I’ve been taking photos underwater nearly as long as I have been diving. I started with second hand kit before I felt brave enough to invest in a new camera of my own, and then when funds allowed expanding my set up to include lenses and finally strobes. I had stuck to the type of photography that was best suited to what I had, so mostly macro and close up (this also worked well for me as I do a lot of UK diving in less than amazing visibility).
When I started with twin strobes last year I read a couple of Duxy’s blog posts and got some advice from the Dux Soupers on facebook. This was a great starting point but I quickly decided I wanted to learn more and thought now was a great time to book a photo trip and Duxy’s seemed like the obvious choice. I have heard him speak on a couple of occasions and between that and the blogs I knew his style would match what I wanted from a trip without being intimidated.
So using the lure of an open deck and multiple dives on the Thistlegorm I talked my non photography buddy (& partner) into booking the trip.
The pre-trip communication was great, and I would say it fills you in on everything you need to know and what to expect. But I will fill you in on one little extra you need to know – don’t take an untested housing away on a photo trip, it only leads to disappointment! We had the most amazing check dive at Shaab El Erg, a dolphin showed up almost as soon as we hit the water and spent time with every diver during. I was kicking myself for not having a camera with me but the silver lining was I got to spin and play with a dolphin. The bonus of a photo trip is that there are plenty of photographers catching the action and I was gifted with a lovely picture of me and the dolphin.
I knew when I booked exactly what I wanted to focus on during the trip – I wanted to improve my wide angle shots, work on strobe positioning and settings, and camera settings to improve colour throughout images.
The diving was great and the atmosphere on board was different to any other liveaboard I’ve been on. The atmosphere that Duxy, the guides and crew create is so relaxing. The diving is still taken very seriously but the calmness on board helps ensure you aren’t rushing with camera gear and making any errors that could be costly.
I took more photos on this trip then on any other I’ve been on, about 60% more than my last Red Sea liveaboard. Now this isn’t to say I got 60% more keepers, it just means I was listening – “take lots of photos, tweak settings in small increments and don’t give up”. I really enjoyed the process of working towards a shot I was happy with.
The talks gave me a fantastic step by step process of how to approach things underwater and I found I enjoyed committing this to memory very rewarding. And I learnt so much every day, not just from the talks but through one-2-one sessions, small group sessions, or a quick pre-dive challenge. All these had such value when you were then very quickly able to get back in and try out what you had learnt. I also found listening into other people’s one-2-one time really helpful.
At the start of the week for me this was about getting the background blues just how I wanted them and then tweaking the strobes to get to the foreground colour I wanted. I spent lots of time with not necessarily the most interesting of subjects over the first couple of days, committing this process to memory and it wasn’t boring, just satisfying to find it was pretty easy process to follow and get results.
Not only did I learn from Duxy but others on the trip were willing to share what they knew. This really added to the experience. One of the more experienced photographers agreed to buddy up with me for a dive on the Thistlegorm to play with off camera strobes, which was very kind of him. We spent the majority of the dive on the starboard side of hold two. It was amazing how much you can look at in such a small area. I then watched as he set up the strobe and we then took it in turns to take a couple of shots and then swapped to tweak the settings before having another go. It was such fun to try out something new and even if my results weren’t the best they were mine and I had as much fun trying as succeeding.
From this I learned to stretch myself further and experiment more. So the following morning as I didn’t have an extra strobe to use I tried with my video light in a similar position. I wasn’t happy with the results but it suddenly struck me I could use the light in a different way and set it as if it was a headlight on the truck.
Having multiple dives on the Thistlegorm was fantastic and learning to plan out the dive with a desired shot in mind helped me get a lot more out of my diving and photography. I found myself being more assertive with my buddy saying I wanted to ensure we got to a particular part of the wreck and then letting him have free rein. It also meant I wasn’t too demanding of him to model for me all through a dive, which made him a little more willing when I was asking.
I think the most difficult thing for me was to change my mind-set from wanting to capture a species to really looking for a picture. Once I had this worked out in my mind I found it easier to stop snapping and consider the elements of my pictures. The joy when that fish moves into frame is fantastic.
Duxy works with the captain and guides to make the most of sites and weather conditions. This meant we had a very special night dive on the Ghiannis D (a first for me) and then two days at Gubal Island. The Barge is a great site for photography given how shallow it is and the variety of species. With the freedom of the open deck there was plenty of time to practice and for experimentation.
I learnt that it’s well worthwhile to try something even if you don’t think you will get a result straight away. Sometimes it works, like playing with slow shutter speeds and second curtain flash which I had a lot of fun with. Other times the results are the first step on a journey towards achieving the shot.
One evening several of us got in before sunset to attempt split shots. It had been a cloudy day and coupled with wind that would be pushing us towards the reef and the added challenge for me of a wet wide angle lens I knew this would be a challenge. So I was very pleased I managed to get a picture that included; above, below and the boat! I know it’s not the best photo and I won’t be hanging it on the wall, but it’s the first step and I can try again in the future.
Our final dive was back at Shaab El Erg, we were dropped on the outside of the reef to drift back. I had been trying to capture sunlight beams earlier in the week and between clouds and lack of success I thought this might just be a step to far for me. With the sun now bright, beautiful coral shallow on the reef and equipped with the ‘how to’ – I tried again. It really is worth the effort to keep trying.
So I got more out of this trip than I was hoping or planning for. Not only did I improve my photography, there was the added extra of some lightroom lessons and I made some great new friends.
And as for my non-photography buddy he really loved the flexibility of the open deck which meant we could make the most of the dive sites. We were lucky enough to dive the Thistlegorm, Ulysses and the Barge without seeing another diver. You can’t pay for diving like that and it wouldn’t be possible without the generosity and flexibility of the crew and guides.
This article was originally published by Scuba Travel