Monthly Archives: May 2016

  • Underwater Photography - A Masterclass

    There was a time when great underwater photographers, the likes of Chris Newbert, David Doubilet, Jeffrey Rotmann, Roger Steene and Norbert Wu, published coffee table tomes of their wonderful photographs, but nowadays, few people buy this type of book. When National Geographic sheds its full-time photographic staff, it indicates what dire straits the publishing business might be in.

    The digital revolution has changed underwater photography, and now everyone wants to take their own pictures and share them on-line. It has become remarkably easy. Ocean Leisure Cameras can supply the hardware for you to do this, from a housing to accommodate your iPhone, the remarkable yet tiny GoPro POV cameras, easy-to-use compacts like the Olympus TG4, the Olympus E PL7 or even a submarine housing for highly sophisticated DSLR.

    In the wake of this digital revolution, a plethora of underwater photography gurus has sprung up promising to reveal the differences between photographing through water rather than air, and the solutions to that, whether it be wide-angle or fish-eye lenses, light balancing filters or underwater lighting.

    Some of these gurus are self-styled and not necessarily very good, but marine biologist and underwater photographer Alex Mustard is the modern master of what he does, and willingly reveals to others, by way of escorted photo-safaris, how he does it. Instead of producing just a coffee table book of pictures, he is more didactic in his approach, disguising his superb photos in this book as demonstrations of how to do it, or rather as an inspiration to others to have a go themselves. It’s a master class and it’s stuffed with information.Underwater Masterclass cover

    The text is written in an informal and chatty style. Unlike many how-to-do-it books, it’s not full of pretentious twaddle and demonstration pictures covered in arrows. Nevertheless, he’s covered every aspect of the subject and filled its 190 well-designed pages with examples of exceptional underwater photography that any diver with a camera would wish to emulate. In fact, they could represent the modern day acme of any underwater photographer’s achievements.

    That said, it makes a good stand-alone read. For example, the chapter on Close-focus wide-angle starts, “A mantra for successful underwater photography is “Get close. Get CLOSER!” This is such essential advice that some photographers even have it written on the backs of their housings.”

    Underwater, wide-angle lenses are not used for getting more in. They are used for getting closer without cropping anything out.

    At the start of a chapter entitled ‘Big ideas for small subjects,’ he writes, “Some photographers look down their noses at macro photography, mistakenly believing it lacks the creative art of wide-angle.” Again, Ocean Leisure has a range of macro (close-up) and super-macro lenses.

    If you are already satisfied with the pictures you are producing underwater, buy this book and let your envy work wonders for you. If you have never taken a picture underwater, buy this book and get persuaded you can do it, too. In the age of digital photography, it’s easy. With the Underwater Photography Master Class, the secrets are out and you can buy a copy from Ocean Leisure Cameras!

  • Know What Your Computer Tells You!

    Depth and Ignorance Can Kill. Was it the lure of depth, his lack of awareness of how deep he was, or the inability to understand his computer? According to witnesses at a Cayman Coroner’s Court, Victor Crawford, a 62-year-old diver from Alabama and passenger aboard the Cayman Aggressor, had dived to a depth of 95 metres whilst using nitrox with a maximum operating depth of 33 metres. Health Services Authority pathologist Dr Shravan Jyoti said the cause of death was seawater drowning as a result of ‘nitrogen toxicity’.

    Mr Crawford went missing in March last year during a group dive before divers from Ocean Frontiers, a well-known Cayman technical diving operation, discovered his body. His death had been the subject of controversy when the ambulance took more than an hour to arrive at the East End dive shop to where he was recovered and then left without the body.

    Although witnesses said that the deceased was an experienced diver, Department of Environment deputy director Scott Slaybaugh said the case involved “a series of actions which were significantly hazardous and far beyond the standard of safe diving practices.”

    These included leaving the group to dive alone and ascending rapidly without making the decompression stops mandated by his computer.

    Coroner Eileen Nervik read statements of four witnesses to the case, before the jurors deliberated and came to their verdict of misadventure. (Abridged from the Cayman Compass)

    There’s a feeling of instant camaraderie among the passengers on a liveaboard dive boat because it’s in the interest of everyone on board that nobody has an accident. However, you don’t usually know everyone beforehand, neither do you know their levels of diving skill.

    A diving computer in time-keeping mode. A diving computer in time-keeping mode.

    We will never know what the true circumstances of this tragedy were, but it is likely the casualty did not read or was unable to understand what his computer was telling him. Clear calm water can be seductively dangerous.

    The water at Ras Mohammed, a wall  at the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai, can be incredibly clear . The water here is said to be around 600 metres deep so you don’t want to drop anything. It’s so clear in fact that you can be misled into going deeper than you intended

    We might have all done that but imagine swimming alongside that steep wall of Shark Reef at 30 metres deep, breathing nitrox 32, and seeing one of your fellow divers in distant perspective way down below you?

    What to do?

    Already the dive had not been going as planned. Our dive guide opted to take the rest of the passengers in another direction and I found that as a former dive guide, I’d somehow been co-opted into leading this small group.

    We had intended to drop in at Shark Reef and swim round to Jolande Reef but the current was intense against us that we were all working hard at making any headway at all. Then suddenly I noticed this member of our group down at great depth.

    The water was so clear I could see that he was wearing a tank marked as containing nitrox just like mine so I took the risk of passing my maximum operating depth and hurtled down as fast as my ears would allow to signal to him to check his computer and follow me back up. He had been at almost twice the operating depth for the gas he was breathing.

    Imagine my horror when only a few minutes later he was back down at more than 50 metres deep, swimming along happily oblivious to the danger he was putting himself in.

    I swam down hurriedly again, thinking that it would be my bad luck if it was me that got an oxygen hit in the process of rescuing this diver who was totally unaware he needed rescuing. Again I signalled in an extremely animated way that he should look at his computer, pointing at his mask and then at my own computer that by now was singing a merry tune thanks to exceeding the maximum PO2 I had previously set on it. It was this moment at which he responded by offering me a naked wrist that indicated he was not wearing a dive computer.

    What an idiot. I was furious and took his arm firmly, dragging him back up to the apparent safety of 20 metres. I didn’t let go of him for the rest of his dive. Where was his buddy? It was his teenage son who’d obviously given up on his father and was swimming above us with two other divers, in the shallows, trying to conserve his air against the hard finning he was doing.

    I was angry to say the least. I kept thinking that this person whom was known to me only because we were on the same liveaboard boat, had forced me to take risks with my own health and seemed oblivious to that fact. On the other hand, had he gone missing it would have ruined the trip for everyone on board.

    Eventually, after a precautionary extra wait at 6 metres (since I had no idea of his dive actual profile and mandatory decompression stop requirements) we broke the surface at which point I emphasised in no uncertain way, “Nigel, if you forget to put on your computer, you must go back to the boat and get it.”

    If your computer was to display this, would you know what it meant? If your computer was to display this, would you know what it meant?

    His reply was unprecedented. He said in a quite matter-of-fact tone, “I decided not to bring my computer because it had stopped working. It went into SOS mode on the previous dive.”

    There are some fabulous new computers available at Ocean Leisure and the staff will be pleased to show them to you. However, they cannot demonstrate the core function of a computer without being underwater with you!

    Please read the instruction manual of your diving computer. Although you may always use it in No-stop diving mode, be aware what the display looks like should it go into Deco-stop mode. It will show a stop depth and either a total ascent time or a stop-time or both at this time. Don’t ignore it. Your computer will help keep you from danger, but only if you’ve read the instructions and fully understand its display.

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