Not Going Mad: Feb & March ‘21
Apologies for the mish-mash if you’re reading this, this update was supposed to be one thing, now several others!
I’ve long maintained that scuba diving was (well, perhaps not including underwater photography) cheaper than counselling in the long run. Like many others, scuba diving is my balm, my coping strategy and the one place I can CTFO and collect myself. Not scuba diving has left me staring at my dive kit like a puppy scratching a door, and generally I’ve felt myself feeling frustrated and even at times irritable with those around me. So, what can you do if you can’t dive, either by season, storms or global pandemic? Here’s what I’ve been up to:
A little while back I took part in the Fourth Element Underbathwater 2021 competition, which was a tremendous amount of fun and an opportunity to think about something not work or childcare related. My kids were a bit annoyed by the temporary disappearance of some of their toys, but they warmed to it once I’d explained what I was doing. Whilst my images weren’t up to the standard to get far in the competition, I was really happy with what I’d manage to shoot for myself, and I especially enjoyed playing around more with composition and different lighting effects. The bath setting (or certainly the angle of our bath) made it impossible to look through the viewfinder, so the trial-and-error approach by itself forced me to be more patient. I also realised that quite a lot of the pics I take underwater are still rushed snaps.
Hitting the Books
There are some fantastic texts available on the subject of underwater photography, my bookshelf is already home to Alex Mustard’s Masterclass, Martin Edge’s Bible and Paul Colley’s tour de force on composition. To add to these, I also picked up a second-hand copy of Nick Robertson-Brown’s book, Underwater Photography: Art and Techniques. Whilst there is some crossover between these texts, more often than not I find they actually complement each other really well, and where the same ground is covered, I tend to find things easier to understand if explained from different perspectives.
Reading can carry you a lot of the way towards taking a ‘decent’ picture underwater, but what I’ve found the most useful is listening and talking to the experts themselves where the opportunity arises. Phil Medcalf of Alphamarine Photography ran an excellent series of vlogs on different aspects of underwater photography, often with a helpful UK focus. Adam Hanlon and Alex Mustard have also been very busy with their informative efforts on Wepixel, which is obviously a fantastic resource in itself for all underwater shooters.
I was extremely lucky to squeeze into class six of Alex Mustard’s ‘Underwater Photography Reboot’ which has proven the most valuable single experience so far in refining my UWP. It’s a four-part (five with introduction) online course with assignments each week. One of the real strengths is the way the course has been shaped by the distributers (Photography Experts) to set the assignments against the backdrop of a forum-style community, and limiting the numbers to twenty per course helps you get to know that much more about fellow photographers and the type of photography and equipment choices they favour. It has certainly helped my confidence and given me some specific pointers on what I need to focus on, and Alex has been great throughout with his guidance and patience in answering mine and other’s questions.
On the 8th of March I got an alert from BDMLR HQ requesting a seal check at Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock. As I only live ten minutes up the road, it quickly became clear I would be first on scene. It didn’t take too long to track down, as there was already quite a crowd assembled around it. I had my suspicions it was the seal known as ‘Sammy’ over in Weymouth, mostly because of the moult pattern on its forehead resembled that seen in some of Colin Garrett’s recent pictures. The seal looked a healthy weight, no signs of wounds or infection, bar some minor bleeding from its own scratching (looked mid-moult). Watching it for about two hours established all limbs were being favoured equally, and in fact all it wanted to do during its haul out was to have a good snooze! Unfortunately, it had chosen the single busiest part of Hive Beach to do so, and it was a long five hours of shooing dogs off leads away! Luckily for me, everybody on the beach was really sound and kept a respectful distance, holding or putting dogs on leads as soon as they realised what was afoot.
You know you’re into your underwater photography when you start buying silicon grease by the tub, rather than those tiny (but handy) little pots. Whilst I had thought I had done a good job at washing and storing kit from when I stopped diving in November last year, still some electrolysis corrosion was evident on some clamps and tray connectors. As March rolled around, I gave everything a good soak and scrub with a toothbrush, before unthreading all my torches and connectors to wipe clean any traces of last year’s silicon grease and apply a liberal new coat.
My O’three 6x5 was also in need of some TLC after 160 dives or so. Quite a bit actually: there were some looks of horror when I dropped it off and the nice lady on the floor even gave me a call back to say she’d do what she could! I’ve since received it back ready for the return to diving just as promised, and it’s now good to go for another season.
Scheming for the Year Ahead
This has been by far my most favourite use of any free time during lockdown. I’ve always started off each new year by wondering about which new sites I’d like to dive, but now I’ve started thinking about the types of shots I’d like to achieve with my gear. I’ve a very long list, so I’ll share just a few for now, but they include:
1. Clean backgrounds: More shots of a range of nudibranchs with black backdrops, experimenting with a blue background if I can manage it.
2. Splits: I’d love a shot of Chesil Cove with a jelly in the water, pebbles in the foreground and the Cove House Inn in the background. I did get half way there in 2020.
3. Low light: I’ve been inspired by Mark Kirkland’s amazing photo of the spawning frogs against the Glasgow skyline. Though it might turn out to be a nightmare to light, I’d love to do the same for a rockpool I know near my folks’ place in Cornwall. I can only try!
Lastly, I’ve also been engaged in a bit of UWP-themed DIY. I’m not skilled at all when it comes to metalwork and I might yet make a complete hash of (both) the projects, but if I make something workable I’ll share my pictures here later in the year, so please do continue to watch this space!