Saeedâs picture of John Bantin and two relaxed dolphins â lucky the photographers didnât have macro lenses on
Embrace the Saeed Effects
MEETING SAEED RASHID is a bit of a disappointment. With a name that would invoke a high state of alert among American TSA officials, it’s rather a let-down to find that he is less of a sheikh along the lines of Rudolph Valentino and more of an ordinary bloke from Portsmouth.
We discovered him after the Digital Clinic was first introduced at the Dive Show, when it became apparent that we didn’t know nearly enough about Photoshop. He did.
After working in London for a design practice, Saeed had moved to the South Coast to teach illustration at the Arts University College, Bournemouth.
From there he moved to the Media School at Bournemouth University to teach Print Design and Photography, and he has been there for a decade.
After the early Digital Clinics he rapidly became something of an institution at the Dive Shows with his talks on digital photography. He recently completed a Masters degree in Creative Media Education.
The son of a Master Mariner, Saeed’s early years were spent at Port Harcourt in Nigeria, where he first encountered professional divers at family barbecues. He was still very young when the family relocated to Portsmouth.
With the rapid growth in popularity of underwater photography thanks to digital cameras, there has been an equally rapid increase in the number of experts offering courses and workshops on the subject.
The digital process allows people to move from novice to expert very rapidly, and not everyone who professes to teach should be doing it. When it came to writing about one of these workshops, it was natural for me to gravitate towards one run by Saeed, because at least I was sure that he knew what he was talking about.
I’ve been a professional photographer myself since 1966, but I know enough about the subject to know that I can always learn more.
When I embarked on a trip with Saeed and his trusty helper-elf Alex Tattersall aboard blue o two’s flagship liveaboard blue Horizon, I knew that I wouldn’t be roughing it, either.
blue Horizon is a large and comfortable vessel that has deservedly been a serial winner of the divEr Award for Liveaboard of the Year.
We set sail from Hurghada in Egypt, and were soon immersed in the warm summer waters of the Red Sea with our cameras in their underwater housings.
Every day Saeed would do one or two presentations, and some of us would risk a critical slaughtering by offering a few of the pictures taken during the day for display on blue Horizon’s big TV screen for a nightly image review.
There was no hint of a structured course as such. Thank goodness – it was meant to be a holiday, after all.
We started off with a check-out dive at an inauspicious reef, which to my surprise produced a lot of good pictures of schooling lemon butterfly and racoon butterflyfish.
Then we were off to photograph around the Barge wreck at Bluff Point. We spent a couple of days there, which gave us time to perfect our craft.
Alex Tattersall gave us frequent demonstrations of what was needed to obtain good macro pictures by staying resolutely in one spot for an entire dive until he captured the magic moment he was after.
Some of the naughtier members of our group would carelessly disturb the sand around him, without him seeing what happened, just to make it more of a challenge for him.
Going back in again and again to the same dive-site, one that didn’t change apart from the ambient light on it during the day, allowed us to change lenses, shooting both wide-angle and macro shots, and get to know where out favourite sedentary subjects might be found.
Two scorpionfish were favourites among the different photographers at the barge, while Alex concentrated on patiently recording super-macro shots of cardinalfish with eggs in their mouths, using powerful wet dioptres added onto the port of his macro lens.
Eventually his stoicism was rewarded with some excellent and unusual shots.
The sea was absolutely calm, and we were able to make our way easily up from Bluff Point to the wreck of the Ulysses, where a million sergeant-majors had laid and were fearlessly guarding their purple egg clusters. If the weather allows, don’t miss this 19th
The wreck of the Kingston on the north end of Shag Rock gave more opportunities for wide-angle wreck or macro fish pictures, and again conditions were unusual in that there was no current.
Every evening, Saeed would give us an illustrated talk on matters such as lighting, filters, strobes and strobe positioning.
He gave a talk on composition and macro techniques versus wide-angle. He covered camera settings – shutter-speeds, lens apertures and ISO sensitivity settings and their relationship to one another.
Of course, he also covered some basic post-processing techniques using Photoshop and Lightroom. That is, after all, his speciality.
One evening when diving was finished for the day, Alex gave an illustrated talk on what makes a memorable picture, and I was flattered to discover that he had included one of mine among the examples of iconic underwater photography shown.
SCHOOLING OF THE PHOTOGRAPHERS was conducted in a free and easy way. If you had a problem, Saeed could help you solve it or Alex could recommend that you buy an item of equipment that would do the job, and which he, coincidentally, imported (as he would say, he has to feed his family!).
Schooling fish were equally free and easy. This was the case when we got to the schooling snapper, the shimmering silver barracuda and the daft-looking batfish at Ras Mohammed.
This was where good buoyancy control, combined with powerful finning techniques and photographic persistence, ruled the day.
During the hottest part of the year, Bohar snapper and other fish aggregate with the intention of laying and fertilising their eggs, which are distributed into the mix of zooplankton in the water.
This can mean that the water is less clear than usual, but it’s a small price to pay for such a spectacular sight.
Once we had spent enough time out in the blue with the schooling fish, it was sensible to make our way round to Jolanda Reef or Satellite Reef, where we could be picked up safely.
I photographed Saeed making macro close-ups of the fearsome teeth of a titan triggerfish. He spent a lot of that time in trepidation, ready to flee. These fish are very aggressive and can inflict a horrible bite. As it happened, this one was in two minds as to whether to go for him or me, and attacked neither of us.
For me Ras Mohammed, and Shark Reef in particular, has among the best dive sites Egypt has to offer, and I was delighted when the other passengers voted to spend more time there.
So often, with non-photographers on the passenger manifest, the interest soon wanes and you constantly move on to new sites, when for photography purposes it serves you much better to spend more time in one place.
Visiting Ras Abu Nuhas on our return route to Hurghada gave us the opportunity to dive a couple of the four wrecks of different ages that lie there.
We did one dive on the Giannis D, the most recently sunk, but other dive-boats dropped in their divers at the same time and things got rather busy.
Our divers came back upset that so many others seemed to have no buoyancy control, and walked about like so many lead-booted hardhat divers.
We had the wreck of the 19th century P&O steam sailing ship the Carnatic to ourselves for longer. Alex amused us all by staying and working with his camera in a single spot for the entire dive (some said he was hogging the spot) but he did come back with a very pretty picture.
Others took it in turns to model for our buddies. Buddies Yes, I had a buddy. It’s easy when you have a common interest, and common interests were what this trip was all about.
Of course there was a lot of banter between those with different camera systems, those with green lights inside their housings and those poor souls without.
There was no camera snobbery on board, however. Some people had spent fortunes on top-of-the-range kit, whereas others used more economic compact cameras that cost a fraction of the price. Some in the middle used the latest 4/3 and system compact cameras.
WHEN PICTURES WERE PROJECTED for general consumption, during image reviews, in the saloon at the end of the day, we all became acutely aware that it was not the camera but what was in front of it at the moment the picture was taken that counted.
The three rules of photography became content, content and content.
Saeed and the helper-elf were both very kind when it came to critique and there was no obligation to submit anything and reveal (as in my case) what a rotten underwater photographer you were.
Once we had finished with the ship graveyard that is Abu Nuhas, we went on to some quite inauspicious reefs.
Inauspicious they might have been if you weren’t there with a camera. Saeed and Alex persuaded me to fit a macro lens to my own camera and a macro port to my housing. After that I spent a lot of time attempting to get good macro shots of the little fish I’d normally swim past without giving a second glance.
I started photographing clownfish in their anemones. It’s not as easy as I expected. The little blighters won’t stay in one place for more than a moment.
Once I got the hang of it, I started recording images of little fish in mid-water. After that, I went for the annoying little anemonefish, photographing them in mid-water too. It became something of a personal challenge, and wiled away the hours.
At no time was Saeed formally didactic in his approach, and his own self-deprecating humour was refreshing in a world where so many set themselves up as gurus and take themselves too seriously.
On the other hand, he had a ready solution for any photographic problems that anyone encountered.
During my last dive on one of these purely macro photography locations, my bloody-mindedness came back into play and I went in with my fish-eye lens fitted to my camera. Saeed did likewise as my buddy.
We were lucky enough to photograph a turtle with a photographer, each modelling for the other, and I’m ashamed to say that I thought Saeed’s pictures were better than mine – but then, he did have a fantastically photogenic subject.
We were just coming back to the boat when we were joined by a pod of dolphins, two of which swam around us playfully for a good 20 minutes. Were those macro photographers feeling sick I think they were.
Again, Saeed’s pictures were much better than mine – but he is the underwater photography god and I a mere muse. It was the cherry on the icing of a cake that had represented a very enjoyable week.
Saeed Rashid’s Photo Workshops are run from time to time and are suitable for any level of underwater photographer – even non-photographers will enjoy it. Check for the most convenient dates and destinations. A typical trip to Egypt costs around £800. www.blueotwo.com