I started my journey into underwater photography with a second-hand 2 MP Canon A40 in 2006. I was a freelance journalist writing for a range of publications, from FHM to the much-read (ahem) International Brewer’s Guardian and Field Guide News, and a technical translator. I wanted to write about my new passion, diving, but needed to supply the images to go with my words. To begin with I specialised in poorly-lit out of focus downward-looking rear-view shots of fish, and stuck to writing a mixture of pieces about people who had died whilst having sex, the merits of dry-hopping, and drive end brackets.
After the A40 had a fatal encounter with the waters of the Indian Ocean, I purchased an 8MP Sea and Sea, started working on macro shots with the internal flash and manual white balance shots and was lucky enough to get my first UW images and dive travel features published.
In 2008 I moved onto a Canon Ixus 960 with my first external strobe, an Inon D2000, and wet mount Inon wide-angle and macro lens. My coffee table creaked under the weight of photo books. Through many hours experimenting underwater, and much internet trawling I eventually went as far as I could on this simple but effective compact camera. On the way I covered several Red Sea destinations, Zanzibar and Pemba islands, and the Galapagos.
In 2010, I decided I needed to go “full manual” and got an EPL-1 on the recommendation of the excellent Dutch photographer, Karin Brussard, and an S2000 strobe. I read more, experimented with settings, and bugged other photographers with questions. I learnt to take the time to shoot one scene many times with small adjustments to settings and position. I became more adept at deleting too. Anything that requires more than a minute’s editing goes in the bin.
In 2011 I got my first dive mag cover shots, three in total including one for African Diver, and decided to combine my teaching experience from eight years lecturing Business English at university in France with UW photography. I also had to buy a second S2000 after a Bahamian tiger shark had a feel of the D2000. It wasn’t a great trip for equipment; a Caribbean reef shark made off with the Inon wide-angle lens from the Canon.
I have now run four workshops and have more coming up, but keep experimenting as I think there is always more to learn and discover both with equipment and subjects. I think the best way for any photographer to progress, coupled with taking lots of pictures of course, is to show them to as many other photographers as possible and to be open to critique. Pick some favourite images from other photographers and try and emulate them and look to them for inspiration.
“As well as learning about the relationships between light and time, fish behaviour, and how to tickle a tiger shark’s tummy, I have also learnt more about humans. If you leave your rig on a coffee table, some curious and technically incompetent soul will fiddle with it, open it, and not close it properly. And it will flood. Some dive boat crew , despite having been told many times that cameras must not be placed lens down on the deck, can suffer sudden memory loss. This can only be temporarily rectified by a hippo-esque bellow, but only ever happens when you haven’t put the lens / dome cover on. Rude photographers who behave like spoilt children underwater can be effectively side-tracked when you take a macro shot of an empty crinoid, gorgonian, or anemone. Try not to giggle too much as they search fruitlessly for the tiny crustacean they think you have just snapped.”
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