Ocean Leisure Diving and Photography Blog

  • Satisfied Customers Give Us Satisfaction Too!

    We received an email from Jakarta. It was from a family that had called in to Ocean Leisure Cameras while on their way to take their daughter to boarding school in Shrewsbury. It seems they don't have departments in Indonesian stores like Ocean Leisure Cameras so they wanted to get equipped with an underwater photography outfit to take home with them.

    Their message to us on returning home was that the results from the photography set-up we had suggested and supplied them with had exceeded their expectations in every way.  They were very happy indeed. In fact happy enough to write to us to tell us.

    So what did we sell them? The lady of the family wanted a camera that she could use in a fully automatic mode and was not going to be an imposition to carry on a dive with her. It appeared that cost was no object provided the camera and accessories would do what she wanted without her needing to develop much in the way of photography skills.

    The Canon G7X is a compact camera that employs a sensor that is among the biggest available in its class. This means it produces high quality files even when light levels are low and it can be set up for one button white-balance operation. An alternative might have been the Sony RX100.

    We combined this with a high quality Nauticam housing. nauticam_na_g7xThe lady and gentleman in question liked the idea of fitting a vacuum leak-test systemnauticam_vacuum_seal_check_system because it takes away the stress of wondering if the housing has been closed up properly and won't leak. The green light indicating this is very comforting.

    The lady expressed an interest in photographing whale sharks and we explained that the less water she had between the camera and her subject, the clearer her pictures would be. We supplied an i-Das UWL fish-eye lens that can be fitted directly to the front of the Nauticam housing via a 67mm adapter. This lens will allow her to get as close as possible and still include all of a whale shark in the picture. However we pointed out how the G7X needs to be used in conjunction with a short port and the zoom locked off by means of the lock on the Nauticam's zoom lever to stop it accidentally being zoomed forward. nauticam_n50_shortport2idas_uwl04

    At the same time, since they lived in Indonesia and were conveniently sited to visit its well-known macro dive sites where all manner of strange critters live, we suggested an AOI +12 dioptre macro lens. This too screws directly to the front of the housing.

    aoi_plus12_macrolens-1As for lighting, our suggestion that a Sea & Sea YS-D1 would be a good idea was met with the request to buy two since the gentleman of the family thought they would eventually progress to a double flash set up and getting an matching flashgun later in Jakarta might be virtually impossible. We were happy to oblige and provided a tray and arms with one-inch-ball mounting system.sea_sea_ysd1_a

    Of course this Indonesian family had an extensive budget but don't be put off by the cost. You could get equally satisfying results based on the economic Fuji XQ1 package fuji_XQ1_AOI_lensthat pairs the camera with a proprietary plastic housing, despite it being at an entry-level price. Be adding a lens mount base, this camera can be paired with the exact same auxiliary lenses and you don't need to have the top-of-the-range flashgun.

    If you want something in a price range between the two, what about the Olympus TG4? Its housing can too be combined with the lenses we mention (using a step-down adapter ring for the i-Das UWL fish-eye lens) and it confers the added advantage that the camera alone is water-tight to 15-metres deep so that takes a lot of pressure off the worry that you might not have closed up the housing correctly.olympus_TG4__fisheyelens

    However much or little your budget may be, we want you to go away with the equipment most suitable for your needs and that fits your budget. Come in to the store and discuss it with our knowledgable people. We take pleasure in making you pleased!


  • iPhones Have Taken Over!

    Reef5220There was a time when photographs you took had to be big. That's because it you wanted to print from them, the requirements of professional printers meant that file sizes had to be enormous. Since then the digital revolution has moved on apace and we have seen a revolution in camera use, not least in the substitution of smart phones for compact cameras when taking snapshots. The quality of pictures taken by these little marvels cannot be understated. In fact, the most important newspaper in Chicago, USA, recently fired all its photographers and distributed iPhones among its writers instead. It won't be long before the same thing happens over on this side of the Atlantic.

    Today we get so much of our information via our computers, our smart pads and our smart phones. The pictures that are sent to us this way are necessarily of small size and low resolution. It's all that’s needed. We now live in a digital age.

    The fact of the matter is that the ongoing death throes of print media may be bad news for traditional photographers but it's good news for anyone with a mobile phone. Today, a lot of what is published in the on-line news media and on television news is recorded via a mobile phone that a member of the public has witnessed. Not only that but we now usually get the benefit of a live-action recording too. (If only the camera/phone operators would remember to hold their phones horizontally so that they get a landscape shape image that fits our computer and television screens.)

    Of course, there is no benefit of a zoom lens (yet) on a smart phone, so users have to get in close to the action. However, all they have to do is point the lens towards the subject and hold their phone steady while they are doing so. The quality of pictures now achievable with the iPhone 6 are nothing short of spectacular.

    So how does this translate to underwater photography?

    Well, thanks to i-Pix, you can now buy a housing that will enable you to use your iPhone5,

    iPix iPhone5 housing i-Pix iPhone5 housing

    iPhone6 or iPhone6 Plus as an underwater camera. The first rule of underwater photography is to get close  to reduce the amount of water through which the camera has to look. No zoom lens is not a drawback and instead you can fit a supplementary  wide-angle wet lens instead. This will enable you to get closer to larger subjects without cropping the picture. If you want to make close-ups, there is a close-up lens available for each housing too. These 'wet' lenses are interchangeable when you are underwater.

    The housings themselves are rated to either 56-metres deep or 40-metres deep respectively but since you cannot synchronise any off-board flashgun with a smart phone (yet) it means staying shallow and using natural light. A red filter will ensure that you get good colour in your results.

    iPix Iphone6 housing i-Pix iPhone6 housing

    Already I can hear you asking how on earth you can use the touch-screen to control your camera phone while you are under water? Well, of course, when it’s in its housing you cannot. Instead you can download a free app from the Internet that will allow you top control the camera functions of your phone be means of a set of buttons provided.

    Buttons are alternative to a touch-screen Buttons are alternative to a touch-screen

    The other functions of the phone are disabled at this time.  You won’t be able to make phone calls while you are under water. Even nuclear submarines have to send up a buoy on a line with an ariel to do that!

    Sick of seeing people taking pictures with their phones at the end of a selfie-stick? Go one better! You can even take underwater selfies! You could be uber-cool, taking your iPhone under water and the pictures you can take with it will wow your friends. You can email them or post them on FaceBook as soon as you surface.

    As an added side-effect, once your iPhone is safely installed in its underwater housing you can take it virtually anywhere. You won't have to worry about humidity or other inhospitable conditions affecting its performance. If you want to take your iPhone even deeper than the depth-limits already mentioned, there is the Patima iPhone housing rated to an 80-metres operational depth. Enjoy!

  • Jussi Goes To Lembeh

    lembeh5 lembeh6 lembeh3Among the people at Ocean Leisure cameras, Jussi Hokkanen is particularly keen on macro life. For example, our Finnish member of staff is crazy about nudibranchs, those colourful little seaslugs that wear their feathery gills on their backs. A keen underwater photographer, when he recently visited Manado in North Suluwesi to go diving, it would have been remiss of him not to make a pilgrimage from there south to Lembeh Strait, the critter capital of the world.

    Lembeh Strait, the stretch of water between Pulau Lembeh and the busy port of Bitung, has had the dubious benefit of three thousand years of busy boat traffic with all the rubbish and detritus that only that could have brought with it. The seabed is a grey lava sand littered with rubbish but Nature being adaptive as it is has overcome all that human beings have thrown at it and creatures underwater have evolved in various ways. It may not sound very attractive but as the dive guides like to brief, “If you see a bit of rubbish, it’s probably an animal that looks like a bit of rubbish, but if it really is a bit of rubbish it will have an unusual animal living inside it!”

    Jussi's camera set-up for Lembeh Strait. Jussi's camera set-up for Lembeh Strait.

    Of course, all these critters are in the main very small so Jussi took with him a suitable underwater camera rig that would allow him to record images of theses tiny animals that were usually bigger than life-size. He successfully photographed mandarin fish, a neon clam and a hairy frogfish among numerous other subjects.

    For this he chose to use Olympus E-PL7 camera with the Olympus PT-EP12 Housing.

    Olympus EPL7 Package Olympus EPL7 Package

    With the often bought 14-42mm zoom lens it represents remarkably good value at close to one-thousand pounds. However, for the macro life found at Lembeh Jussi preferred to use the Olympus 60mm macro lens, which he mounted behind an AOI Macro port. AOI supplies a range of different ports, both in acrylic and glass, that can be used in conjunction with the Olympus PEN housings.  He then added an Inon UCL-165 wet lens

    Inon UCL165 close-up lens Inon UCL165 close-up lens

    to the front. This combination gave him the close-up six-dioptre magnification he required.  If he had needed even more magnification, he could have swapped to a twelve-dioptre AOI macro lens. To get his images recorded in a full spectrum of vibrant  colour, Jussi needed to take some white light under water with him.

    Inon S2000 Inon S2000 flashgun

    For this he chose to use two Inon S-2000 strobe lights (flashguns) triggered by twin fibre-optic cables from the flash attached to the camera. These are neat and compact and have heads small enough not to give light with too little contrast when positioned so close to the small subjects. These were mounted to the camera housing via a Nauticam Easy Tray with optional additional handle and short i-Das arms with standard one-inch mounting balls and clamps. To make it easier to see to focus on such tiny subjects Jussi added a Fisheye FIX Neo 1000 WR spotting light.

    Fisheye Fix Mini1000 Fisheye Fix Mini1000

    This little wizard of a lamp can be switched to a red mode so that the light it gives out does not disturb the animals. (Most marine life does not see red light.) Once Jussi had lined up his camera, the light pulsed from the strobe units gave him a full colour rendition. Not only that, but the focussing lamp automatically senses the flash firing and switches off momentarily so that there is no annoying spot remaining where the focussing light was pointed._DSC5312

  • Small is Beautiful

    Nudibranch, a seaslug that carries its gills on its back. Nudibranch, a seaslug that carries its gills on its back.

    More and more people have become fascinated with the minutia of marine life found underwater and besides looking for what may be hiding in plain sight right under their noses in local waters are trekking off to distant lands for the unique and some would say very strange animals living in the mucky seabed around the islands of the Far East.

    Flamboyant cuttlefish Flamboyant cuttlefish

    I hasten to add that fauna on a macro scale can be found in all seas and neither should we overlook the Caribbean or Med.

    Miniature frogfish Miniature frogfish

    Although most compact cameras have a 'macro' mode, this can put the camera far too close to the subject to enable the photographer to shine a light on it. However, most underwater housings for compact cameras can, with or without the aid of an adapter,  be supplied with an ancillary macro lens that is fitted whilst underwater.

    Compact camera with AOI +12-dioptre macro lens fitted. Compact camera with AOI +12-dioptre macro lens fitted.

    There's a vast range of such lenses available, whether it be the well-known Subsea brand, from Inon or even more expensive Nauticam. One manufacturer that actually makes lenses for other brands is now supplying to the retail market through Ocean Leisure Cameras, with consequent and significant savings on the final price, and that is AOI. There are macro lenses for GoPro cameras too.

    Once you've fitted the lens underwater and made sure to dislodge any air bubbles that might have got trapped between lens and the front glass of the housing, start looking for a likely subject. The dive guides have sharp eyes and know what to look for so don't be afraid to accept help. Some of these critters are minute.

    Halimeda ghost pipefish Halimeda ghost pipefish

    The great thing about macro photography is that you can enter the water with your lights previously set up. Whether you use off-board flash or a continuous light source such as a powerful video light, you can perfect you lighting set-up before you find your subject.

    Don't forget, you can shoot video too.

    Once you've lined up on a likely looking beast, don't let the camera's auto focus try to get it sharp. Move the camera back and forth slowly until you see the subject come sharp on your LCD display. The halimeda ghost pipe fish normally hangs around on halimeda weed which it looks exactly like.

    The seahorse might be more easily recognised but they have the annoying habit of turning their faces away from danger so you will just have to keep still and wait until it's forgotten that you are there.

    Seahorse Seahorse. You'll have to be patient until it's forgotten that you're there.

    Stealth and patience are the name of the game. Your air will  last though, because you don't waste much energy in finning. You end up hovering around waiting to get the shot. If you lie on the seabed you must be doubly sure to avoid resting on any small creature. Some things might look like rubbish but they might be an animal cleverly disguised.

    Ribbon eel Colourful Ribbon eel

    It might be a bit of rubbish - but if it is it will certainly have an animal living in it! once you get into macro photography, it becomes something of an obsession. It's as if you can only see this other tiny world by means of photography.

    Nudibranch come in an assortment of colours. Nudibranch come in an assortment of colours and styles.

    A white light in the form of a flash or a video light will reveal things in their natural colours and, let's face it, it's a mystery as to why they are so colourful since the animals can't see it.

    It's remarkable that divers always seem to fall in love with nudibranchs. These are colourful slugs that wear their gills on their backs.

    I have photographed more than one hundred and fifty animals at one site alone. Take plenty of memory cards with you unless you can download your pictures between dives.

    The face of a frogfish. The face of a frogfish sitting on a sponge.
  • Close-Focus Wide-Angle

    A new buzz-word expression that has developed among underwater photographers is Close-focus Wide-angle or CFWA. What is it and how do you do it?

    Terrestrial photographers have been using wide-angle lenses for years and some caught on to the idea that by getting really close to your subject with a very wide-angle lens on your camera gave you  the steep perspective that added drama and put the viewer right in with the subject. Doyen of war photographers, Don McCullin was a great exponent of this technique. He used to say that you need to get close to the action, then closer still.

    Photographers often talk about the quality of the glass - their lenses. Underwater, the one aspect that tends to ruin the quality of our pictures is the poor quality of the water we are in. It's full of detritus and plankton. 30-metres of horizontal visibility is thought to be gin-clear whereas if that was all you had in air it would be considered a heavy mist at least. It's a great leveller and sometimes buying better quality cameras can be fraught with disappointment. We need better quality water first! So we use wide-angle lenses not often to get a wider shot but to allow us to get close to our subject without cropping out any part of it.

    Olympus TG4 with i-Das Fisheye lens Olympus TG4 housing with i-Das Fisheye lens attached.

    Whereas a fish-eye lens would be a strange choice for a terrestrial shot, underwater it can make complete sense, allowing you to get really close. The dome at the front makes a virtual image by the refraction of the light as it passes from water to the air inside the dome and it's this the camera focuses on. It used to be the province of only very expensive DSLR cameras in tailor-made housings but now you can get an i-Das fish-eye lens for many compact cameras and the route is open for CFWA pictures. Look at how the steep perspective of the close camera-to-subject position translates into much more interesting pictures! Here are some examples.

    Firstly I show you the final shot that was first published in many diving magazines throughout the world and later published in Shark Bytes after the background was simplified by computer retouching in Photoshop.



    A Great Hammerhead shark a few centimetres from the camera lens _FFF5723 _FFF5724 A Great hammerhead shark searching for prey (stingrays) hiding under the sand.

    With moving subjects, the trick is to hold your nerve and let the animal come to you. This Great hammerhead shark was searching for its natural prey, Southern stingrays, hiding under the sand in the Bahamas. The water was so shallow I was able to use natural light and shoot a series of pictures in quick succession.

    I didn't need to wait for any underwater flashgun to recycle and get ready for the next shot that can take one or two seconds, which is far too long a delay when recording fast moving subjects.

    The shark was maybe 6-metres-long from front to the tip of its tail and that length translates into an interesting perspective when the nearest part is only around 10-centimetres from the camera lens' dome.

    Naturally, you need to use a fast shutter-speed (I used 1/500 of a second) to freeze the movement, together with a small lens aperture, and I achieved this by increasing the ISO setting to get that. I simply adjusted the camera in advance to be sure the sand was correctly exposed, checking the result on the camera's LCD screen. I then shot a fast sequence of pictures as the animal passed.

    If you shoot in RAW mode, you can adjust the files at leisure later on a suitably equipped PC to get the exactly result you want.

    The i-Das fisheye lens will screw directly to the front of an Olympus  Tough TG4 camera's underwater housing or it will need an adapter ring to fit it to any housing that has a 67mm thread at the front of its port. It works best with the 28mm (equivalent) lens of the Sony RX100 Mk2 in its housing but you may need to zoom in to that equivalent setting with some later cameras such as the Sony RX100 Mk3 and Mk4. Come in to Ocean Leisure Cameras, the store within the store, and discuss your options with the experts. If you want to know more about the techniques of underwater photography, the Ocean Leisure book department has a wealth of resources and if you like the shark pictures you see here you can read about what it took to get such images, including plenty of pictures, in the new book Shark Bytes, also available from Ocean Leisure!


  • The Wonderful Islands of the Maldives

    As Autumn makes itself known to us with cooler air and wind and rain, memories of Summer vacations begin to fade and minds inevitably drift towards the possibilities of Winter sunshine. Among visitors to Ocean Leisure's store on London's Embankment near Charing Cross, the most popular destination must be the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives.

    Inter-island travel is by speedboat or seaplane. Inter-island travel is by speedboat or seaplane.

    Scattered across a swathe of tropical sea, the Maldives are a chain of around 1200 tiny palm-fringed islands that are mainly just north of the Equator, arranged around the rims of what are thought to be sunken prehistoric volcanoes, now ring-shaped reefs called 'atolls'.

    The islands are so small that any that have resorts based on them have only space for one. Some of these resorts represent the highest quality in tropical accommodation likely to be found anywhere in the world whereas others suit travellers on a budget. You choose.

    Private plunge pool of water-bungalow at the Constance Halaveli Resort Typical private plunge pool of a water-bungalow.

    Transport between the islands and the airport is either by speedboat or be seaplane depending on the distance involved. You may opt for a beach villa, a garden villa or a water-bungalow, but once you've grown accustomed to the abject luxury of it all, you'll be irrevocably drawn to the sea. Each island is built upon a reef so you won't have to go far to start swimming with the tropical fishes and while the majority will be content to snorkel off the beach, it's a perfect opportunity to learn to scuba dive because nearly every resort has a dive centre attached. Now although the Maldives has a reputation for high-voltage diving on the ocean side, within the atolls it can be very easy. Some resorts have even sunk old and unwanted vessels for the benefit of visiting divers and with time these have turned into vibrant coral reefs.

    A Maldivian wreck sunk for the benefit of divers burgeons with marine life. A Maldivian wreck sunk for the benefit of divers burgeons with marine life.

    You won't have to travel very far. The marine life comes close to the beach. If you prefer to simply snorkel the dive centre can rent you a mask, fins and snorkel but there's something nice about having your own. The wise traveller tries on a mask and fins before purchasing. That's because, although Ocean Leisure has a wide range of different masks available and they are all good, faces are infinitely variable and you'll want a mask that's comfortable and doesn't leak. Buying fins is like buying shoes. It doesn't matter how good they are if they're not comfortable so try before you buy. If you plan to scuba dive with your own equipment, don't forget to get your regulator serviced in good time before you go away.

    Maldivian dhoni/ A Maldivian dhoni will take you further from the resort.

    Snorkelling around the house reef can be a relaxing affair but you might find the urge to go further afield. The resort will have a fleet of dhonis (locally built boats) for this purpose.

    So what marine life are you likely to see? Well, hawkbill and green turtles are common in that part of the world. Be patient and you're bound to see one. The ubiquitous blue-lined snapper is the signature fish of the Maldives and these hover around in great yellow clouds as a defence strategy against predatory fish.

    You'll want to bring back more than just memories of what you see. A little amphibious camera such as the Canon D30 is watertight to 25-metres deep and will withstand the rigours of being taken to the beach every day.

    Green turtle on a Maldivian reef. Green turtle on a Maldivian reef.

    An Olympus TG4 is only good for 15-metres deep but it has a submarine housing available for it that will allow it to go much deeper. This will take ancillary wet lenses and an off-board flash, should you so wish. A different solution comes in the form of the Fujifilm XQ1

    Maldivian reef manta with attendant remoras fish. Maldivian reef manta with attendant remora fish.

    This represents a bargain in that it is bundled with a proper underwater housing, carrying case and memory card. If its live-action you want to record, the phenomenal GoPro range of action cameras, once fitted with a filter for underwater use and a neutrally buoyant grip to make handling easy, are almost unbeatable by price and performance. You'll be kicking yourself if you get to see a gracefully cavorting manta ray while you are in the Maldives and come back without a record of the experience.

    Whatever your plans, we at Ocean Leisure can ensure that you arrive in the Maldives with the best options for either snorkelling or scuba diving and bringing back a tangible record of the things you have seen.

    Blue-lined snapper huddle together in a big yellow cloud. Blue-lined snapper huddle together in a big yellow cloud.
  • A Review of 'Shark Bytes'

    A Personal View from a Veteran Shark Diver.

    Diving with sharks, which began in earnest after the Second World War with pioneers such as Cousteau and Hans Hass. It has evolved over the years. In the early days the trail-blazers really were being brave as there was no sensible information (as opposed to myth and sensationalism) to fall back on.

    Since then there have been two basic ‘advances’ in human/shark interactions underwater. Subsequent ‘shark divers’, motivated by an interest in the natural history of these majestic animals and a determination to take decent underwater photographs of these, to date, very poorly photographed subjects, slowly but surely increased the quality and variety of their shark portfolios. Twinned with this was the growing tendency of scuba operators (especially in the tropics) to offer shark feed dives for their clients. Through the '80s and '90s more and more divers got to see more and more sharks in ever more situations and, in the vast number of cases, safely. Gradually, and despite the damage done by Speilberg's film Jaws (1975), divers began to realise that it’s quite difficult to get bitten by a shark._SSC9934

    The third, and frankly often ugly stage of shark diving is upon us. The advances in underwater photographic equipment mean that getting fantastic photographs in reasonable conditions is almost guaranteed. While there are plenty of responsible dive operators offering superb shark dives to genuinely interested divers, a considerable number of attention-seeking types have emerged who, seeking to use sharks to make themselves famous, indulge in ever more vulgar and irresponsible stunts for the sake of the camera – stunts that soon appear all over the Internet, and beyond. The perpetrators inevitably claim that their antics are for the benefit of the animals. Sharks that were previously thought to be extremely dangerous (bull, tiger, great hammerhead) are now being fed, hand-fed, handled and posed with. (So too is the great white by those foolhardy enough to leave the safety of the cage.) Elbowing each other out of the way for the limited limelight, these divers must come up with ever more idiotic stunts; one ageing ex-model recently posed naked among circling sharks as her own contribution to shark conservation. Little wonder this genre has been labelled ‘shark porn’.

    John Bantin’s new book Shark Bytes spans the many years of his own shark diving with a very wide variety of sharks and is grounded in the common-sense approach of a serious veteran diver. Thankfully, indeed refreshingly in this age of narcissists and social media, there is none of that ghastly look-at-me-posing-with-sharks approach as he clearly enjoys the thrill of shark diving for its own sake. Nor does he shy away from an occasional, though thoroughly deserved dig at those whose claims could do with deflating (for example the multi-bitten, self-proclaimed shark behaviour expert)._SSC9921

    John Bantin used to write for the UK’s Diver Magazine and his easy-flowing and informative style is present in this text. There is no information overload, nor does he treat his reader as an ignoramus. Neither is he not too proud to include some of his own trials and tribulations when diving – things every diver knows about but would rather not mention.

    Scalloped hammerheads on a cleaning station at Malpelo (Columbia) Scalloped hammerheads on a cleaning station at Malpelo (Columbia)

    An accomplished underwater photographer, John Bantin’s text is adorned with lots of sumptuous underwater photographs of sharks. The Bimini great hammerhead photos are most impressive though my personal favourites would include the oceanic whitetip with the sun behind it on page 76 and the pair of scalloped hammerheads on page 148.

    An ocean whitetip shark in the Red Sea. An ocean whitetip shark in the Red Sea.

    These are the sort of haunting natural history photographs that bring back memories, for me, of diving with these magnificent animals: no humans getting in the way or cluttering up the background, no ghastly intrusion of scuba bubbles, just the animals at home in their own otherworldly world.

    Despite the title, Shark Bytes  (ISBN 978-1-909911-45-1) is not confined to sharks. There are encounters with dugongs, dolphins, manta rays and – perhaps most intriguing – truly gigantic groupers.

    The author constantly stresses how, when combining healthy respect and common sense, shark diving can be safe. Though never entirely safe. He mentions being picked up and carried away by tiger sharks – twice!

    Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch.

    J. Stafford-Deitsch was author of Shark - A Photographer's Story, a best-selling book published in 1987. (ISBN 0-742-7996-9)

  • Shark Bytes - A New Book

    Front PIeceThis week my latest book entitled Shark Bytes was published and is available from many different sources including the Ocean Leisure shop on the Embankment in London's Westend, as well as on-line. It is not an encyclopedia or identification book on sharks neither is it a book that specialises in their natural history, although it does deal with both subjects along the way. Its text is very descriptive and it it punctuated with my own photographs taken over a long period of time.

    It is more a book that is anecdotal, reflecting on experiences I have personally had with sharks, diving and photographing them over a period of almost three decades. However, I don't offer myself as an expert regarding sharks. There are plenty of ichthyologists and taxonomists specialising in that subject. I simply offer myself as a shark-witness and in Shark Bytes I delve into the way my own attitude to and understanding of sharks has developed during the intervening years. It's how I grew to love diving with sharks.

    _SSC9925 Scalloped hammerheads in the Eastern Pacific.

    This is not a book about how brave I am to swim with sharks! I used to be frightened by sharks but now I am merely wary! I am not a shark-hugger by any means - they are not 'pussycats'. By and large, they are powerful animals armed with a lot of teeth and we are only able to get into close proximity to them by entering a hostile environment - the water - which is their home territory. A shark bite can be very serious.

    _SSC9926 While I was photographing this tiger shark, another grabbed me from behind. I was not hurt, not that time!


    My own attitude has changed. Many years ago I had experiences when I thought I had 'nearly' been attacked by a shark. More recently I was actually grabbed by a huge tiger shark and swum off with. This has happened more than once but years of experience has allowed me to be much more sanguine about it. As it happened, I was not injured but some others to whom this has happened have not been so lucky. You'll need to read the book to find out more. That chapter is entitled Tiger, Tiger.

    I have added quotes within the book from some eminent shark people, not least Peter Benchley, the author of the original novel  JAWS, and Mike deGruy, a natural world television producer and presenter who was once mysteriously yet severely injured by a shark, both of whom are sadly no longer with us. Also Rob Palmer and Chris Allison, both also no longer with us. Others that have contributed quotes include three members of the Cove family - Stuart Cove, Graham Cove and Michelle Berlanda Cove - and Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch, all people who have helped me enormously get good pictures of sharks in The Bahamas. Other experts include George Burgess, Lesley Rochat, Mike Neumann, Gary Adkison, and Marty Snyderman, the last who offers sage advice about being close to "Mr Big and Might be Dangerous". Finally, whole chapters were supplied by Pete Atkinson and Bret Gilliam, both excellent wordsmiths as well as very experienced shark divers in their own right.

    I cover experiences with many of the sharks you might meet whilst scuba-diving. From the enigmatic wobbegong of the Far East to the ubiquitous little tropical whitetip reef shark (triaenodon obesus) that can turn into a voracious nighttime predator, a spectacular event if you get to see a vast number hunting. _SSC9929

    The whaleshark is a gentle giant, roaming the ocean and hoovering up plankton and small fish. From Malpelo to the Philippines and the Maldives, you can meet them in any tropical or sub-tropical sea and I've met a few with varying photographic results but there’s always a story to tell afterwards, including the one that was towed by a freighter for almost of 150 miles and the one that a park ranger in the Galapagos did an unspeakable stunt with.

    I describe diving with oceanic whitetip sharks (carcharhinus longimanus) and explain why the special circumstances of their food-source in the Red Sea can give divers close encounters without the need to bait them with dead fish and I also explain my theory, so linked, as to why five unfortunate swimmers were savagely attacked by one off the beaches of Egypt's Sinai back in 2010. _SSC9924-2

    Unlike Amazing Diving Stories, a best-selling diving book that I wrote in third person, this is a first hand description and it describes diving with and photographing sharks as well as some related subjects such as manta rays, which are in fact of the same animal group - elasmobranchs. I have tried to give as balanced an account as possible with little sensationalism and a rational view of how sharks are essential to the eco-system we call Planet Earth. Throughout I have illustrated the book with my own photographs (apart from one instance). I hope you choose to buy a copy. I'm sure you will enjoy reading what might well be a slightly different take on the subject of diving with sharks. My intention is that it will be enjoyed by as many non-divers as divers and that it would make an interesting Christmas present._SSC9921In Shark Bytes the rights and wrongs of shark-feeding for the purposes of photography are dealt with and the penultimate chapter is entitled Is The Only Good Shark a Dead Shark? and examines the plight of sharks with an ever diminishing population thanks a to industrialised shark-finning and the dangerous effect that is having on our Planet's environment.

    A very dangerous animal swims alongside a Great hammerhead shark. Not what it seems - a very dangerous animal swims alongside a Great hammerhead shark.


    It's had some great reviews. Here's one:


  • Does Flash (or Strobe Lighting) Hurt the Animals?

    A recent blog of mine was about photographing seahorses and, despite the reference to the research work of Dr. David Harasti in that blog, I received a protest from one reader that a photographer's flash will stress and kill them. All wild animals are paranoid. They are continually stressed. You only have to watch a bird or a squirrel feeding in your garden to be aware of this. Constantly facing the possibility of attack by a predator, wild animals are always alert and ready for flight. Flight or fight – but fighting usually happens only between males of the same species competing for territory, or is the last desperate attempt of an animal, attacked by a predator, to save itself. Man has conditioned domesticated animals to some of the excesses of his activities, but they still have an underlying paranoia too. A horse might rear, a cat might scram, a pet parrot might fly up into the rafters. When I was an advertising photographer, I photographed animals, from dogs, cats and horses to chickens, chameleons, toucans and chimpanzees. All needed time to become accustomed to the new surroundings of the studio or special location in which they found themselves, but once this had been achieved, the huge output of light from the amount of flash commonly used in a studio in those days seemed to be ignored. Thanks to the technology available at the time, we needed to use around a thousand times more flash output than is produced by a typical underwater flashgun or strobe. I present a long-running poster campaign for Whiskas cat food as my first item of material evidence, and the relaxed cats portrayed as my first witnesses.

    Whiskas cats look relaxed despite a vast amount of flashlight used to photograph them. Whiskas cats look relaxed despite a vast amount of flashlight used to photograph them.

    Animals with quick responses see the flash as a slow pulse of light. Most animals have quicker responses than we do. For example, a saltwater crocodile has a reaction time 60 times quicker than ours. It may be disturbed by you, but it certainly isn’t startled!

    Saltwater crocodiles have fast reaction times. Saltwater crocodiles have fast reaction times.

    Approaching a wild animal under water, we are both intruder and possible predator. However, in the marine world we are so far removed from what animals are expecting that they usually tend to ignore us unless we get too close. We are simply big, dark shapes vibrating with noise as we breathe. My experiments with bubble-free closed-circuit equipment tell me that it is our noise and our movement of which animals are wary. We are not invisible, but keeping as still as a rock and making no sound will give you the best chance of a skittish scalloped hammerhead shark coming close. So what happens when we take photographs? First of all, to be closely approached by a huge dark shape will alarm any smaller creature.

    Batfish do not retreat despite repeated flashlight exposures. Batfish art Puerta Galera do not retreat despite repeated flashlight exposures.

    There seems to be a rule under water that size matters. Small animals are eaten by larger ones. It’s a war zone down there. Everything is eating everything else, or at least trying to. A big dark animal is a threat. A well-known marine wildlife photographer based in the USA is famous for his yellow wetsuits. They may look garish on the aft deck of the boat, but he believes that they are less disturbing for the animals he photographs. Each animal has a strategy for survival so your very presence will be alarming, and it will take time for an animal to forget about your sudden arrival. The seahorse will turn its back, and the turtle may swim off in a hurry. Luckily for us, most marine animals have a short attention span, so if you stay still long enough, they will eventually ignore you. Of course a large number of these dark shapes, all moving in different ways, will be exponentially more alarming. Large numbers of divers crowding round a single hairy frogfish must be very frightening for it. It frightens me! What happens when you approach closely with a camera? The big eye of the camera looks down at the creature. All animals are tuned to know when they are being looked at, which is why hunters wear masks. It is disturbing for them to be watched, but if they are not equipped for a high-speed escape, like, for example, a jack, they stay put and soon get used to the fact that they haven’t been eaten. The camera is fired and two things happen. It makes a noise, and there is a pulse of light from the flash.  (To put things in context, the pulse of light from a typical underwater flash is probably equal to one-thousandth the amount of light that I used to photograph those cats for Whiskas – 20 joules of light as opposed to 20,000j.) As my next witness, may I introduce the octopus. The octopus is an intelligent mollusc and it has a variety of strategies for use when threatened by a possible predator, including camouflage, diversion by way of an ink cloud, and finally flight, using the jet-propulsion of its siphon. The octopus also has a complex eye, which I suspect allows it to see well what happens when the camera is fired. I use a big camera, and at the moment the eye of the lens opens and shuts, there is a loud clatter as the mirror mechanism works, and the flash emits a pulse of light. Under these circumstances the octopus usually appears to flinch, clearly indicating that it is disturbed. But what is actually disturbing it? My experiments lead me to believe that the octopus reacts firstly to the close approach of a large dark object – my body – and secondly to the vibration of the camera mechanism operating.  However, after a few of these moments the animal either settles down and decides that there is no threat, or it will attempt to flee.

    These mating octopus were not disturbed by the camera's flash light. These mating octopus were not disturbed by the camera's flash light.

    I have spent more than 45 minutes with two octopuses that were courting, and my noisy camera, dark body and light-emitting flashgun had no obviously detrimental effect on the course of events. I was able to take hundreds of close-focus wide-angle pictures of the whole procedure, from beginning to end.

    A green turtle is undisturbed in its daytime roost although it sleeps with its eyes open. A green turtle is undisturbed in its daytime roost although it sleeps with its eyes open.

    Similarly I have spent long periods with turtles that have simply got used to my presence and allowed me to take multiple flash exposures from very close indeed. It may be different if you have a constant light source shining in their eyes, as when shooting video. If an animal decides it is not under threat of predation, it will simply tolerate you. Of course, an animal that is nocturnal will not enjoy being lit up by a bright light. Fitting a red filter over the aiming light of a flashgun when photographing animals at night appears to mitigate this problem. Some continuous light sources come with a red light function too. The pulse of light from a flash is either too slow to disturb those animals with very quick responses or, I suspect, with lower life-forms too quick to evoke any response at all. It’s annoying that when you line up a camera on a macro subject such as a pygmy seahorse, or any seahorse for that matter, it tends to turn away shyly. This is because predators detect the presence of prey often by the existence of its eye. Many coral-browsers have developed a defence strategy of displaying a false eye on a less vulnerable part of their body.  The eyes of the seahorse must be kept hidden when the animal feels threatened – but don’t think it only does this to photographers!

    The sea snake approaches the camera relentlessly despite having its photograph taken The sea snake approaches the camera relentlessly despite having its photograph taken.

    So do we stress the animals? The immediate answer is, yes. Just as the marauding jack stresses the anthias, fish stress the browsing octopus and the whitetip reef shark stresses the little fish hiding among the rocks at night, so all divers stress the animals by our sudden arrival. Slow movements and plenty of patience go a long way to getting good pictures. Fish are not frightened by big rocks, and I have noticed that a still group of divers huddled together in an area of sandy seabed, testing regulators for example, can actually attract some sedentary predators such as frogfish, which see the black shape as a useful dark place to hide. Does the camera’s flash disturb animals? I have serious doubts. As my last material evidence, I’d like to present my picture library, with hundreds of sequences of pictures of animals that did not take the option to retreat in a hurry.

    A collection of cats undisturbed by 20,000joules of flashlight. A collection of cats undisturbed by 20,000joules of flashlight.
  • Photographing Seahorses and Pygmy Seahorses


    DSCF0562 Full-size seahorse photographed in Manado, North Suluwesi, Indonesia.
      Everybody loves a seahorse. Maybe it's because of their equine faces. They can be found in both temperate and tropical waters. Studland Bay, off the coast of Dorset, is known to have a population clinging to its weedy seabed. They are jealously protected from intrusion by underwater photographers but a voluntary body calling itself the Seahorse Trust. Elsewhere, I've photographed seahorses as far apart as St.Vincent in the Caribbean and South Leyte in the Philippines.
    Caribbean seahorse. Caribbean seahorse. (St.Vincent)
    Although sedentary by nature and seeming only to use prevailing currents to drift from location to location, they are quite difficult to photograph because they tend to shy away from cameras. It's as if, childlike, they think that if they cannot see a perceived threat it won't be able to see them. At around 10cm tall, you can get good pictures of them with your compact camera set in macro mode, but you need to be patient. Sometimes it means concentrating on your subject for many minutes, constantly allowing the camera to refocus, until the charming little animal has forgotten that you are there and turns back to face you. Then you grab the moment! Even when diving at night and discovering a seahorse clinging to some coral or maybe a sponge, it can be just as challenging because your light will disturb it. A good trick is to use a red filter over your focussing light or one that has a red light mode and they surprise the animal with the sudden pulse of white light from your flash, capturing its image while it is unaware. Most marine animals cannot see red light so that they are undisturbed in this way.
    Seahorse photographed under a pier or jetty in South Leyte  at night. Seahorse photographed under a pier or jetty in South Leyte, Philippines, at night.
    The Latin name for seahorse is Hippocampus which means ’Horse Caterpillar’. They without doubt a type of fish, they breathe through gills and control their buoyancy by means of a swim bladder like other typical fish. There are many sub-species but they all tend to live their lives in the same way, clinging to fixed points near the seabed with their long prehensile snake-like tails. They hunt for food by sight and their long thin snouts allow them to poke into nooks and crannies, sucking up tiny crustacea. Seahorse have excellent eyesight and can work their eyes independently so that they can look forwards and backwards at the same time, but they are poor swimmers, relying on their dorsal fins to propel them forwards while their pectoral fins, positioned either side of their head, are use for stability. They move into deep water to avoid rough seas. There are up to forty different species. Sea horses have exo-skeletons and are unusual in that it is the male of the species that carries and broods the eggs. The female passes the eggs to the male and he fertilises them within his pouch so its a sort of reverse pregnancy
    Searching for pigmy seahorses on a seafan. Searching for pygmy seahorses on a seafan.
    If you visit and dive in Eastern Indonesia, the Philippines and area to the East, you will notice dive guides searching among the gorgonia or seafans. They are looking for pygmy seahorses. This species has been discovered only in recent times but has proved to be a popular subject with underwater photographers. However, you need sharp eyes to see them. They are often only a few millimetres tall but look like perfectly formed animals - only in miniature! You need a powerful macro lens and good contrast lighting to record good images of these charming little beasts. Usually you will need to add a macro wet lens to any camera other than an expensive DSLR that might be equipped with suitably close focussing prime macro lens.
    Pigmy seahorse photographed in Lembeh Strait in North Suluwesi, Indonesia. Pygmy seahorse on a red gorgonia. (photographed in Lembeh Strait in North Suluwesi, Indonesia)
    Even then you might think of adding a suitable wet dioptre lens too, but you don’t need a top-of-the-range camera to get good seahorse pictures, even it they are so tiny. You can fit a powerful plus-10 dioptre macro wet lens to almost any camera housing that has a 67mm thread to its front port. Even if you have a proprietary plexiglass underwater housing with a rectangular front port you can usually obtain an adapter that will allow you to fit bayonet-type wet lenses. You can even stack these macro lenses to enable you to photograph the smallest subjects. You can even get something similar for your GoPro. Not only can you fit a wet lens but, because the camera is so close to the subject when you take a picture, it’s one time that the in-built camera flash might give you a satisfactory result. This will rely on fitting the light diffuser that originally came with the housing. However an off-board ancillary flashgun or strobe will be more controllable. You could use a video light but remember that although it will be close enough to your subject to give a good exposure, it might also fry it! It will certainly disturb it. Come in to Ocean Leisure and discuss what you might need to photograph seahorses.
    Pigmy Seahorse photographed in the Philippines. A tiny pygmy seahorse photographed in the Philippines. It is clinging to the gorgonia (sea fan) and has adopted the same colour as a method of disguise. (Photographed in the Philippines)
      THE EFFECT ON SEAHORSES In 2009, marine scientist Dave Harasti completed a study in Australia that looked at the direct impact of flash photography on seahorses. “One of the reasons why I did the study was that I was tired of hearing or reading that flashes kill seahorses, when there was no scientific proof,” says Dave, who is using the study as part of a PhD thesis on seahorse conservation. Dave has been studying threatened marine species for the past 10 years. A keen underwater photographer, he has also won several major competitions in Australia. “Part of my research is the use of photo IDs,” he explains. “I photograph a seahorse, look for any distinctive marks and use them for future individual identification. I have taken a lot of photographs of individuals and, given that they are still currently alive and in the same spot where I first found them, I consider it very unlikely that flash photography is having an impact on them. “A good example is my ‘Grandpa’ seahorse, which I have been photographing for three and half years. He’s still alive, currently mating with a real hot (in seahorse eyes) gold female, and is still found in the same spot. This says to me that flash photography does not cause seahorses to die or migrate from their location. “The work I have been doing is on the White’s seahorse (Hippocampus whitei) and to a lesser extent the pot-belly seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis), so I can’t say that flash photography doesn’t impact on all seahorse species. However, some work we did in PNG involved photo ID of the pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti), and there was no impact on this species either. “I found that flash photography had no significant impact on seahorses’ behaviour, movements and longevity. In my humble opinion, photography poses no harm to seahorses. However, photographers touching and moving seahorses and their habitats is a completely different story!”      

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