Caught in the act!

It’s not often that I get to see photos of myself whilst I’m taking photos underwater but Mark Webster sent us some pictures taken of me taking this picture from our recent trip with him!

This is my picture of the Scad fish…

And here are Marks pictures of me!

Many thanks to Mark for these.

Underwater Photo Workshop – The Brothers liveaboard

Well, after one exhausting week back at work I’ve finally got around to writing a little review of our recent trip. It was off to Hurghada, Egypt for a 1 week summer break (booked with oonas divers) aboard the MY Blue Planet 1. Destination: the Brothers! For those of you who haven’t heard of the brothers, they are two small islands in the middle of the Red Sea. They can only be travelled to by liveaboards (much fewer diving boats is always a good thing).

The real appeal of the trip for us was the photo workshop. We’re total Photo-workshop-junkies now, whenever we book a diving trip we try and make it a photo workshop of some sort. It’s not so much that I want to buy photo teaching (although that always comes in handy), what we are actually aiming to buy is piece of mind that the diving will be specifically photo oriented and tailored to the needs of photographers. Although Mike doesn’t actually take photos underwater he’s just as much (if not more) a fair-weather sort of diver. The groups are usually smaller (to accommodate all the huge camera rigs!) and the diving usually a lot more flexible. More time to do your own thing, several dives on the same divesite and a much more relaxed swimming pace ;) No more chasing a manic dive master for 45 minutes nonstop for us!

This workshop was run by Mark Webster. We went on Mark’s trip to Indonesia last year and it was amazing! He’s a really nice relaxed and easy to get on with guy. His wife Suzanna wasn’t with us unfortunately on this trip so there was just the crew of the boat, the dive guide Ashraf, Mark and ten of us. The workshop was very informal. If we had questions Mark was on hand to help. Also, Mark gave a daily presentation on various themes such as wide-angle, macro, wrecks and capturing the character of marine life.

Despite having vowed to never fly on Excel airways again (after the last time) on the flight out we got there 10mins before checkin opened and they were unusually nice to us! We didn’t get charged extra baggage, probably because they didn’t feel the weight of our hand luggage or see how much stuff I’d get stuff into my new photographers jacket! The plane was nice, although we knew in advance that they charge you for *everything*, even water, so we’d stocked up on food & drink before we boarded. We met up with Mark (and a few of the others) at the departure gate. We were actually sitting next to Jeff on the flight out – what are the chances of that!? Anyway, 5hrs passed relatively quickly and we were soon stuffing ourselves into a tiny minivan for the 30 minute ride to the dock. We stayed moored at the dock overnight so we could wait for the Egyptian authorities to give us permission to set sail in the morning.

The first dive was a check dive at Sha’ab El Erg (a.k.a Dolphin reef) unfortunately we didn’t see any dolphins so I was forced to take photos of Mike in his new ‘wing’ ;) !

It was the first time he’d taken it for a spin and he seemed very proud of it.. We originally bought it to save the weight of his stab jacket (BCD) but with all the metal clips and everything on it I think that it was perhaps a rouse to justify the purchase as it only saved perhaps ½ a kilo! Apparently it gives much more freedom of movement around the arms. I think I like to have stuff in my BCD pockets too much to switch though.

The rest of the first two days diving were close to Hurghada at a place called Abu Nuhas. There was no real current and the visibility was quite good. It was all wreck diving though (apart from the night dive which we didn’t do and they saw loads of Spanish dancers – damnit!). I like wrecks but probably not as much as the next man. After two days of wide-angle (shooting with my Tokina 10-17 fisheye in a big dome port) it was quite glad we moved on. Here are some shots I got of the Carnatic and the Ghiannis D:

Having said that I did like the glass fish inside the Carnatic!

We sailed away to the Brothers. As moored up at little brother and I was glad I’d brought my sea sickness pills!

This little guy accosted me as we jumped in the water, two shots and he was off. Just proves it’s a good idea to preset your camera to some sensible settings before jumping in!

I switched to macro but on the promise of possible sharks I switched back again. No sharks though :( Suzanna saw some, but she fins like a divemaster and I had no chance catch up with that action. I think this is her and Ethan speeding into the distance!

We stayed at little brother one full day (and night) and an early morning dive the next day. In the brothers they never do night dives so it was pretty much 3 dives per day (or less) for the whole trip. The current was much worse than we are used to dealing with at both islands (but that isn’t hard as we don’t really like currently dives at all). Also, diving from a rib with a huge camera is a bit of a game. There was one lovely dive at big brother by the pier, straight off the back of the boat, just me and Mike (everyone else had sped off in the rib to dive the other side of the island). No current, quite shallow, nice and relaxed. Everyone else soon cottoned on that there was a non-currently, photo friendly opportunity and the rib was then undersubscribed in the afternoon.

The last dive day was spent back closer to Hurghada again at Gifton Island & Gotta Abu Ramada. This is back in range of the dive boats (and where the picture at the top of this post was taken). Lovely macro diving though. I filled a whole gallery of just Christmas tree worms! We also saw a great octopus that sat and posed for me (see below).

Also, something I’ve never seen before, schooling puffer fish! The ‘ride of the valkyries’ music popped into my head as soon as I saw them all coming towards me!

As seems to be tradition on photo workshops there was an informal end of week competition, this time we were all asked to submit two underwater photos which would be judged by the crew. Congratulations one again to Valerie for winning with her shot of a cute little Nemo. Here she is taking her trophy.

Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of Valeries winning shot to display. :(

I was very pleased to be second AND third! Here are my two submitted shot.

All the photos in this post shot above the water were shot by Chefdude with a Canon EOS 1D Mark IIn & EF 85mm f/1.2L, and all shot below the water (unless otherwise stated) are taken yours truly with a Nikon D300 in Subal housing.

The full underwater gallery for this trip is here: http://www.pbase.com/suzy_walker/the_brothers_liveaboard_2008

All in all we had a great trip with a lovely bunch of people! Hope you enjoyed this review.

Christmas tree worms in the Red Sea

Christmas tree worms, Spirobranchus giganteus, are usually found in coral reefs in tropical waters. According to various google sources the colourful plumes are used for passive feeding on suspended food particles and plankton in the water. The plumes are also used for respiration.

They anchor themselves with a tubular burrow bored into live hard corals. Though the plumes are visible, most of the worm is inside its burrow and are very sensitive to disturbances, rapidly retracting into the safety of the burrow at the slightest passing shadow. They typically re-emerge a minute or so later, very slowly, to test the water before fully extending their plumes.

The Christmas tree worm are polychaete ciliary feeders that feed using their radioles, the hair-like appendages that circle outward from the central spine, to catch phytoplankton floating in the water column. The food is then passed down the food groove by the feeding pinnules (ciliary tracts or tiny hair-like extensions on the surface of cells that generate water currents to move food or mucus). The food particles are sorted and larger particles are discarded. Sand grains are directed to storage sacs to be used later for tube building.

References & further reading… http://marinebio.org , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirobranchus_giganteus

Ok, the thought of a worm is not all that appealing but hey, they are really cute and come in all different colours! I’ve decided to devote a gallery to them on my photo site! http://www.pbase.com/suzy_walker/xmas_tree_worms

Some are more in focus than others – I was using a 60mm macro lens, would have been better with a 105! All shot with a Nikon D300. Click the images to see lager versions. They are all from our recent trip with Mark Webster to Hurghada & the Brothers with Oonas divers. The photos from the rest of the trip will hopefully be processed and uploaded shortly :)

Photo Friday – ‘Tools’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ‘Tools’

I don’t know about you, be we Londoners like to put neon lights around our tools and stick them on the south bank ;) Here is my photo of a concrete mixer.

Click image to go to see alternate sizes.. and the rest of the gallery.

See all the other photo Friday entries (and submit your own) for ‘Tools’ here.

To see my other London Images click here.

Photo Friday – ‘Minimalism’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ‘Minimalism’

This is the stairway at the MoMA (museum of modern art) in New York.

Click image to go to see alternate sizes.. and the rest of the gallery.

See all the other photo Friday entries (and submit your own) for ‘Minimalism’ here.

How to set up a Subal ND30

I’ve written this how to guide-to get primarily for my own use as an ad memoir but I thought I’d post it here in case anyone else is having trouble. When I took my subal to Cebu, Martin Edge had to show me everything. So I’ve jotted it down here from what I can remember. This is my disclaimer.. these are my own personal notes so if you chose to use them and your camera floods please don’t blame me.

EDIT: One piece of info that I forgot to mention (thanks for pointing that out Peter). I always take the strap, the little rubber eye piece and plastic LCD screen cover off the camera before putting it in the housing. The little eye piece should just click off if you push it upwards. Apparently the pressure caused by these things can cause a flood.

I have a 60 macro flat port lens and a fisheye (with gear & extension ring) for my Tokina. This is how I set them up. I may update this account with pictures in June so take this as an initial draft.

Firstly, make sure you’re in a nice dry environment (I always did this in my room at Cebu). And make sure no one will interrupt you otherwise you’ll end up missing a step and flooding it :(

Back of housing:

  • - Open Subal housing with heal of hand, push down & twist (this is how I do it because I haven’t the strength in my thumbs).
  • - Take out baseplate and attach it to the camera (by the tripod screw slot) with a coin
  • - Drape flash head over the edge of the housing
  • - Turn Subal Housing on/off switch to ‘On’
  • - Of the two knobs on the left hand side – switch the larger one to auto focus, Flick the smaller button up to ‘M’ for Manual Focus
  • - Switch the camera to manual focus
  • - Switch the camera on and remove the lens cap!
  • - Place camera into housing (on baseplate spokes) & flick down baseplate switch to secure
  • - Put flash head into hotshoe on camera and make sure its pushed in firmly until flush with the hotshoe
  • - Test switches (on/off & turn focus to C or S)
  • - To remove the o-ring, run thumbs over main o-ring until it pops out at the bottom or top.
  • - Clean the groove with a cotton bud
  • - Clean & slightly grease o-ting & check for little bits of grit or hairs or anything that might cause a leak!
  • - Place o-ring back into the groove at the top & push gently into place with thumbs
  • - Wait a few moments to make sure the o-ring doesn’t pop back out at the bottom (Ive seen this happen and it causes a leak if you don’t notice this)
  • - Clean the lid of any grime & place in position
  • - Click into place with two clips (with palm of hand or knuckles or thumbs)

Front of the housing:

- A flat port (like the 60mm macro port) is easier to put on before inserting the camera. A dome pot (like the Tokina fisheye) or a port for a lens that needs gears is possibly easier to put in place with the camera already inside.

- 60mm macro flat port

o Lightly greasy o-ring.

o Place back onto port by thumbing the o-ring back into the groove rather than stretching the o-ring back over (they stretch eventually anyway & need replacing).

o Hold the port so that the subal logo is at the nine o’clock position

o Place the port onto the housing & turn until you feel it drop into place

o Then push down hard & twist until locked into place (the Subal logo should now be at 12 o’clock at the top of the housing all being well)

- Fisheye for Tokina

o Put camera into housing (as described above)

o Put the extension ring onto the front of the housing (follow the instructions for the 60mm macro port above)

o Place the gear ring inside the housing onto the lens. Push it down into a position so that the teeth of the gear turn when the side knob is set to manual focus (this autofocus/manual focus knob is misleadingly named in this case. I am using the lens on auto focus but the manual focus level is zooming my lens for me).

o Once you can turn the lens with the knob you know the gear is on correctly.

o Grease the o-ring of the fisheye port.

o On mine there is no subal logo to line up but when properly attached the larger shades on the port should be at the top & bottom. So put the large shades at 9 o’clock & twist until it drops into place. The push hard & twist until the shades are at the top & bottom. One thing to note, be careful when twisting these that the extension ring is still locked into place with the logo at the top (and not twisting with the fisheye).

Ta da! Now go and watch for bubbles in the dunk tank before taking it diving! And try not to leave it unattended.

EDIT: see other posts in my ‘Subal Housing How To’ category for strobes, 105 VR lens and any additional updates… here

Photo Friday – ‘Difficult Shot’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ‘Difficult Shot’

This pregnant pygmy seahorse was the first one I’d ever seen. It was tricky for me because he (yes he, the fathers have the babies!) was only 1 cm high and at 18 meters down his camouflage was so good I could hardly see where he was on the red fan. Also sea horses have a tendency of turning away their heads. I had to have perfect buoyancy because I could not lay on the reef (obviously). Oh, and I was using someone else’s camera (since I’d flooded mine earlier in the week). All in all I was pleased with the result :)

Click image to go to see alternate sizes.. and the rest of the gallery.

See all the other photo Friday entries (and submit your own) for ‘Difficult Shot’ here.

Photo Friday – ‘Professional’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ‘Professional’

Even on my hand they were tickly! I thought I’d leave the white banded cleaner shrimp teeth cleaning service to the professional!

Click image to go to see alternate sizes.. and the rest of the gallery.

See all the other photo Friday entries (and submit your own) for ‘Professional’ here.

Photo Friday – ‘My Little Secret’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ‘My Little Secret’

She is a secret keeper doll.
This photo was originally taken for the Thursday challenge on PBase of “Something Sinister”. I always thought I could have done a better job at making her sinister, more dramatic lighting or camera angles perhaps. The idea was there but, as with all of my entries to the Thursday challenge, it was rushed :( They announce the theme late on a Tuesday (too late for me to see it before work finishes) and we are expected to have thought of, photographed, processed and posted our pictures by Thursday. So if I’m busy on the Wednesday night it often ends up as a 5 minute photo & process in the morning after my shower, which isn’t really a good recipe for a great photo. Hey ho.

Click image to go to see alternate sizes.. and the rest of the gallery.