MAKE THE MISTAKE of thinking that the participants on board were all underwater photography buffs. They were just divers who wanted to get pictures under water with their digital compacts that were as good in quality and as painless to take as they were used to getting on land. Each of them wanted to take competent underwater snaps.
Ages ranged from a young teenage lad to a lady approaching her 70s.
Duxy and Mario started off by showing them how to get acceptable colours in their photographs by manually adjusting the white balance before each shot.
They showed them how to get sharper images by reducing the amount of water between their camera and the subject through the use of add-on wide-angle and fish-eye lenses, and carried a stock of loan kit towards that end.
They showed them how to employ additional white light in the form of an off-board flashgun or an ancillary lamp. Within a few dives, everyone had got the idea of what they were trying to do and how to achieve it. Some of them went in with so much in the way of wet-lens options and additional lighting equipment that their gear looked more complicated than my professional rig.
The Cameras Underwater crew had me totally lost with talk of different compact camera models and the watertight housings for them.
These each have names about as memorable as Moscow telephone numbers, but the experts seemed to know what they were talking about.
An ongoing theme was how not to waste money buying the wrong kit.
On the other hand, the instructors kept all the information on photography techniques to a simple level that would be readily understandable.
The camera table on the aft deck was crowded with photography kit, and the Blue Melody crew supplied two extra freshwater rinse tanks to accommodate the demand. Between dives, the boats saloon was chockablock with laptops and heads-down users.
To improve your photography technique, its a good idea to have several goes at the same subject. To
this end, we didnt continually press on to different dive sites, but spent some time at the Barge wreck at Bluff Point, moored over the wreck of the Thistlegorm in Shaab Ali, and made a series of dives between Anemone City and Jolanda Reef at Ras Mohammed.
It was interesting to see my fellow divers constantly referencing the submersible white card supplied by Cameras Underwater to get a good white balance before each shot, and I have to say that before long many of them were coming back with images I would have been proud to call my own.
At the end of the week, we took a break to watch a presentation by resident Blue Melody dive-guide
Dray Van Beeck.
Dray has spent many long evenings alone with his computer and a version of Photoshop, and has gone way
beyond the realms of simple image-enhancement to a world that can be described only as surreal. His pictures brought gasps of disbelief as we experienced what I labelled the results of his tortured imagination.
I wondered if hed been at sea too long!
Finally, participants were invited to submit their best attempt at a picture in a number of subject categories for an ad hoc competition.
The winners, voted for by their peers, received prizes of memory cards supplied by Cameras Underwater.
ONE OF THE NICE THINGS about being on a liveaboard with divers is that everyone, no matter how disparate their normal day-to-day lives, has the same thing in common. In this case, that was not only the diving but the attempts to get good underwater images of their chosen subjects.
Of course, it does mean that there were many instances under water of schooling photographers, snapping away at the same subjects and crowding round the same slightly bemused giant moray or pair of anemonefish.
I could see that look on Duxys face that equated to: What have I done, selling so many underwater cameras
Any complaints I had about not being left to pursue my own image-making in peace were kept to myself.
I concentrated on photographing schooling unicorn surgeonfish and schooling snappers, of which there were plenty!
The next blue o two Red Sea photo workshop runs on Blue Horizon from 19-26 November, and another liveaboard workshop is scheduled in the Maldives onboard Carpe Diem from 28 March-4 April 2011. Visit www.blueotwo.com, and www.camerasunderwater.com