Stuart Gibson

Duxy’s Winter Warmer – March 2016

 

 

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I have been diving for around 20 years and been taking underwater photographs for nearly as long. I started with film cameras and moved to Digital in 2006. It used to be a rare sight to see a diver with a camera; nowadays most divers have some sort of underwater device for capturing images. Over the years I have had the pleasure of diving all over the world in many formats. From Quarries in the UK to livaboards in Indonesia.

As the years go by I have become more and more particular when it comes to how I spend my precious moments underwater. I suppose I’m a little selfish and spoilt when it comes to diving.

What I mean is I value my time taking pictures hugely and I want to spend it how I want to spend it; not necessarily how a dive-center or guide wants me to spend it. Now don’t get me wrong, I respect the work guides do, it can be tough, as they have to deal with all levels of diver and maintain control and safety at all times. However, being in a huge lumbering group, trawling up and down a reef at a rate of knots, scaring the wildlife away and unable to properly stop and take in the environment is not my idea of fun.

So when I pick a diving trip it becomes more and more of a challenge to find something that allows the dive freedom I need in order for me to take my time, look at the environment carefully and work on my photography without constantly being ushered to move on.

 

 

 

Spending time with a subject or returning to known subjects to ‘have another go’ can lead to great behavioral opportunities.

“Spending time with a subject or returning to known subjects to ‘have another go’ can lead to great behavioural opportunities”

 

 

Enter the Photography Workshop!

A haven for like-minded underwater photographers, as well as non photographers who just want to do their own thing under water. The dive freedom on a workshop is extensive, not only are dives completely under my own control but sites can be dived several times which enables me to build familiarity and revisit subjects for ‘another go’ or to try shots at different times of the day and in different light. I need time on my dives and Photography Workshops give me that time.

This was my eighth workshop in as many years but my first with Duxy and I was keen to see how his trips compared to others I had been on. I’d been to Egypt many times so knew what to expect from the diving and sites in general.

 

 

 

Being able to dive at ideal times of the day to get a pre-planned shot. Here it’s to position the sun behind the coral as it came up in the morning (07:30)

“Being able to dive at ideal times of the day to get a pre-planned shot. Here it’s to position the sun behind the coral as it came up in the morning (07:30)”

 

 

 

I booked up and was immediately pleased to find out we were flying with Easy Jet who allow unlimited weight allowance on hand baggage. This, for me, is a godsend due to the excessive amount of camera gear I take. I shoot with a DSLR with a range of lenses; I also take my laptop (invaluable for reviewing the day’s shots and discussing images and techniques with others). My housing is a Subal and I am reluctant to put any of this expensive kit directly into the hold for fear of damage or loss. It weighs quite a bit so the easy jet allowance is a great advantage.

 

 

 

 

Large dome ports such as the one used to take this split shot are heavy. Luggage allowance is always a concern. A more relaxed approach to dive freedom also contributed to this shot. It was taken at the end of the dive and I surfaced well away from the boat with this image in mind. The guides were not concerned as they are used to photographers and this type of behavior.

 

Large dome ports such as the one used to take this split shot above are heavy. Luggage allowance is always a concern.
A more relaxed approach to dive freedom also contributed to this shot. It was taken at the end of the dive and I surfaced well away from the boat with this image in mind. The guides were not concerned as they are used to photographers and this type of behavior.

 

 

Dive kit is also heavy stuff; throw in some more camera gear, strobes and spares etc. the hold weight soon adds up too. Therefore buying additional allowance is also a good move for me. I also upgraded to Nitrox as multiple dives a day (up to four if you want to) would take its toll on my deco time. All this was sorted during booking and the Scuba Travel team are well versed in the needs of the underwater photographer. Duxy also sent out some pre-trip information and a brief questionnaire to help him better understand my camera set-up and photography interests and that all-important “what do you want to get out of this trip” question.

Having met up with a few folk at the airport and some basic introductions the journey to Egypt was typical and we were soon on the boat. A mixed group both in diving experience and camera types. Some compacts, some mirrorless bridge type cameras and a couple of DSLRs. Everyone was friendly and chatty as we sorted our stuff out and got our bearings. Kit was set up and we were ready for the off.

 

 

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Time, time, time. The shot above was set up over three minutes. First getting the exposure on the coral, then aligning the boat (which still wasn’t quite as I’d want it) and then some luck as I waited for a diver to swim over me. Three minutes is a long time underwater and for non-photography buddies who don’t like to hang around it can cause frustration and disagreements. On a photo workshop it’s normal.

 

I was using a new system, I’d owned Nikon DSLRs and Subal housings since 2006 I had just upgraded my housing for my D7200, Nikon’s latest mid range DX camera which I’d used for about a year on land. I was keen to exploit its low light capabilities underwater and I knew we would be diving some wrecks. I also had a few shots in mind that I wanted to try on the wreck of the Thistlegorm. One shot I had seen had been taken by Alex Mustard. It was of a BSA M20 motorcycle found on the wreck, he had backlit it using two off-camera strobes. I was familiar with off-camera lighting and wanted to try the shot for myself. This is exactly why photography trips work for me as I would have struggled to get this shot any other way due to a couple of factors.

1. Other boats and divers on the dive site – photography trips recognise that photographers often need space and clear scenes with few other divers around disturbing the silt and getting in the way of the shot. Therefore the diving itinerary takes this into account and the crew go where the other boats aren’t .

2. Organisation, this sort of shot requires the cooperation of other people (Duxy and Reda the excellent dive guide and model) to help set it up from start to finish. Using one dive to work out the shot and the next to execute it. At 22 meters I needed to work fast to set up and get the shot.

 

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“A dive on the Thistlegorm with Duxy. With his knowledge of the site he was able to take me straight to the bikes. Although I’d dived the wreck before I was nowhere near as familiar with it as he was, it would have taken me a while to get my bearings”

 

 

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“This was the sort of image I had envisaged. Having planned it from the previous dive, I discussed it with Duxy and Reda. We all went down: I positioned the off-camera strobe behind the front wheel and Reda posed. I took 30 shots and this was number 23. I had about four others that I was happy with. Setting up the strobe, getting the lighting right plus the composition and the model takes time. At 22 metres time is ticking away. The previous dive was invaluable for speeding this all up.”

 

 

This would be more difficult to arrange on a day boat out of Sharm. Even on a normal livaboard the diving would most likely follow a set routine and getting this shot would involve a lot of negotiation with the guides. On photography trips everyone is geared up to help you get the shots you want. The trip worked well for me. I dived 17 times on nine sites. I dived the wreck of the Thistlegorm four times and ‘the barge’ five times. The itinerary was fluid to accommodate weather but the crew made some great choices and certainly got my vote.

 

One other Red Sea wreck well worthy of a visit which was not necessarily on the original itinerary is the Giannis D.

 

An old favorite wreck of mine, the Giannis D. This classic shot involves swimming off the wreck a little way. A standard guided tour is unlikely to go here.

“An old favorite wreck of mine, the Giannis D. This classic shot involves swimming off the wreck a little way. A standard guided tour is unlikely to go here”

 

Diving with no other boats on the site gives shots without unwanted divers in the shot or disturbing the silt. This gives time to work on a shot and get the best from it

“Diving with no other boats on the site gives shots without unwanted divers in the shot or disturbing the silt. This gives time to work on a shot and get the best from it”

 

 

 

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“Diving with no other boats on the site gives shots without unwanted divers in the shot or disturbing the silt. This gives time to work on a shot and get the best from it”
Other sites offered unique opportunities too, the beautiful ‘BBC bommy’ – a recently discovered pinnacle used to film a documentary.

 

 

 

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“BBC bommie pictured above, Only 4-6 divers at a time allow for ‘clean’ diver free shots if desired. There is plenty of space to take it all in and spend time circling it and various depths”

 

 

The barge, a shallow macro rich site. Easily navigated with an equally accessible lagoon nearby. Explored and enjoyed over multiple dives with opportunities to repeat shots and improve.

 

 

 

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“The ‘Barge’. A site with an abundance of macro opportunities. Dived five times including a night dive. Ample opportunity to see what other people were finding and heading back in to get your own shot”

 

 

 

Dolphins were found on the first check dive where a solitary male spent 20 minutes with the group and I was fortunate enough to have an encounter at the surface with over 40 dolphins with close encounters of quite a few for over five minutes.

 

 

 

 

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“Four of the 40 plus dolphins I had the pleasure to be with at the surface”

 

 

 

Once the diving was done for the day the photography fix could continue if you wanted. I enjoyed comparing techniques with others, discussing subjects and styles and just general chatting about photography over a few beers and dinner. Duxy did talks and presentations most nights for those who wanted to learn more and he was always on hand to help with technical issues of all kinds. His knowledge of such a range of cameras was commendable.

Being able to dive to my plan, setup complex shots, work on ideas and discuss techniques with others is what I enjoy about these trips. I always learn something new and improve my photography.

 

 

 

 

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“Dives were typically around 60-70 minutes. Longer dives were fine in most cases so long as you let the crew know you were likely to be out longer and there were no issues with the itinerary.This shot was taken at the end of the dive whilst I was doing my safety stop. A smack of jellyfish floated by so I added a little to my dive to pick up a couple of shots. No dramas and completely relaxed”

 

 

 

For me underwater photography is about combining a set of circumstances that put me in front of a subject or scene that I can take a picture of. Those circumstances need to be such that I get the best possible odds of achieving what I want. That means learning to dive well and being comfortable in the water, having a suitable camera and, most importantly, getting the time in front of the subjects. It is this last part that makes photo workshops so valuable to me. Having the most expensive camera in the world with nothing to point it at is not going to get very good pictures.

I will continue to use workshops as part of my diving schedule. Although slightly more expensive initially, they actually work out to be excellent value for money in terms of cost-per-hour underwater and the photography potential they offer.

Other workshops are available ?

 

Stuart Gibson

 

If you’d like to see what Cat Briggs and Gennady Elfimov thought of this trip please go to the main blog heading please click here, where you can click through and read their impressions.