Ocean Leisure Diving and Photography Blog

  • The Diving Equipment Manufacturer’s Association Show in America 2016

    DEMA Report. The American annual diving trade show was held during mid-November. While in past years the event has appeared to shrink in size, I am happy to report that the leisure diving industry looks to be recovering and the show at the Las Vegas Convention Centre seemed much larger and more vibrant than in recent years. Every aspect of diving was catered for and there were many interesting new products as well as some very quirky ones exhibited. Here’s a selection. Take your pick!

    Swes Technology Dive Light. Probably the most portentous product in the DEMA show, the European-made SDL-600 dive light has no battery but is powered by seawater! Its patented energy cell using graphite and magnesium rods is said to last for 2190 hours and the lamp itself is rated to 100m deep. Electrolysis powers the 1pc CREE XM-L2 U2 producing a maximum of 1140 lumens. www.swesholdings.com

    Aqua Lung Outlaw BC, the brainchild of Aqua Lung’s Don Rockwell, is completely modular, allowing the buyer to tailor a perfect fit. It’s four main parts include a choice of two different buoyancy cells, different length shoulder straps, and waistband, all of which easily snap together. One can attach different size integrated weight pockets and the whole can be conveniently transported broken down into its constituent parts. With soft D-rings and a daisy chain loop feature for multiple ways to attach gear, it weighs only 1.8kg. I could imagine this might prove extremely popular with the travelling diver. www.aqualung.com

    Easy Dive Nomad combines a snorkel with a compressed air cylinder that can easily be switched to when the user is underwater. But it seems as if a snorkeler might too easily hold a breath taken at depth and then ascend unwittingly with a great chance of inducing an air embolism. This hazardous item, complete with Spare Air cylinder, is unlikely to be available at Ocean Leisure. www.easydive.us

    ProShot Case. Among numerous offerings of underwater housings for iPhone 6/6S and iPhone 7 at DEMA, this one interfaces with the majority of GoPro mounting accessories and for less than £100 includes a wide-angle lens. Another £50 will get you a 151° fisheye lens to increase the angle-of-view of your iPhone camera. www.proshotcase.com

    Paralenz Dive Camera. With a target price of just $599 in the USA, this precision little Danish unit starts recording as soon as it goes underwater. Watertight to 200m, it uses clever programming to adjust the white balance for color-corrected pictures according to depth. But it’s more than just a camera. The Paralenz app generates a time, temperature and depth graph linked to the recordings (either still pictures or live action) and this information can be embedded as an overlay. Combined with an iPhone, footage is shared at the click of a button and its rechargeable battery is said to be good for more than two hours use. More than 200 divers in 35 different countries have tested it. www.paralenz.com

    Buddy Watcher. Using ultrasound frequencies, this is wrist mounted unit can draw the attention of another diver, or even a group of divers if so equipped, by vibrating and flashing an LED. Its calling-distance is 80m and it represents a discreet method of keeping divers in touch with each other – provided they can see each other! www.divealert.com

    Nautilus XP and GLH. This is a tank-mounted propulsion system for divers that weighs less than 7kg and is only 43cm in length. The two small propellers of the GLH deliver 5.4kg of thrust each, enough to propel a diver for up to 40 minutes and its remote control can allow a diver to reverse out of tight spots too. The XP has a single propeller. An on-board depth-sensor will maintain a diver’s depth. Two separate battery packs are said to be a legal configuration within current airline rules. www.indigo-industries.com

    Indigo Fins. When it comes to fins, every DEMA has a hopeful company attempting to ‘build a better mousetrap’. This year, Indigo Industries exhibited a range of fins, Apex XT, Shift XT and Defiant XT, with zip-on alternative blades, both split and paddle, and variable stiffeners plus foot pockets for either boots or bare feet. Ocean Leisure customers want fins they can fit and forget. We can’t see these taking off in the UK. www.indigo-industries.com

    Polar Pro demonstrated a new submersible lighting rig for GoPro, the Triton LED Dive Tray, that includes a tray and two grips that are each equipped with a 500 lumen  video light and with batteries built in. We are hoping to have them soon in stock and they will probably sell for less than £200 each. www.polarprofilters.com

    Atomic Aquatics BC. For delivery later next year, the company known for the highest quality products regardless of cost has come up with its first and what is promises to be the most expensive-to-buy BC yet. Of a conventional jacket type, it uses an absolutely watertight material that gains no weight when wet, it has a novel camband that promises to keep a tank forever secure and it has large pockets with covered zips. I doubt if you’ll any of these stocked at Ocean Leisure. It’ll be to special order only. It might last a lifetime but at around £1400 it needs to! www.atomicaquatics.com

    iBubble Camera Drone. This is an autonomous underwater drone from France that promises to follow you on a dive and record the ultimate underwater selfie. It’s wireless, rated to 200 feet (60m) deep, and has two 100 lumen lights. It automatically avoids underwater obstacles, has image stabilization, a one-hour battery life and automatically returns to the diver who wears the control bracelet when it is out of battery life. It costs around £2000 and is available for pre-order for investors on Indiegogo, with delivery expected in September 2017. www.ibubble.camera

    Voice-in-the-Sea Narrator. If you want to add a commentary to your underwater GoPro footage at the time of shooting, the Narrator is a tube-like device that allows you to record, with a tinny Great War U-boat speaking-tube quality, directly to the microphone of the camera. It is expected to sell in the USA for around $40 but I doubt you’ll see any sold this side of the Atlantic. Available for pre-order. www.voiceinthesea.com

  • Safety Isn't Sexy!

    Seatbelts in cars, helmets for motorcyclists, smoke detectors in homes -- none of these have been universally adopted by individuals except in those countries where they have been mandated by law. Why is that? They clearly save lives. Well, frankly, safety precautions are not sexy.

    “It’s never going to happen to me.” That’s the ever-optimistic sentiment of most people. You never felt the need to have a fire extinguisher in your home until it was ablaze. The Titanic set sail with insufficient lifeboats for the number of passengers it carried. Well, it was unsinkable, wasn’t it?

    Divers might be slightly different, because whenever we break the surface after a serious dive, we have that momentary feeling of being alone in the ocean. In fact, we have abdicated our well being to the efficiency of those who are tasked with coming to find us. The foolhardy expect that task to be easy. They haven’t considered how tiny a diver’s head may look among the vastness of the ocean’s waves.

    This scenario was encapsulated many years ago by six Japanese divers who got separated from their boat in Palau. There followed a massive sea search. One woman diver wrote on her slate, “We can see you searching but you can’t see us.” They found the slate attached to her body some days later.

    Safety is such a boring subject, but the two separate events concerning lost divers reported in October in the Seychelles and Malpelo plus two more in November in Australia might have made you change your mind .

    One of the first rules of safety at sea is to stay with your vessel, but we divers habitually jump off into the unknown. What steps do we take to make sure our surface support can find us easily?SafetyMotherBuoy

    Many divers carry a bright orange or red safety sausage. Inflated, they can rise about a meter out of the water. In daylight, a boat operator with a high viewpoint and good binoculars can spot one about half a nautical mile away. The driver of an inflatable will be less able. Taller safety sausages are available, but rarely purchased by divers. Some divers carry an emergency flare in a watertight container, but if it works (and you never know until you try), it’s a one hit wonder. Rescue dyes don’t offer a panacea either. Their effect is soon dissipated in anything but a flat, calm sea. As for whistles, the noise generated by a vessel’s engines, plus wind and waves, make them almost impossible to hear. A search party in a small boat would need to cut the engine and listen.SafetySurfaceFlag

    A large bright yellow flag on an extending pole can be seen from a far greater distance than a safety sausage. The pole comes in several sections of plastic tubing that slot together and are held in place by an elastic cord that runs through the middle. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in the UK, who test many devices, found that bright yellow was the most conspicuous color at sea. Alister Wallbank, leading the team of researchers, reported, “The folding flags were by far the most reliable and cost-effective device we tested, particularly the Day-Glo yellow [flag]. It was consistently spotted at up to two nautical miles. Yellow was the most conspicuous colour, even with breaking wave crests, and could be located in deteriorating light when it was impossible to locate pennants of any other color. Red and orange flags were located at up to one mile. Two of our observers who suffered from degrees of red/green colour-blindness, had difficulty spotting these colors, particularly in intermediate light. Not surprisingly, flags were most easily located when the search heading was abeam to the wind direction so that the pennant presented the greatest visible surface area. Though of no value at night, a flag is a low-tech solution for daytime. A diver can lash a folded flag to his tank and deploy it single-handed. al1100np_800x600

    When a dozen divers went missing at the Elphinstone Reef in the Red Sea, they were finally discovered at night because some had dive lights. The divers lost at Malpelo in September carried no lights, although they went into the water late in the afternoon. They might have been luckier had they done so (two perished). So a fully charged dive light, carried and reserved for emergencies and not used routinely during the dive, should be part of every diver’s kit -- and during a predive check, verifying that it functions properly should be as important as monitoring the air supply.

  • Fantasea Line - a bit of diving history

    Howard Rosenstein was a Red Sea pioneer. He set up one of the first dive centres at Sharm el Sheikh and was responsible for promoting the Red Sea as a popular diving destination.  He even had a hand in the discovery of the wreck of the Dunraven at Beacon Rock. You can read that remarkable story in a chapter of Amazing Diving Stories.

    Next, he managed one of the first liveaboards in the area, Fantasea II. It was a top-end vessel aimed mainly at the rich American market so few British divers ever enjoyed her facilities but they often looked across the water enviously at her from the other somewhat primitive liveaboards that operated there back in the 'eighties. When Americans stopped going to that area thanks to political upheavals, he moved the vessel down to the Seychelles where he offered trips to the idyllic atoll of Aldabra. Just to give you an idea of the standard of quality of that vessel, the Duke of Westminster once chartered it as a private yacht for his family’s vacation. Eventually, Fantasea II got sold, renamed as Pelagian and continues to operate out of Wakatobi in Indonesia.

    Fantasea for Canon G7x mk2 Fantasea line for Canon G7x mk2

    But the Fantasea name lives on in a different venture started by Howard Rosenstein - Fantasea Line camera housings. Originally, Howard concentrated on supplying housings for compact Nikon cameras, cameras that did not prove so popular with divers in the UK. Now Fantasea Line produces a range of housings that suit the Sony RX range of cameras and some Canon compacts, and very good they are too. This includes an interesting option for the Canon G7X mk2.

    Fantasea for Sony RX100 mkIII and IV Fantasea line for Sony RX100 mkIII and IV

    They are robustly made and offer full access to all the controls of the cameras, plus they accept any accessory wet-lenses, both wide-angle and macro, with a 67mm mount. At a time when the falling pound is making some Far Eastern alternatives very expensive, the Fantasea Line housings make a welcome addition to the range of housings for compact cameras available at Ocean Leisure Cameras, and at the moment they cost less than £500.

    Naturally, they allow for full synchronisation with up to two strobes (flashguns) via fibre-optic cables.  One thing that becomes quickly obvious is Howard Rosenstein’s long history with the diving industry because, unlike some housings designed by people who are not actually divers themselves, all the features have been well thought-out from the point-of-view of using them underwater. Howard is a diver and it shows!

    Especially interesting is the Fantasea Line housing for the Canon G9X. This is because this camera still provides the one-touch white-balance feature that made Canon compact cameras so popular with underwater photographers in the past. Alas, Canon has chosen to omit the simplicity of this feature on later models (although white-balancing is still available but less intuitive than it was).

    Although the Canon G9X is not the most recent compact camera to join Canon’s product line-up, we believe it to be one of the most useful entry-level cameras available for aspiring underwater photographers. You can find all the information about the housing for it by clicking here.

    If you are intending to upgrade or replace an older compact camera housing that might have seen better days, it’s comforting to know that your accessories such as strobes, mounting arms and lenses have a high degree of certainty of interfacing easily with a new Fantasea Line housing

    Fantasea for Canon G9X Fantasea for Canon G9X
  • Basic Rules for Underwater Photography



    Some Basic Rules for Underwater Photography

    Make sure your camera is protected from the water, in a submarine housing, if it is not an amphibious camera like an Olympus TG4.

    Get Close - Then Get Closer Still!

    Water also upsets the sharpness of your pictures because it is never optically clear. Reduce the amount of water between you and what you are photographing to a minimum by getting as close as you can. This means using a wide-angle or fish-eye lens or an extreme close-up macro lens for sharper clearer pictures.

    Water absorbs light selectively. Red light is absorbed first, followed by green and then blue light. This means, the deeper you are the more the daylight is filtered blue by the water.

    You can counteract this in different ways.

    • Stay very shallow.
    • Stay shallow and use a filter to remove the excess blue light.
    • Adjust the colour sensitivity of your camera’s sensor by ‘white-balancing’ subject to there being enough red light penetrating to the depth you are at.
    • Take some independent white light of your own.

    Portable white light comes in two forms:

    Video Lights provide a continuous light source. The brightest video lights can also be used for close-up still photography. They have the advantage that you can see immediately the effect they produce. They have to produce a perfectly even daylight-colour light and their output is rated in LUX.

    Electronic Flash (called strobe in America) can produce a far greater amount of light but only in a very short burst. This has the advantage of freezing the action for very sharp pictures but it takes practice to anticipate the effect. You need to synchronise the flas so that it can be triggered by the on-board flash of your camera but at the same time you need to be sure that light from the on-board flash does not leak out and spoil your pictures.

    Backscatter occurs when the detritus in the water in front of your camera is lit up by either your video light or flash. To avoid that, position your light a long way from the optical axis of your camera lens. The most convenient way to do this is to mount it on an arm that is fitted to your camera tray. The wider the angle-of-view of your lens, the further the light should be from the lens or the longer the arm needs to be. Avoid positioning a light ahead of a wide-angle lens.

    Balance the foreground light that will be in full colour with the background lighting to obtain a natural effect. The shutter speed only affects the constant light whereas the f/stop setting and ISO setting affect the overall exposure. Don’t be afraid to practise. Shoot RAW files that can be adjusted in your home computer afterwards.

  • Twenty Ways to Improve Your Diving

    Most Ocean Leisure customers are experienced divers who don’t need help improving their technique, but at the risk of teaching our grandmothers to suck eggs, here are a few suggestions and, who knows? You might spot a useful nugget among them!

    Get Your Trim Right. Often, divers carry the right amount of weight but in the wrong place. Consider where the fulcrum or pivoting point of your body will be. Integrated weight pockets on a BC might be too high up on a long-legged diver. A weight harness allows weights to be slung lower. On the other hand, a diver wearing a lightweight suit and using an aluminum tank might need to add some weight higher up and, if the BC in use has no trim-weight pockets, you can always add a couple of kilos to the camband that goes round the tank. You need to be comfortably horizontal in the water without any tendency to invert.

    Deploy a Marker Buoy Easily in Mid-water. Why do so many divers make a mess of this? Is it because they haven’t been shown how to do it? If you carry a big camera, learn how to do it easily with one free hand. Buoyancy changers appear to be the main enemy of a slick deployment. Using exhaled air to inflate the buoy avoids this because the buoyant air is simply moved from one location to another. Stream the buoy so that it floats above you. A tiny bit of exhaled air in it will help keep it up. Pull off as many metres of line that is practical, so that your reel hangs below you. Take the open end of the buoy and hold it with fingers and thumb above the upper side of the exhaust-T of your regulator while holding your head a little to one side. Have the line passing through but not gripped by your hand. Exhale into the buoy. It will start to ascend. Inhale again immediately releasing your grip on the buoy and grab the reel as it gets pulled up to your hand. Release the line from the ratchet of the reel. Watch the buoy go. Tighten off the ratchet, taking up the tension on the line, as soon as the line becomes slack because the buoy will have reached the surface.

    Carry a Flag. It was recently reported that Australian diver Jacob Childs spent a worrying afternoon alone, drifting at sea, before he was picked up. Childs had an inflated surface marker buoy, which is good for being spotted over a short distance but less good when in more dire circumstances. High-tech electronic solutions need to be kept fully charged and you don’t know if they are going to work until you need them. A low-tech solution is a big flag at the end of a long pole. Three lengths of plastic tubing that fit one to another and a length of elastic bungee running through the middle snap instantly together to form a tall pole with a large yellow flag at the top. When not in use it’s carried strapped under a couple of elastic straps round your tank. If you’ve dived in many remote places, most of which enjoy powerful currents and you’ve used it in earnest you’ll appreciate its efficacy. It’s low-tech, it’s cheap to buy, it can be deployed single-handed, and once used you wouldn’t go diving without it.

    Get Your Weight Right. The human body is more or less neutrally buoyant. Take a big breath and you float. Empty your lungs and your heavy head will go under. If we didn’t wear buoyant kit such as our suits, we wouldn’t need to wear weights. If you want to get your weight right, exhale hard at the surface and the weight of your head in the air should push you down. Add an extra amount of lead to compensate for the weight of the gas you might exhale out into the water during the dive and you’re perfectly weighted. So why do so many divers wear too much weight? Is it because they are used to plummeting to the seabed and trampling around before putting air into their BCD to make it back to the surface? Neutral buoyancy is the very essence of pleasurable diving.

    Long-Hose Your Octopus. The alternate air source you carry is not for you. It’s for use by another diver, in the event of his or her own gas supply being unavailable. Rigging your alternate air-source (octopus rig) on the left side of your body will ensure it’s the right way up and easy to use by another. It takes the drama out of air-sharing. Better still, employ a long hose of about a yard and a half or more so that they can use it without any drama for either of you. You can rig this long hose in a number of ways. It will be easy to stash under an elastic strap or two round your tank, as long as you can access it easily. Some advocate passing it under the right arm, tucked under a waistband, passing it up across the chest and round the back of the neck so that it becomes the primary regulator. They then pass this over if need be and go for an alternate second stage rigged where they know where to find it easily. Whichever way you rig it, make sure it’s visible and works properly at the beginning of every dive so that you’ll know it will work should it be needed in a hurry.

    Use a Regulator Necklace. Putting your regulator on a necklace arrangement is a good idea if diving in low visibility. If the hose gets snagged on something as you pass or a buddy accidentally hooks it out of your mouth, it won’t be going very far and you can soon replace it. A necklace is a good idea for your own alternate air-source if you are using a primary regulator on the end of a long hose as your primary regulator and likely to need to donate it. You can buy a purpose-designed necklace from your local dive store or make one yourself from surgical rubber tubing.

    Take Enough Gas. It’s obvious that for the same amount of work, a bigger diver will use more gas than someone smaller. It is also obvious that a bigger diver will be able to handle bigger tanks. If you are working to get good pictures, you’ll use a lot more gas than if you are just hanging about feeling slightly bored. Don’t battle to keep your gas consumption within the same range as someone else. Start off with sufficient gas to do the dive. This might mean requesting a bigger cylinder or even twinning up a pair of what’s available, using, for example,  twinning blocks and bands.

    Use a Current Hook or Reef Hook.  It’s a fact of life that big fishes are attracted to current points. That is to say, the places where the flow of water has to speed up to get up or around an obstruction such as a reef or wreck. It can be fierce. Some of the most notable places for observing this phenomenon are also known for the absence of any living coral on the reef top due to the fact that so many divers have clung on there. A current hook, so deployed that it attaches only to substrate or a handy rock, enables the diver to anchor in place while making himself slightly positively buoyant in such a way that he flies above the coral reef rather than ruining it by lying on it or colliding with it. What is a current hook? It’s an open-ended hook that can hold at its point, attached to some sturdy line or narrow gauge webbing that is clipped to a convenient D-ring on the diver’s BCD. Some local dive guides don’t allow the use of these hooks because they don’t trust their divers to use them responsibly.

    Wear a Suit That Fits Properly. If your drysuit fits your perfectly, there will be less of a drag when you are swimming. If your wetsuit or semi-dry is too big, cold water will flush around it under the arms and around the groin so that you’ll soon feel cold. If your drysuit is too small you either won’t be able to sit down in it or you’ll be limited to the choice of the undergarment you can wear with it. If your wetsuit or semi-dry is too small, it might interfere with your ability to breathe. If you can’t find the right size off-the-peg, get one made-to-measure. In the case of a drysuit, it might mean visiting the manufacturer a couple of times in order to get it right.

    Be Well Hydrated. Being well hydrated is not just a matter of drinking lots of water. In tropical countries the fresh water supplied in plastic bottles is often produced from seawater by reverse osmosis. This makes it pure but pure isn’t good enough. We need minerals in our water supply to get benefit from it, so make a point of adding a rehydrant powder or effervescent tablet to the designated amount of water so that it forms an electrolytic drink, at least once per day when away somewhere hot. Beer is a good rehydrant because it is mostly water and contains plenty of minerals but the alcohol contained within it suppresses the production of anti-diuretic hormones and you’ll just simply pass it through -- not to mention the brain damage that it gives you too. So the first beer of the day signals that you’ve enjoyed your last dive.

    Get Spring Straps. The single most important thing that can improve a pair of fins is the substitution of a pair of stainless-steel spring straps or elastic bungee straps for the rubber straps they were supplied with. It’s not just the fact that you avoid that embarrassing moment when a rubber strap breaks as you pull your fins on and you don’t have a spare with you. Spring straps enable you to pull the fins on and off in a moment and they contrive to hold your foot firmly in the foot-pocket of the fin. There’s no wobble and all your effort goes towards propelling yourself forwards. Stainless-steel spring straps are available for every fin that has an open heel.

    Entering the Water With a Camera. You’ve prepared your underwater camera housing by gently greasing the O-rings and making sure their grooves are free from detritus, but you still feel insecure about jumping in with it. Boat crews can be helpful, but they are not camera experts and they may mishandle it. You may be required to do a negative entry because of the current. Under those circumstances, coming back after jumping in for the camera to be passed down by a crewmember might well result in your missing the dive site entirely. Whether you’ve spent a few hundred dollars or more than $7000 on a camera outfit you’ll be just as circumspect when it comes to getting into the water with it. The best trick is to hold the camera in your hand, dip it into the water and, without letting go of it, follow it into the ocean. This works whether you’re on the swim platform of a big boat or doing a backward roll from an inflatable. It may not look elegant but it works.

    Hang About and Look. There’s a new kind of diver around, rather in the same way as there is a popular style of skier. In the Alps they call it ‘en-piste’. Many divers get in the water and spend all their time swimming to catch up with the diver in front. They don’t see what’s down there. They simply complete the dive. It’s rather like a skier coming down a blue run and never taking time to examine that breathtaking view. Take you time. Have a good look at what’s there to see. Get yourself a compact digital camera. They are easy to use, offer a high success rate with macro subjects, will give you an interest in the smaller animals, and you’ll come back with a lasting memento of every dive. If the dive-guide swims onwards, they’ll soon be back to find you, especially if they want to keep their job. Often. It’s the smallest things that make a dive interesting and it’s shame to be down there, swimming on endlessly in the blue without seeing it.

    Stalk the Wildlife, Don’t Chase It! Everyone seems to have an underwater camera now, but they behave very differently with it underwater than they would if they were on safari on land. Why? Do they think they are invisible? If you see a dramatic pelagic animal, don’t chase it. You won’t get a close-up picture that way and you’ll simply drive it away from everyone else. It has seen you coming and even Michael Phelps wouldn’t be able to overhaul it. Instead, avoid looking directly at it. Marine life is tuned to be threatened by the eyes of predators. Swim to where you think it might be going. Take into account what other divers who might have seen it might be doing. They can be employed as unsuspecting beaters. ‘Head it off at the pass’. The only way you’ll get close to it is if it swims up to you. Turn yourself into an ambush predator. As old-time jungle hunters used to say, “Slowly, slowly catchee monkey.”

    Learn to Line-lay. If you penetrate a wreck or other overhead environment, you should lay line. The late Rob Palmer, doyen or early technical divers, used to say that line laying was an art. If you enter a wreck or cavern and are intent on finding your way out, it’s a good idea to copy Theseus with his ball of string. In the Greek legend, he found his way out of the Labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur. Lay it on the way in and follow it on the way out. The problem comes when the water moves -- and wrecks and caverns offer more hazards than any Greek mythological hero encountered. You can inadvertently pull a line into a place that it will snag and will not allow you to follow it back, or some other diver can inadvertently do that for you simply by the downwash of his fins. Belay the line as you go, tying it off at various convenient points so that this can’t happen.

    Get Your Kit Off Easily. When you get picked up by someone in a boat, there’s a good chance you’ll be close to what might well be a boat hazard, such as a reef with breaking waves. The wind might well be pushing the boat that way. It’s imperative that you can pass up your weights and any loose items you might be carrying, and get out of your gear in a timely manner. Inflate your BCD so that nothing will sink beyond reach. With your regulator still in your mouth and your mask and fins still in place, unclip the sternum strap and waist strap and one buckle at the shoulder. You can now swing the whole thing off your right shoulder while still holding on to the grab line of the boat with one hand. Push up from underneath to help the boatman avoid a hernia. If you have a one-piece harness with no shoulder buckle, the best thing to do it to pull it over your head. Actually, what happens is that you duck underneath it as its weight pushes you down. Keep your mask in place until you are safely in the boat. So often the mask is one of the first things that gets passed up. It makes the diver vulnerable because they can’t see what’s going on underwater and the mask vulnerable to getting broken in the bottom of the boat too.

    Learn How to Access a RIB or any Inflatable. Why is it that some younger people cannot climb easily in and over the inflatable tubes (sponsons) of a RIB from the water yet most old-age pensioners can? It’s because nobody has shown them how to do it? It’s not about strength. It’s about technique and knowledge. First choose the tube on the side where everyone is sitting. The other tube will be higher out of the water. Once you’ve passed up all your gear save your mask and fins, take hold of the grab rope (they are properly called ‘beckets’) with your hands about equal to the line of your shoulders. Take a breath and push vertically downwards as hard and fast as you can. You’ll momentarily fight your buoyancy, which will send you rushing back upwards. Fin hard at the same time to get as much upward velocity as you can. Straighten your arms, locking out, and tilt your head and chest forwards over the boat tube so that you tilt into the boat. Bring a knee up onto the tube. You’re there. Get someone to help you off with that first fin if need be before bringing the other leg inboard.

    Wear a Hood. Some people think that wearing a hood is done to keep a diver’s head warm. Well that is obviously the case and although medical men might argue about how much heat is lost through the head, your brain has an exceedingly good supply of blood and there’s precious little fat on most people’s head to insulate that from the cold water. There are other reason’s to wear a hood too, and that includes when in tropical waters. Tropical waters are rich in zooplankton and much of it carries nematocysts or stinging cells. The less skin you leave exposed the less chance you’ll have of suffering an irritating sting. Gentlemen who sport a moustache and leave plenty of stubble in place on their faces find it protects from the man-eating zooplankton too. Ladies might not have that option. Another reason for wearing a hood? When you are at the surface there’s a lot of ultra-violet light on your head and it’s reflected from the water. A hood keeps you from getting sunburned.

    How to Wear Wetsuit Boots. Why do you wear socks with your shoes? You’d probably get blisters otherwise. Many experienced divers wear a pair of socks with their wetsuit boots for the same reason. Try a pair of seamless airline socks. You know the type. They often give them to you on long-haul flights. Sophisticated socks intended for runners are constructed from two layers. So try two pairs of airline socks. Result? Luxury! Wear two pairs of seamless socks with your wetsuit boots and you won’t look back. They have the side effect of making it easy to pass your feet through the legs of your wetsuit too.

    Use a Weight Harness. Instead of strapping a lot of lead around your waist where it might ride up or slip off your hips, or instead of using an integrated-weight system of a BCD that might lead to your weights being positioned too high up your body, which in turn puts your fulcrum too far from your feet (leading to inversion in a drysuit) use a weight harness. By adjusting the supporting shoulder straps, you can wear your weights down by your hips. This not only makes carrying the weight more comfortable, but it puts the ballast where it needs to be. A properly designed weight-harness allows you to drop the lead in an emergency yet keeps it totally secure at all other times.


  • Photographing Sharks

    It’s easy to impress your non-diving friends and neighbours with the photographs you might take of sharks. Shark encounters come in a number of types: Chance encounters such as you might get ocean-roving oceanic white-tip sharks, encounters where currents attract requiem sharks that enjoy surfing on the flow, encounters with bottom feeding sharks such as nurse sharks and leopard sharks that like to lie up and rest during the day, and where sharks are feeding.

    The normal rules of underwater photography apply, in that it’s best to use a wide-angle lens and get as close as possible. Reduce the amount of water between your camera and the subject.

    Oceanic white tip shark Ocea-roving oceannic white tip shark


    Ocean roving sharks tend to be close to the surface so it’s quite possible to get reasonable pictures without an underwater strobe or flash but these are ambush predators so designed as to offer a low contrast image to intended prey. A correct flash exposure can give contrast and add drama.

    They tend to swim around 6m deep, constantly investigating anything that might be the source of a meal. That is why they approach divers, often only to turn away at the last moment when they consider us to be animals too big for them to take on. Sharks appear to judge size by height rather than length so if you want a shark to come close, present as small a frontal area as possible by being horizontal in the water. Go vertical and you will almost certainly scare off such a shark.

    Those sharks that lie about during the day such as nurse sharks can be approached with caution so as not to disturb them and you will have time to get more than one exposure adjusting the lighting and exposure to suit. The same can be said of white-tip reef sharks, although these are much more skittish. They lie about on the seabed during the day because they are able to force oxygenated water through their gills without forward motion like most other requiem sharks, but be aware that because they are grey and again designed for ambush, they need careful lighting just the same.

    Scalloped hammerheads at a cleaning station Scalloped hammerheads at a cleaning station

    Then there are the cleaning stations. Find out from the local dive guide which fish are the resident shark cleaners and find where they are aggregating. Then you just need to be patient, keeping as still as possible, waiting for the sharks to approach for a visit to the manicurist. It’s the only way to get pictures of scalloped hammerheads because they are so skittish. You need to sort out your overall exposure so that the background is reproduced an acceptable blue, adjusting the power of the flash (or strobe) to suit the foreground shark.

    When it comes to feeding sharks, things become a lot more frenetic. You need a fast shutter-speed but you will be limited to the fastest speed with which your camera will allow you to synchronise your flash.

    Sharks feed in two distinctly different ways. When chasing live prey they become very agitated and it’s best to keep clear at this time, even exiting the water. Sharks have more senses than we do but it’s a fact that they have a nictitating eyelid that covers their eyes to protect them at the moment of biting so that they virtually do the last part of an attack with their eyes closed. Mistakes can happen. Anyone who has attended a night dive at Manuelita Island near Cocos will attest to the fact, it can be chaotic, and that’s when it’s only little white tip reef sharks start hunting small fished by the light of the divers torches. Bigger sharks can explode with energy when they sense a live prey.

    White tip reef sharks competing for live prey at night. White tip reef sharks competing for live prey at night.

    On the other hand, when sharks sense there is a meal of carrion to be had, they are much more leisurely in their approach. There are no vibrations of injured or dying fish to excite them or ring their dinner bell, just the odour of an easy meal wafting on the ocean currents. So they tend to swim round in an orderly manner.

    Staged shark feeds such as they often do in the Bahamas and some parts of the Caribbean will give any diver witnessing the event that sharks, although impressive beasts, have a pecking order and act in an orderly manner so that they do not risk injuring each other. They still move quite quickly so you will still need to choose the fastest shutter-speed you can, in order to get sharp pictures. If you do not, the flash will record a sharp image but there will also be a less sharp ghost image due to the daylight exposure being too long.

    Using twin flashguns can also be counter-productive because those guys in the grey suits need a bit of contrast to light them up with plenty of shape and contour. It’s one occasion when the single flashgun reigns supreme.

    Caribbean reef shark at a staged shark feed. Caribbean reef shark at a staged shark feed.

    With plenty of sharks attending a staged feed, you won’t be able to judge where any are at a given moment. You’ll need to take a lot of pictures because inevitably one animal will obstruct your view of another, many times when you release your camera’s shutter. If you shoot RAW files, you’ll be able to adjust these after the event and not have to keep adjusting your flashgun’s output to account for sharks being at different distances from the camera.




  • Talk About Tank Valves!

    We divers are creatures of habit. We like to do things the way we always have. Instructors who teach their trainees exactly what their instructor taught them exacerbate these habits. Outdated techniques and theories are handed down like gospels. Sometimes, a better way presents itself, but there is often a reluctance to step off the well-trodden path into the undergrowth of a new experience.

    Take the tank valve. It’s like a water tap. ‘It’s lefty loosey, righty tighty.’ One shouldn’t need to know more than that. However, with a tank valve, you’ll want it either fully open or fully closed. This is where old habits can interfere with good practice.

    Back in the day, tank valves could jam if they were opened too far. Older divers were taught to open the valve all the way and then close it a quarter of a turn. All well and good if you are precise in your habits, but what of the diver who does that and then forgets he’s opened the tank and closes it by mistake, turning it back open a quarter of a turn? His air supply will be uninterrupted at the surface, but as he goes deeper, it will become harder and harder to breathe. If he’s lucky, he’ll see his pressure gauge drop to zero on each inhalation before returning to the full-tank position. If he’s unlucky…well?

    Today’s tank valves don’t jam in the open position, so open the tank all the way and leave it there. When you want to shut off the gas, close it all the way. No half-measures, no quarter turns, and you’ll stay safe.

    If you are using higher percentages of oxygen, you should know to open a tank valve cautiously, especially the O2 tank on a rebreather. A sudden rush of oxygen could cause a fire.

    Also, do you give your regulator dust cap a blast of air to dry it after a dive? That’s no better at removing water than using a towel, and it is exponentially noisier and can be harmful to the well-being of a person standing nearby, by startling them. Furthermore, that blast may actually drive water droplets into the uncovered first-stage of a regulator -- now you have to service it -- or dislodge the O-ring of a tank suitable for use with an international A-clamp. Using a towel can save you from scrambling around your dive boat, looking for that missing O-ring.

    These outdated habits regarding tank valves simply refuse to die. Changing the habit of a lifetime can save your reputation as a serious diver, maybe even save your life.








  • Electronic Flash (Strobe) or Video Light?

    Photography techniques continually evolve. Back in the ‘sixties when I first started life as a photographer, lighting for photography was directly developed from lighting for movies. Huge spotlights of 2000 watts and more were called ‘brutes’ because they could really hurt you. Smaller ones were called ‘pups’. Little 500 watt spots were called ‘inky-dinkies’ because they produced so little light. Camera exposures were long, in the order of a second or more. Live subjects had to keep very still.

    Lighting men wore heavy gloves and needed to be very muscular. The lights themselves produced a huge amount of heat, which meant ramifications, especially with food photography because the subject would literally cook under the lights. Enterprising photographers got round this by substituting mashed potatoes for ice cream, painted ball bearings for peas, and so on. No wonder the contents of food packaging never looked like what was shown on the label!

    Flash was limited to expendable flashbulbs, some as big as household bulbs, which came at a cost. Then reliable electronic flash was invented and the likes of David Bailey and modern photographers of the ’sixties never looked back. Of course, it needed a lot of skill to use because you could not see what you were getting until the film was processed.

    This was paralleled in the underwater photography world. Pioneers used big flashbulbs because the batteries needed to fuel big constant light sources were impractical.

    Eventually, underwater electronic flashguns (sometimes called strobes) became reliable and small enough not to encumber a diver already with a big camera. Electronic flash became ‘de rigeur’ for underwater still photography. Shooting video was different. You needed a constant light output.

    Bulb and battery technology was such that as recently as 1992, I was taking a video rig into the water that weighed more than 100kg thanks to the huge ni-cad batteries for the lights. It often had to be derrick’d into the water. Even so, the lights were not bright enough to be effective over more than 75cm distant and totalled only 400 watts.

    bigblue_big_2Times change and technology develops. Today you can buy a 15,000 lumen LED light that weighs less than a kilo including its battery. At the same time, underwater electronic flash (strobe) has become quite tiny compared to its light output. Obviously, you need a constant light source for recording live-action, but which is better to use for still pictures?

    Well, we don’t have to wait for our film to be processed to see results thanks to digital technology. The results appear instantly on the LCD screen of the camera the moment an exposure is made. So what are the differences?

    Electronic flash, even in a small package, can deliver a very high output, more even than that 15000 lumen light, in a very fast burst, freezing the action. A set of four small batteries with last for hundreds of exposures.inon_s2000_1

    However, you need to have some idea of what you are doing. This comes with practice because you cannot see the effect before you press the camera’s button. You need to spend a little time familiarising yourself with the controls. You need to take at least one shot to be sure of what you are getting.

    Some electronic flashguns have aiming light built in. These are only good for telling you where they are pointed during a night dive. They cannot be a substitute for a dive light. sea_sea_ysd2_1To help a camera focus on macro subjects, often it’s a good idea to employ a separate aiming light mounted on top of the camera. These can have an auto-flash-off function so that there is no annoying spot of light added to your pictures. They can also have a red light mode so that marine life is not aware of your light at night and you can ambush it with the pulse of white light from your flash.bigblue_blackmolly2_1

    A video light is a constant light source and can double as a dive light although since the spread is so wide and even, it will not be very penetrative like a purpose-designed diving light.

    When lighting a subject for the camera you can see its effect before taking the picture but it will not give you such a small working exposure as a flash and less depth-of-field (focus). It can also be difficult to get close to marine life because the light might scare it, and you will need to get close for it to be effective. Of course, a constant light source (video light) can be used to live action as well as still pictures and its controls will be easy to understand.

    idas_venom38_1Don’t expect a video light to be less expensive than a flashgun (strobe) either. By the time you’ve mounted it on the camera, the cost will be around the same.

    So which is best for your needs? A flashgun or a video light? There is now one solution available that combines both. The iDivesite SS-1 Symbiosis and the doubly powerful SS-2 Symbiosis each combine a 2000 lumen video light with an electronic flashgun (strobe), powering both from the same rechargeable battery.i-divesite_symbiosis_ss2_b








  • Are Aliens Taking Over Our Oceans?

    OctopusNo, I’m not making a political claim on behalf of some far right political party! I'm talking about cephalopods. Octopus, squid and cuttlefish numbers are on the rise and gradually taking over the oceans. New research published in Cell Biology tells us that global warming, combined with over-fishing, may have caused a boom in cephalopod populations. Besides being an important source food for many animals, including marine mammals and seabirds, they are predators themselves. They are quick to adapt, are relatively short-lived yet very fast-growing and intelligent enough to exploit new opportunities.168-169-7

    Lead author of the scientific report, Dr. Zöe Doubleday, thinks that cephalopods are very responsive to temperature. Warmer seas might accelerate their life cycles, increasing the amount they reproduce. At the same time, over-fishing has reduced competitors and predators of cephalopods.

    Foodies and culinary experts may think they taste delicious, and supplies are plentiful  but remember: octopuses were probably the first intelligent beings on earth, evolving more than 400 million years ago and some 230 million years before mammals. They have three hearts and three-fifths of their neurons are in their arms, which they can regrow. They’re cannibalistic loners that have sex at a distance using a modified tentacle. Masters of camouflage, not only can they change color when mimicking objects and other animals, they may be able to see with their skin.

    114-115-extra5But are they actually aliens? A study published in Nature has pointed to a study that has led researchers to conclude that octopuses have alien DNA. Their genome shows a never-seen-before level of complexity, with no fewer than 33,000 protein-coding genes identified. That’s more than us!

    Dr. Clifton Ragsdale from the University of Chicago said, “The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals. The late British zoologist, Martin Wells, said the octopus was an alien. In this sense, then, our [research] paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien.”_DSC5953

    This has been a ground-shaking claim for the scientific community, which caused an upheaval among marine biologists who seemed both shocked and intrigued.

    If you want to photograph octopuses, you'll need a good underwater flashgun or photographic strobe unit. This is because they are such masters of disguise they can blend quickly into their surroundings under natural light. By using a pulse of white light, the underwater photographer can ambush them photographically and reveal them in both their texture and colour, separated from the surface they are on and have cunningly replicated. They make good subjects for close-focus wide-angle set-ups as long as you are patient and allow the octopus to become confident that you are not going to harm it.

  • How to Photograph Turtles

    _DSC0466The turtle is an iconic reptile that has fortunately started to make a comeback after nearly being wiped out as a general species in the demand for turtle meat and tortoiseshell before the 1950s. Columbus named the islands we now call the Caymans as Las Tortugas because there were so many turtles. He thought that Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were in fact joined together because there were so many turtles punctuating the surface of the water between them.

    There are several different species including the giant leatherback but the turtles you are most likely to encounter whilst scuba diving are the loggerhead, the hawksbill turtle and the green turtle, so called because of the green tinge to the fat of its meat.

    If you chance upon a turtle whilst underwater, it will usually beat a hasty retreat. It’s no good swimming after it. A turtle can swim a lot faster than you can._DSC1180

    So what’s the secret of getting good photographs of turtles? You might unintentionally ambush a turtle that is swimming through open water and if you are calm and appear to offer no threat, you might be lucky enough that it comes close. Just let it come to you. If you have a fish-eye dome port on your camera that might even entice a hawksbill turtle to approach really closely. It might even give your dome port and exploratory bite, which is when you can get a good close-up. That’s because hawksbill turtles will feed on jellyfish and your dome port looks suspiciously like one. Alas, so do plastic bags and these can be a common reason for the demise of turtles.

    Hawksbill turtles also feed on sponges. A feeding turtle takes its food seriously and this is a good opportunity to approach slowly and carefully with your camera. Appear to offer no threat and the turtle will carry on feeding.

    It’s the same with green turtles but these feed on vegetation like seagrasses and algaes. If you come across a feeding green turtle and approach it cautiously it will ignore you and let you get off lots of shots of it.

    A roosting turtle will also let you get close-up photographs if you do not disturb it. Good places to find large numbers of roosting turtles are Sipadan Island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo and Apo Island in the Philippines. The bigger the turtle the less daunted it is by your approach. Turtles have regular favourite roosting sites so if you dive in the same place day after day, you can usually come back to the spot and find the turtle resting where you expect it to be. Never chase a turtle. You can increase its heart-rate by doing so and cause it to go to the surface for a refill of air before would otherwise need to.

    What sort of camera do you need? Turtles are great subjects for close-focus wide-angle shots. Get a wide-angle or fish-eye wet lens for your compact camera or iPhone in its waterproof case, or go into the water equipped with a wide-angle prime lens behind a dome port. Turtles are iconic creatures and everyone will enjoy looking at the pictures you achieve.Oman0039

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