Safely Planning and Organising a Wreck Photo Shoot

UPDATE !! Since I posted this I have done a more specific look at shooting the Ghiannis D a very popular and photogenic Red Sea wreck. Click Here to see this.
Ghiannis is a very photogenic dive site that I like to visit at least twice on my specific Wreck Photo itinerary.

And in August 2016 I will be conducting a trip called Wreck Photo where we take a more photographically based look at a regular Wreck itinerary, please click here to take you to the trip itineraries page




Shooting a good wreck photo with the minimum of fuss, requires careful planning.

Safety and pre-planning

At the beginning of the photo workshops I stress some very important priorities.
And they mostly concern safety, that of you and your buddy, but occasionally though you may need to take into consideration the safety of another person, which we will look at in parts two and three links below.

Part two here

Part three here



So this blogpost which will be in three parts is going to look at how you plan for getting a great wreck shot, and not only the pictures, but how you need to make a safe and considerate dive plan, that encompasses all involved, so you will be happy in the knowledge that all safety considerations and the welfare of yourself and other parties involved, will be covered, thus allowing you the peace of mind to take great shots.

Thistlegorm Bow Shot

Ok, let’s look at a simple shot that needed a little bit of pre-planning to achieve.
This is a shot of the bow of the Thistlegorm using my buddy Shelly as a model to give some scale.



My buddy Shelly on the anchor chain of the Thistlegorm, a simple shot, but requires a bit of pre-planning to keep everyone safe.
My buddy Shelly on the anchor chain of the Thistlegorm, a simple shot, but requires a bit of pre-planning to keep everyone safe.



I’ve used a single strobe to illuminate the foreground chain, and positioned the model near the top of the chain.
My idea was to try and convey the scale and majesty of one of our favourite wrecks in the Northern Red Sea.
Luckily for us we had arrived mid to late afternoon and as we’d had this shot in mind prior to our arrival, we had skipped the first two dives of the day, so that we wouldn’t be compromising our depths later in the day.
I say “we” because in a lot of cases, this will be a team effort, even if the other party doesn’t want their own picture, they still have to be included in the planning, to reduce confusion in the water, as i’ve yet to find a mind reading buddy.

So we were both, my buddy (and model) able to happily go down to 30m as we had a clean sheet that day.
We had had a lay-in that morning, this was a holiday after all, and we have both dived the “Wreck” many many times previously so had the luxury of being able to pick and choose our dive of the day.
I say this because for this shot I prefer the natural light on the bow of the Thistlegorm around late afternoon.
On a regular Wrecks and Reef trip you would expect to be doing your deepest dive on the Thistlegorm first thing in the morning.
However as I said we’d planned for this, and had decided to forego the days earlier dives, just so we could easily do a deeper dive at this stage in the day.

These are some of the things worth considering when planning for Wreck Photography, and something I look at more closely on our Wreck Photography itineraries.
Some wrecks look better at certain times of the day, and so this knowledge is very important, when planning your shots.

So already you can see that a successful outcome stands or falls on the planning.
This doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to get great shots of the bow of the Thistlegorm at different times of the day, it’s just that in this case we had the luxury of choice, because of the easy day we had decided to have earlier.
So all worth thinking about.

How do you envisage the shot?

Ok, the next thing we had to discuss was what the shot was going to be, and did we both want similar shots.
This is because we needed to plan our positions, initially we decided that I would get in position at the bottom of the anchor chain for the first shots, with Shelly modelling in position close to where the anchor chain exits the starboard side.

To add a bit of a focal point I gave her a torch to hold and we agreed that she would point it at the chain itself and then down towards me after a minute or so.
So she is going to be around the 18 to 20m mark to start with, and me in position at the bottom which is around the 30m mark.
I don’t need to remind you that you can’t hang around forever at 30m even on Nitrox.
To save bottom time faffing with the camera, I had already put my strobes into position and taken a couple of test exposures on the way down the anchor chain, this way I would be close to my correct exposure settings, as I took up my position at 30m.
This is a good time saving habit to get into for all sorts of shooting scenarios, often a subject may be on he cards, but for various reasons you can’t shoot immediately, maybe some one is there shooting already and you’re waiting in line, so use the time wisely, and set things up for the shot ahead of time.
Another good reason for doing this, is that even on Nitrox, you may not be as clear headed at depth as you would be shallower, this may not just be narcosis, but will probably be the extra task loading you will be under.


Your buddy’s turn at the picture is just as important.

Alright, I’ve got my shots in the bag, what next? Shelly’s turn now.
To maximise my opportunities, I had asked her to descend down the line towards me, and I took a few more shots as she loomed larger in frame.


As Shelly descended down the line towards me I took a few more shots of her as she loomed
As Shelly descended down the line towards me I took a few more shots of her as she loomed


I then ascended the chain, and took her place in the modelling position at around the 18m mark so that she had the opportunity to get similar pictures. As we passed I relieved her of the modelling torch.
During all this we fine tuned our positions with the time honoured positional signals of “up a bit, down a bit” etc etc.
So after we had got the shots which took in total around ten minutes at the start of our dive, we had then planned to have a general poke around the bow area and the anchor winch, and current pending, venture amidships, but no penetrations this time.

We had a lovely time, and returned to the line with a few nice shots in the bag.

Relative Experience Levels

Things you must consider though, are your experience and familiarity of the wreck in hand. With this particular wreck Shelly and I must be close to being into triple figures with, and along with nearly twenty years of diving together for work and pleasure, we are confident in each others abilities,and also in our knowledge of the Thistlegorm

Your dive experience, and the depths you will be going to. Also your buddies experience must be factored in, if you are much more experienced, don’t take it for granted that they will be fine, put yourself in their fins.
Likewise if they are more familiar and experienced with the site, then listen closely to their input, but make sure they understand that you may not be as comfortable with the place and the orientation as you are.
Very good communication is the key to all this.


Listen to the briefing very carefully

This was an ideal day, re current and visibility, so you will have to listen carefully to the main dive briefing from your guide regarding currents on the day.

Make a plan B if the currents change or are stronger than anticipated, not worth risking your well-being or your buddies,for the sake of a shot.
Agree to both have the option to abort, no questions asked, this will have the added benefit of reducing pressure on either of you, which will usually result in a more photo conducive atmosphere.
Alright in part two I will look at diving a wreck using a specific model, and also including factoring diving with a couple of other photographers shooting the same scene and model.
Whilst safely managing the shoot.

If you’d like to come on a tailored photo workshop with me, and explore these subjects more closely then please check out my upcoming trips page here.