Fresh water, fresh views
I’M ATTRACTED TO THE FRESHWATER SITES near my home because they’re easy to dive. No long journeys, no dive-centre charges – all I need is my bike and either a snorkel or my dive gear.
I live in Limburg, a province of the Netherlands, and I’ll give any local puddle a try.
Sometimes, of course, it can be disappointing, with little vegetation or fish to see, but often enough it can be surprisingly good.
First impressions tend to be of a great green mass of plants followed by a layer of sand as you venture further out than 8m or so. If you’re lucky, a new world then opens up.
Low-hanging branches of trees growing on the banks send slanting beams of sunlight onto green freshwater sponges attended by shoals of perch.
A sunken gravel barge looms in the distance. You may come across a pike, ready to protect its nest from intruders at all costs. You need to be careful in case it bites you.
A reedy waterscape is entirely different. It looks like an underwater forest inhabited by small fish, and perhaps the occasional larger specimen.
Once I was swimming in fringing pondweed and suddenly met two huge carp swimming towards me.
You are more likely to see such animals when you’re on a snorkel than when you’re bubbling away on scuba.
Shock gave way to curiosity and we all stopped and looked each other over at some length.
Settled algae forms an emerald carpet, but if you aren’t careful with your fins this can easily turn into a green whirlwind of particles.
Frog-spawn becomes more interesting when the frog guarding it suddenly pops up to see what this weird intruder is doing.
Pondweed bushes resembling a fairytale forest harbour pumpkinseed sunfish, a colourful species that could be from tropical waters.
TWENTIETH-CENTURY GRAVEL PITS that have formed large contiguous lakes beside the River Maas are favourite sites of mine. They lie in the middle of Limburg, between the towns of Roermond, Maasbracht and Heel.
The quality of their water has improved enormously in recent years, and this is reflected in the view, the vegetation and increased fish stocks.
And gravel-and-sand quarries such as those in the Hoge Kempen national park in Opgrimbie, Belgium, can be full of surprises.
The brown-red colour of the soil, combined with sunken trees and the effects of the sun, fire the imagination.
All this beauty had to be recorded.
I started with a Nikonos with 35mm lens, but soon realised that I needed a wider angle of view.
My idea was to create images that recall the views you experience as a diver, or as if you were watching an aquarium.
A wide-angle lens for a Nikonos was a costly gadget for me to buy, so I decided to scan the negatives I had made side by side in PhotoShop to create underwater panoramic photos.
It takes time, because everything must fit seamlessly and the colours must be consistent. I am happy with the results, however, and feel that the 35mm lens gives an objective view without the distortion you get with a wide-angle lens if youre too close to the subject.
These days I work with a D70s and a 12-24 lens, which makes everything a lot faster, if not all that much easier.
One panoramic picture often consists of 10-15 photos, and the biggest challenge is to avoid raising any silt when taking a number of pictures at the same spot.
I use the sun as a light source, because I find it so atmospheric.
Each time I venture beneath these freshwater surfaces I feel like an explorer. There is always something to discover in the natural world, even if the site is just around the corner from your home!