In a couple of weeks it’s time to get ready again for my annual trip to the Bahamas and to enjoy some warm sunshine to burn away the blues of this exceptionally grey and wet winter. The plan is to stuff my gear in two suitcases, weighing not more than 10 and 23 kilo’s, if I follow the baggage limits of Delta airlines. No diving bags or backpacks, but two Samsonite rollers, a smaller carry-on suitcase with the fragile camera parts and lenses, and a larger check-in suitcase with the camera housings, maintenance kit, domes, 5mm wetsuit, regulars fins, mask, snorkel and personal items.
Left: map of the Bahamas with the major shark sites marked as yellow dots (Tiger beach, north of Grand Bahama, Bimini at the left, and Cat island at the lower right at the edge of the deep water of the Atlantic Ocean)
This year’s trip will my 7th in a row of visits to the Bahamas. Two years ago I started to document my addiction to these beautiful islands and their magical sharks in a number of blogs. That was on 24 April 2016, Oct 9 2016, February 9 2017 and March 3 2017 respectively. I’m afraid that much of this article might be rumination of older stuff, with little news for those that have read the earlier blogs. Never mind, since I find it always it pleasant to unload my preoccupation with an upcoming major diving event and try to insert some new material.
The trip Easiest and most economical are flights from Amsterdam to Nassau with a stop-over in Atlanta. Nassau is the ideal hub for local airlines like Bahamas Air, Sky Bahamas, and Western Air to visit Bimini, Grand Bahamas (West End) and Cat island. These islands are presently the top three for UW photographers in search of big sharks. Winter is the best season to meet tiger, lemon and Caribbean sharks at Tiger Beach, north of West End, as well as the great hammerheads at Bimini. Spring is best for the oceanic sharks at Cat Island (see also the map above) These locations can also be visited with a live-aboard, like I did six years ago with Jim Abernethy’s Shear Water, crossing the Gulf Stream from Palm Beach to Tiger Beach (see also Jeb Corliss recent impression of this site taken with a new 360 deg. camera). But I now prefer the more comfortable resort-based operations, using day trips to reach the nearby shark sites.
Baiting and more The sharks from the Bahamas are always willing to pose for photographers. Sharks don’t do that spontaneously. Just like doggies, they appreciate little snacks, in particular bits of tuna, grouper or even mahi-mahi handed out by dive master from his metal box. We should not call this feeding but baiting, it’s not the quantity than counts but the incentive quality. Unlike feeding, baiting will not interfere with the normal feeding behavior of sharks and not lead to a shark frenzy. Nor are there any signs that baited sharks may endanger diving or non-diving visitors in the vicinity.
Wild animals tend to lose their natural fear for humans, once they have learned that they bring not danger but something tasty. For example food is also effective to attract very shy predators like wolves. In the new documentary film Jane Goodall describes how after her initial frustrating attempts to make contact with the chimpanzees in Gombe, placing some bananas in their territory did the ‘trick’ and made it much easier to approach the chimps from a very close distance. Later she discovered that she had to restrict the supply to prevent the chimps from scavenging and becoming too obtrusive. There is also a negative side of wild animals getting too familiar with or coming too close to humans. One is that they may become an easier prey for hunters or poachers (just think of the tragic faith of two socks the wolf that befriends officer John Dunbar in the film Dancing with the Wolves).
Another example of (un-intended) ‘baiting’ of predators are wild boars or even grizzly bears scavenging through garbage boxes at the outskirts of towns or villages. Probably a sign of their shrinking territories by the ever-expanding human settlements. Then there is the constantly growing number of tourists visiting beaches adjacent to territories of the Great Whites in Australia, which may lead to potentially dangerous interactions, when these apex predators mistake surfers for their natural prey.
Shark bites and tourism In our crowded cities many vulnerable pedestrians or cyclists are hit daily by motor vehicles. Recent statistics show that more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. But such accidents normally receive much less public attention than an occasional shark bite, because they are regarded as an inevitable part of modern society. In contrast, certain media are still obsessed by reporting bites or even 'nearly bites' of sharks. Just type the word shark bite on Google to check out for yourself. Sharks do not feed on humans, but may indeed accidently bite an arm, leg or foot of someone swimming with no protection in deeper water, or when a diver gets too close to baited sharks. Two years ago a Dutch producer of adventure documentaries was bitten in the shoulder when he moved into a bunch of baited Carribean sharks at Bimini, but later proudly showed his injuries to the media. Which of course contributed to his reputation as the brave shark man. Unfortunately, not only risk seakers but also the greater number of tourists arriving in the Bahamas with cruise ships may increase the probablity that someone gets bitten by a shark.
Bahamas two-step That said, let’s now look at some more pleasant sides of the shark trips. A new option of some scuba operators is to combine two trips in succession to different islands with different sharks. After three days of shooting hundreds of pictures of tiger or lemons sharks, one tends to get saturated. It is then great to move to another location of the Bahamas visited by an entirely different species. There is only one restraint, the season. End February is ideal (also weather wise) to combine Tiger Beach with Bimini. End March is OK to ‘do’ Bimini (end of great hammerhead season) with Cat Island (start of Oceanic season).
Last year we did a combined Bimini/Tiger beach trip in February with Sean Williams of Neal Watsons crew from Bimini. This year the same type of operation is run in reversed order (Tiger beach--Bimini) by Vincent and Debra Cannabal of Epic diving. An airline called Flamingo Air now runs daily flights with a twin engined Beech99 aircraft between Bimini and Grand Bahamas. Overall, the local flights at the Bahamas are pretty safe, except that this Beech99 had a crash landing at South Bimini in August 2016 caused by the right wheel collapsing during landing, luckily with no injuries. So better carry your rosary with you on these flights (-;
What lens and combo With so many different sharks at a close distance, conditions are optimal for nice shark portraits. But for each type of shark there is that very specific moment that will make your shot unique, and to match the ideal image you might already have in your head. Although perhaps not the most spectacular species, I always find the Carribean shark a great target because of if its elegant torpedo shaped body (see the front page for example).What camera lenses should one take along on a Bahamas trip? For shark snapping that would be a wide-angle or fish-eye lens. I normally take the Ikelite D7200/Tokina 10-17 combo and the smaller Olympus EPL5/PT-EP10. On the Olympus set I use either the 8mm Lumix Panasonic or the Olympus F1.8 8 mm lens with extension ring. I further use the less bulky 5 inch and 4 inch mini domes, and the same set of Ikelite sub strobes DS 161 on both combos. The strobes are connected via electrical cords with the Ike housing. On the Oly housing I use fiber cords triggered by the internal flash after fitting Ikelite optic converters # 4401.1 on the strobes. The reasons why I still have the old EPL5/PT-EP10 combination are that it is light and small, and that I cannot yet see the advantages of the more sophisticated models in the Olympus OM-D range. My little Oly is ‘multipurpose’ since I can also use it for macro shooting with a 60 mm Olympus lens and +5 Subsee diopter screwed on a 4 cm extension tube (not for sharks!). With sufficient sunshine, I take both camera’s down to the sharks. I use the Ike with strobes to start with, and leave the Oly with filter on the flat sea floor for ambient light shots at the end of the dive. There is a risk though that a tiger shark at Tiger Beach may steal your camera on the sea floor; such things have happened before!
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row
Bob Dylan (1965)
Stories of legendary sea creatures such as mermaids have existed since ancient times. Mermaids share much with the sea and river nymphs, with one exception that nymphs don’t have fish-like tails but legs. Both mythical creatures have always fascinated writers and pictorial artists. Not only physically –they are almost always young, beautiful, long-haired and enchanting- but also for their mysterious and contradictory characters. In some legends mermaids appear as dangerous, fatally attractive, or even as agents of evil. In other, they are loveable and sweet but tragic because of their unfulfilled, often doomed romantic ideals.
Left: William Waterhouse, Mermaid
Perhaps even more important is the mermaids two-sidedness, fluctuating between two extremes: sweetness, purity, and love on the one hand and monstrous cruelty, when offended. Their unpredictability perhaps also contributed in creating their image of autonomous ‘free spirits’: independent and untouchable creatures of the sea.
Why is mankind so fascinated by mermaids? Is it because we once lived in the sea in a distant evolutionary past, when our feet and hands had not yet evolved from primitive caudal and pectoral fins? Looking at mermaids we perhaps recognize traces of our own ancient past and the essence of our own existence. Some might say that mermaids and nymphs are ‘nothing but’ male projections of dreamlike female creatures. Symbols perhaps of both men's idealization and fear of women. Mermaid tales often circulated among sailors deprived of contact with women for long periods while they traveled across the big oceans, sometimes even mistaking manatees for mermaids. The two sides of mermaids, loveable and frightful, also fit with the two faces of the sea: sometimes peaceful and then cruel and dangerous.
Even in modern times the mythical mermaids have a strong appeal to the world of commerce and advertisement. Mermaids have even have become a role model for transgender girls and women. Just like like ’mermaiding’ is now a form of modern escapism, with monotails scoring high as ‘must haves’ for owners of private swimming pools Women can now even join mermaid schools where they are trained in breath-holding, free-diving and swimming with the awkward and potentially dangerous tails. Professional mermaid models are often capable to hold their breath for three minutes, allowing underwater photographers to shoot along while the model changes pose, occasionally interrupted for short gulps of air form a hookah regulator. Hannah Frasar (alias Hannah Mermaid) is such a professional mermaid star that combines mermaiding with ocean ecology activism. Sadly, some of the less fortunate and probably also less experienced models have paid for mermaiding with their lives and drowned. Possibly trapped by the clumsy tail, resulting in panic and inability to reach the surface.
Transformations of the mermaids image. The earliest classical visions of mermaids were negative, and very different from the modern more positive and romantic vision of the mermaid as a tragic heroine. Just remember how Odysseus the hero from Homers epic poem the Odyssey escaped the Sirenes, notorious for their enchanting but fatal singing that lured sailors to jump in the deadly currents. On the advice of the sea-witch Circe, Odysseus instructs his sailors to plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast while approaching the island of the Sirenes. This is how he and his crew survived the deadly birdlike sea nymphs living on a nearby island on the rotten remnants and bones of the male victims of their deadly songs.
Only recently, in the 19th century, romanticism transformed the negative image of the mermaid, when her unstable and capricious character became a virtue rather than a dangerous trait. Most of the mermaid ballads had their roots in Ireland, Danmark, and Germany. Not only romantic writers and poets but also painters like Arthur Rackham, John William Waterhouse, and Gustav Klimt found their inspiration in the tragic and mystical side of mermaids and sea nymphs. Here follows a selection of the most famous tales from that romantic period.
Irish mermaids The beautiful songs of the Merrow-maidens, sea-fairies from Irish folkore, were meant to lure men to them – just like the Sirens of Greek mythology. The Irish were suspicious of these sea fairies, who could be violent or friendly by turns. Tales of violence (such as pulling the arms and legs off of their victims) were not uncommon. Interestingly, merrows were only able to live in the sea with a special magic cap called a cohuleen druith. Sometimes the merrows became married with men from the land.
The little mermaid (Den lille havfrue) is perhaps one of the most famous and saddest Danish fairytales (written by Hans Christian Andersen) about a young mermaid who is willing to give up her life in the sea and her identity as a mermaid to marry her human lover, a prince she had once observed while swimming along the coast. The story is full of tragic episodes. The price the little mermaid has to pay for having legs (by drinking a magic potion) is the constant pain as if she is walking on sharp knives when she walks or dances with her prince. The little mermaid will die with a broken heart when her lover marries the princess, and dissolve into sea foam upon the waves.
Disney’s famous Hollywood movie version of the little mermaid named Ariel had a happy end but met mixed criticisms. Some felt that ‘Ariel is a fully realized female character who thinks and acts independently, even rebelliously, instead of hanging around passively while the fates decide her destiny.’ But others described her as ‘a .. denatured Barbie doll, despite her hourglass figure and skimpy seashell brassiere’. Ariel even seems to have become a role model for transgender girls.This raises the question why? It cant be the wish to change her sexual identity because the mermaid remains a female even with legs, but now better equipped to please her male idol. It was her love for the Prince that made her wish to change from humanoid to human.
Ondine Even more dramatic is the mermaid ballad of the beautiful water-nymph Ondine, a folk-tale written by the French poet Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. His story must have also inspired Andersen in his little mermaid writing. It starts with the prophecy: if a nymph ever falls in love with a man and bears his child, she will begin to age like a mortal woman, losing her eternal youthfulness and everlasting life. The sea nymph Ondine (=little wave) has no soul. Only by marrying a man and bearing a child she can obtain a soul. After falling in love with a handsome man, Ondine gets married and gives birth to their son. From that moment on her beauty began to fade, a reason for her husband to return to his first love Princess Bertha. On meeting her former lover again on the day of his wedding to Bertha, Ondine speaks her curse: ‘You pledged faithfulness to me with your every waking breath and I accepted that pledge. So be it. For as long as you are awake, you shall breathe. But should you ever fall into sleep, that breath will desert you.’ So her lover was doomed to stay awake forever, or sleep and die by suffocation. A respiratory disorder that results in respiratory arrest during sleep is also known as Ondine's curse
Loreley and the Rhine maidens The ballad of Loreley was composed in 1801 by German author Clemens Brentano. It tells the story of the beautiful Lore Lay who, betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and drowning her lover in the Rhine. But rather than sentencing her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way to her destination, she comes to the Lorelei rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. When she is up the rock, she thinks that she sees her love in the Rhine and falls to her death; the rock still retained a murmuring echo of her name afterward. Lore Lay then becomes the legendary of a siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracts shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks. The German poet Heinrich Heine wrote the poem „The Lore-Ley“, in 1824. The Lorelei ballad was set to music in 1837 by Friedrich Silcher and is today one of the most famous German Rhine songs.
The Rhinemaidens are the three water-nymphs who appear in Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Wagner probably was inspired by the Loreley saga in creating the Rhine nymphs. They are the guardians of the Rhine gold and act essentially as a unity, with a composite yet elusive personality. Their initial attributes are charm and playfulness, combined with a natural innocence; their joy in the gold they guard derives from its beauty alone, even though they know its latent power. However, this veneer of childlike simplicity is misleading; aside from proving themselves irresponsible as guardians, they are also provocative, sarcastic and cruel.
Sources and links:
De zeemeemin. Vincent Kouters. NRC 12 Januari 2018.
Underwater caverns, caves and tunnels come in many varieties – from freshwater springs to volcanic island walls and limestone coasts, to Antarctic icebergs and coral reefs. Many of these locations offer scuba divers enclosed spaces with a mysterious although potentially dangerous attraction. Deeper caves are not for the weak hearted divers, and certainly not for the claustrophobics. It depends of course on the amount of confinement: the shallower caverns in general have sufficient orientation points, often with patches of blue at the entrance or end, or light beams breaking through crevices and holes in the ceilings. But penetration in the interior mazes of deeper tunnels and caves is a different story: more for the brave, well trained adventure and risk seekers.
Types of caves Seawater caves come in two varieties, littoral caves and submerged land caves. Littoral caves are created by erosion: the constant action of waves attacks the weaker portions of rocks lining the shores of oceans. Many of these can be found along the coastline of Mediterranean and its smaller islands. Related to these littoral caves are the tunnels and caverns found in coral reef formations in the open sea, where movements of the sea have caused openings, passages and crevices in the more fragile parts of limestone beds or dead coral. An example are the caverns of Fury Shoals and Shab Claudia in the southern Red Sea. These caverns and swim-throughs have become a hot spot for UW photographers eager to capture the light beams breaking through cracks and holes of the ceiling of the caverns (see picture on the frontpage).
Submerged land caves Other underwater caves were originally land caves that became partially or completely submerged through rising sea levels over thousands of years. Most of these caves are formed in limestone rock where calcite (calcium carbonate) is the main mineral. Here nature’s scenario followed five big steps that reflect the coming and go of successive periods of climate change: 1) acid rainwater dissolves the limestone, carves caves and tunnels deeper below and subsequently fills the network of caves and passages 2) water drains out of the cave through lowering sea level and/or tectonic lifts, 3) stalactites and stalacmites are formed in the now dry caves by leaking rainwater, and 5) rising sea levels through melting ice submerge the caves again with salt water. Caves with ceilings higher than sea level were partially flooded, leaving some remaining air space.
At some locations underground river systems entered the caves and tunnels with sweet water, mixing with high density lower salt water layers. An example are the Cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula where the spectacular underground rivers formed a vast labyrinth of passageways and tunnels, flooded with crystal clear water. Some of the partially air filled cave ceilings became too thin to hold their own weight, collapsing and creating sinkholes or natural windows as entrances to the underground river system. In these sink holes divers can experience the halocline, the boundary where the shallower fresh water on the top mixes with the sea water below resulting in amazing mirror and light effects. It is said the Cenotes were once used by the Maya Indians for sacrificial offerings. Recently the worlds-longest-underwater-cave-system of 347km (216-mile) was identified at the Yucatan peninsula. This connects the Sac Actum cave with the Dos Ojos tunnel complex. Probably this once was the Maya's metaphorical underwater world to which the cenotes formed the entry.
In the Yucatan cave systems the sweet water of the underground rivers mixes with the salt water layers. But other caves, for example in Florida, contain only sweet water produced by underwater rivers. Florida’s best diving caves are hidden in the northwestern corner of the state in Ginnie springs. This complex of caves and tunnels is fed solely by freshwater springs that flow through mazes of limestone passageways. The springs have the reputation to offer strange sights of underwater chambers—fossils, stalactites and sunlight beaming in from holes in the cave ceilings.
Grand Bahama has the second largest underwater cave system in the world, with over 32,000 feet of mapped tunnels (see Bens cave). The caves were formed during the last Ice Age when the sea level was much lower, leaving most of the Bahama banks that are now covered in water high and dry. In the subsequent meltdown the sea level rose again and the caves were reclaimed by the sea. Another notable example of a submerged saltwater cave is the Cosquer Cave located in the south of France near the Calanques of Marseille. The entrance to the cave is located 37 m (121 ft) underwater, due to the Holocene sea level rise. The cave contains some miraculous prehistoric rock art engravings. It was discovered in 1985 by and named after diver Henri Cosquer, but its existence was not made public until 1991, when three divers became lost in the cave and died. During the glacial periods of the Pleistocene, the shore of the Mediterranean sea was situated several kilometers to the South and the sea level up to 100 m (330 ft) below the cave entry.
Hazards, apparatus and training Good buoyancy control, trim and finning technique help to preserve visibility in areas with silt deposits. This counts for all caves including the more friendly and shallower caverns. As said, penetrating in the deeper caves and tunnels is more for technical divers trained in procedures to survive in the dark and dangerous submerged labyrinths. Often a guide line (permanent or temporary) between the dive team and outside of the flooded cave ensures that divers follow the correct routes. Regular cave divers carry redundant equipment: for almost every piece of equipment they carry a spare. This is to make sure that if something undergoes failure, there's a replacement to take over and allow a safe return to the surface. It could include extra lights, an extra mask, regulator, safety line, or a piece of equipment that ensures a diver's survival, like an oxygen tank. Many cave divers use side mounted cylinders that facilitate switching tanks and crawl through narrow passages. Rebreathers are sometimes used for longer bottom times and to avoid bubbles. Cave divers are also trained to control situations like getting out of air, avoiding stress and panic, navigating with zero visibility, swimming back to the entrance of the cave. Helping and freeing a buddy that gets entangled in a safety line etc.
The friendly caverns More shallow and divers friendly caverns have become a ’special’ for UW photographers*. They require shooting with natural ambient light with your ISO cranked up (say to 6400), large apertures and possibly also lower shutter speeds. Here UW photographers try to capture the light beams breaking through gaps in the ceiling, preferably cutting the interior in diagonal angles like cathedral lights. A diver on the background, perhaps aiming a torch could be an interesting subject to fill up the scene. The major concern in caverns are divers getting too close to the floor kicking up silt, which means the end of visibility. A snooted strobe can be fine to create a special lighting effect, for example to light up a colorful branch of soft coral at the entrance of the cavern, without affecting its background.
Sources and links:
The Cave Beneath the Sea: Paleolithic Images at Cosquer by Jean Clottes and Jean Courtin (1996) Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York ISBN 0-8109-4033-7 English translation by Marilyn Garner from the French edition
*Underwater Photography Masterclass. Alex Mustard. Ammonite Press, 2016, chapter Chapter six.
After returning from my (20th?) visit to the Red sea, I here like to share some of my reflections on the trip. This was not an UW photo workshop, so the emphasis was more on diving than on making UW pictures. I must confess that over the years diving has become less important for me: I rather see it as a condition for making pictures than a purpose on its own. UW photography also requires different underwater skills than diving as a sportive event. Which implies that typical diving hazards like strong currents, navigating in murky water, and visiting deep wrecks are not my favorite and even have become a reason to skip a dive.
Our itinerary went a.o. via Shab Abu Nuhas, Ras Muhammed, Jackson reef, Thistlegorm and the 'tile wreck' Chrisoulis K. The majority of divers on our live-aboard Whirlwind came from the UK on a trip organized by Scuba Travel in London. This meant pleasant company and lots of laughter and jokes on the upper deck between the dives. The essence of which I (a Dutchman) was no always able to follow. Regular diving trips often imply that individual divers follow the group and swim around a lot with insufficient time for the UW photographer to lag behind on interesting photogenic spots. Nevertheless, the dive masters on our trip were aware of this problem and permitted me and Jack Bernstein (my diving companion from the US) to dive apart from the group. At the end of the trip Subatravel had arranged for our group one overnight stay in the Hurgada Hilton hotel prior to our flight home. Here we enjoyed free drinks and meals, and were entertained with a never ending stream of classical music (mostly Mozart) flowing from the loudspeakers of the lobby and pool area.
Diving trips in the Northern Red sea are different from those in the Southern Red sea, where shark encounters have become the primary target. Compared with my trips in the early 90-ties, the recent explosive growth of tourism and an the diving industry in northern Egypt does not seem to have substantially changed the conditions of the Red Sea reefs. The only nuisance perhaps being the more crowded dive sites where several live-aboards are often lined up along the reefs. With Ras Muhammed leading the list of favorite and busy sites.
Egypt is still a country with a majority of underpaid or poor citizens. The military regime is often critisized by Western democracies, but probably also guarantees that tourists can still travel safely and enjoy their vacations in the Red sea area. In the past Egypts prosperity and resources depended largely on the river Nile, the reason why the Greek historian Herodotus called Egypt a “Gift of the Nile". Now, almost 2500 year later the Nile and its agricultural benefits seems to be not the only gift that the Gods had in mind for Egypt. Modern tourism industry has developed into the most important sector in the economy, in terms of high employment and incoming foreign currency. This not only includes historical attractions in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, but also the Red sea resorts and diving trips. Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh now collectively boast over 90,000 hotel rooms and provide jobs for half a million Egyptians. In the south, Marsa Alam is following the trend with similar wide scale investments. Charter flights allow citizens from various European countries, including Russia and more recently China to fly in to Hurghada in -say- five or six hours to profit from its relatively cheap hotels, resorts and splendid beaches.
The investment of billions of dollars spent in the last 30 years building a tourism industry with world-class resorts, beaches and hotels also created an awareness in Egyptians to protect the Red Sea’s fragile marine ecosystem. A single major oil spill could indeed cause economic disaster. In the northern Red Sea such could happen with oil platforms within striking distance of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh. Luckily the deep waters in the central Red Sea basin prevents building rigs further from the coast. But more to the north, in the shallower waters of the Gulf of Suez, Egypt’s main oil producing area accounts for 80 percent of the country’s oil production. Over 180 offshore platforms siphon oil from the gulf’s maturing sub-sea fields, their gas flares illuminating the night sky.
The northern Red Sea as we witness it today, still offers interesting photogenic sites with healthy corals and many fish species moving around in their coral habitats. Lion-, butterfly-, soldier-, squirrel-, crocodile-, banner-fish and moray eels are abundant, with occasional visits of a turtle or dolphins. Not to forget the snappers, batfish, damselfish, blue spotted rays, groupers, and numerous anthias swarming along the drop offs. Sharks however have become rare visitors of the diving sites south of the Sinai peninsula.
For fish-eye shooters many of these species are ideal targets to approach from a very close distance against a blue background and with bright sunlight. The presence of divers, or the diving boat on the surface can help to enhance the perspective. This wide angle mixed-lighting technique* works very well on reef locations where colorful fishes often linger in their habitats, like a branch of soft coral expanding in the current or a stony coral table. My best pictures were actually taken in shallow water under the boat were lionfish, butterflyfish and moray eels were willing to pose for me. The boat on the surface hid the sun but kept the sunrays spreading around the silhoutte of the boat. With a small aperture and the strobes set at half power this created a pleasant contrast between the bright strobe-lit fish on the foreground and the slightly darkish blue background (see picture at the front as an example). The resulting strong light-dark boundaries give the suggestion of clair-obscur, a suggestive effect often seen in in Dutch paintings of the 17th century.
Another must for northern Red sea divers are the wrecks. Wreck dives are also a challenge for UW photographers. Our morning dive to the famous Thistlegorm wreck at Shab Ali near the SW point of the Sinai desert was quite hectic with strong currents and low visibility on the wreck. The greatest challenge of visiting the Thistlegorm are the motorbikes and lorries, and swarms of smaller fish inside the holds. Another series of sunken ships can be found north of Shab Abu Nuhas closer to Hurghada. Here four wrecks are lined up in sequence: Ghiannis D, Carnatic, Chrisoula K. and Kimon M. A strong wind and high waves made it difficult to approach Chrisoula K. in the small ribs. A reason for the captain to cancel further visits to the wrecks and head for reefs closer to the coastline.
Overall, my feeling is that despite the beauty of the Red sea's underwater world, its diving hazards should never be underestimated. Strong winds, currents and high waves can create difficult conditions, especially for UW photographers carrying heavy equipment. When the big boat is not able to approach the diving site, a bumpy ride with the ribs is the only option. Climbing aboard a rocking dinghy after handing over camera and gear to the skipper in moving seas is certainly a physical challenge, but not a pleasure for the less athletic or elderly divers. The same holds for deploying your surface marker buoy at the end of a dive, while holding the camera in one hand and inflating the buoy with your free hand.
Source and links:
*Underwater Photography Masterclass. Alex Mustard, Ammonite Press, 2016.
According to recent expert reviews (see: review1, review2,review3) the new Nikon 8-15 fish eye lens seems to be a must for full frame UW photographers. The lens produces exceptional sharp images, great colors and offers a fully circular 180 deg image at 8mm (floating in a black background) as well as a rectangular 180 deg diagonal view at 15 mm. A drawback might be that zooming in between 8mm and 15 mm will show a cut off circle with black corners. Furthermore, a circular UW image may not be not everyone’s favorite, but it does promise spectacular creative images, for example when taking over under shots of a sunset above a coral reef.
Left: Tokina 10-17 and Nikon 8-15 fish eye's
Interestingly, the new lens is a 'hybrid' that can also be used on DX cameras. On the zoom ring there is white marker placed at 11 mm, indicating the recommended zoom range for cropped sensors: at 11 mm it will produce a 180 diagonal view and at 15 mm a 110 deg diagonal view (which is about the same range as the Tokina 10-17). At values lower than 11mm the image will show a cut off circle with black corners. That's because the DX sensor is 1.5 factor smaller than that of a full frame FX camera. So 10mm and 15 mm on a DX camera would be equivalent to 15 mm and 22 mm on a full frame camera respectively.
The question that remains if this new lens is worth the big investment of around 1000 Euro. DX users might say: mmm.... maybe, but only if it will yield superior pictures on my DX than the Tokina 10-17. The ‘Tok’ is a much cheaper fish eye that for many years has been the workhorse for many cropped camera fish-eye adepts. Being one of those adepts, I am really looking forward to some comparative tests of both lenses on the D7200.
Another point to consider is the minimal focusing distance. On the D7200/Tokina combo I use a 5inch Precision dome (virtual image about 18 cm) that focuses on small objects at 10-15 centimeters in front of the dome. Which is a must for those that like to take CFWA or WAM shots. On my back-up 4/3 Olympus camera with a 4 inch dome (virtual image 15 cm) the 8mm fish eye lens (and small dome) even allows me to get as close as 2 -5 cm to an object. While still preserving a nice view of the background scenery. I am not sure if a full sensor camera equipped with the new Nikkon fish-eye lense and a larger dome can match such close focusing distances.
A more general question of course is if the advantages of more expensive new generation UW systems with high resolution cameras, advanced expensive lenses, and a full frame sensor will outweigh those offered by older systems with low(er) resolution cameras, cheaper lenses and a cropped sensor. The quality of future UW pictures will give us the answer.