“THIS TITLE SHOULDN’T BE viewed as two separate instructional books that have been printed together,” says Dan Bolt in the foreword, putting his finger neatly on a major challenge author Mark Harris must have faced. That's because his new book concerns taking underwater pictures without benefit of scuba, and where do you start with that?
When I read any dive-related book, I try to work out who the author is expecting typical readers to be.
In this case, is it snorkellers who like to make the occasional duck-dive to capture images of well-lit reef-tops and accessible critters, and wish to improve the quality and scope of their shallow dives and photography?
Possibly, although as we eventually come to realise it’s mainly big-animal, bubble-free encounters in the blue that preoccupy Mark Harris.
Is he hoping to persuade scuba-divers to shed all the apparatus that allows them to switch into diving autopilot long enough to concentrate on their camerawork?
Perhaps, but I can see DIVER readers thinking: “I have enough trouble getting near the stuff
I want to photograph and then getting my settings right without worrying about running out of breath!” And if you’re into shooting pygmy seahorses at 25m, you’re probably right.
Is this book for marine-biologists hoping to move further into Doug Allen territory? Could be.
Or is it aimed at existing freedivers keen to take up underwater photography? If so, there does seem to be quite a lot of basic freediving theory for them to revisit here.
I’m not trying to diminish what seems to be an admirable book, simply pointing out the dilemmas and compromises that must have been involved in framing a title suitable for such a diverse prospective readership.
By the end I felt that existing freedivers were likely be keenest to hand over the £17 cover price. They might know the breath-hold theory already, but by and large Mark Harris has interweaved this successfully with the photography angles.
This is especially the case in the last few chapters, in which the author and guest contributors such as Anne-Marie Kitchen-Wheeler and Andrew Sutton cover techniques to use with particular subjects, such as manta rays or whales.
By then the reader has been walked through freediving equipment and techniques – breathing, finning, descents and ascents, hydrodynamics, safety and, crucially, neutral buoyancy, because you need to be prepared to work comfortably at a predetermined depth and be weighted accordingly.
There are also a couple of chapters devoted to the basics of underwater camera gear, lighting and technique.
Mark Harris manages to marry the disciplines without getting any more technical than necessary. He explains tricky concepts very clearly and, because no-one else seems to have tried it before, deserves credit for producing such a well-written and professionally produced book, generously illustrated with his and other freedivers’ photos.
I would like to have seen a bit more on photographic techniques in shallow water and perhaps on dealing with the challenges of further specific subjects, such as schooling fish.
But in the end you take what you want from this book – and that goes for scuba-divers too, for those times when they drop off the boat armed only with snorkel and camera to join dolphins or mantas at play!
Steve Weinman

Dived Up
ISBN: 9781909455108
Softback, 188pp, £16.95