Photography Gear

  • Shark Feeding - The Rights and Wrongs?

    Bull shark in the Bahamas with Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch
    It seems that many modern-day divers have very mixed feelings about methods to get close-up and personal with sharks. They want to say they have dived with sharks but many don’t want them close enough to see properly or for them to feel it’s they that have been seen by the sharks. Dive guides in the Red Sea will protest that they get plenty of close-up interaction with sharks without baiting but these are Oceanic White-tip sharks that are ocean wanderers and opportunistic feeders. They will make a close pass of anything including a diver to check out if it’s a potential meal. Interactions are exciting but brief in the extreme.
    Oceanic White-tip Shark in the Red Sea
    These sharks are regularly fed because they follow the busy shipping movements on the Red Sea, a main route between Asia and Europe. All the trash is thrown overboard from these vessels. They’ve been doing this for more than 100 years. The bigger diving liveaboards that are now in evidence make the same noises and ring the dinner bell for these animals. On the other hand, the big populations of grey reef sharks and other reef species have, in the main, long since gone from Egyptian waters. Most sharks are cautious. That’s how they get to grow old in a shark-eat-shark world, and size matters. Divers are usually bigger in comparison to most sharks and sharks usually prefer to stay away from them rather than risk injury from what might be another large predator.
    At a Caribbean reef shark feed in the Bahamas
    Of course, there are many different ways to attract sharks and I’ve witnessed shark-feeding techniques in many parts of the world. Bearing in mind that sharks tend to be big animals with mouths full of sharp teeth, my opinion of the different methods I have seen is quite variable from the orderly method using one piece of bait at a time at the end of a short spear as developed by Stuart Cove, the famous shark-wrangler to the movie industry, to the rather risky methods I witnessed in French Polynesia. There, the dive guide carried a severed mahi-mahi head under his BC and would cut bits of with a knife, offering it in his bare hand to passing hungry sharks. I questioned if this was not just a bit too risky? I think he finally agreed after he had his hand sewn back together later. We hear all sorts of arguments along the lines of how sharks lose their ability to hunt naturally if they are fed. I would suggest that the amount of food offered at a typical shark-feed is tiny in proportion to the number of sharks present so it represents nothing more than a free snack. Sharks have a hierarchy and defer to larger sharks. None want to get injured by another shark so that when dead bait is offered there is little sense of competition among the animals. Sharks are not the undiscerning predators depicted by the media. Stuart Cove will tell you that he uses different types of bait for attracting different species of shark. For instance Caribbean reef sharks love grouper heads whereas Great Hammerheads look for stingrays in the sand. In the absence of any stingray cleanings being available, he’ll use barracuda parts. For an expedition to photograph oceanic white-tips, I saw him buy 500lb of bonito, and so on. We also hear opinions that shark-feeding encourages sharks to associate humans with food and yet there are no facts to back this up. There are far more shark attacks off the coast of Florida where shark-feeding has been banned for years than almost anywhere else in the world.
    If you want dramatic close-ups, like this Great Hammerhead shark, you've got to get close!
    At the same time Mike Neuman, owner of Beqa Adventure Divers in Fiji says he is against the ‘shark huggers’, that’s to say, those people who say that sharks are harmless and need our affection. I think we can all agree with him in that requiem sharks generally have a mouth full of sharp teeth and if you want to get close to them you should be aware of that but if you want good pictures of sharks, you've got to get close – very close!

  • The GoPro Hero 4 Underwater

    hero4What a marvellous piece of kit the GoPro Hero range of action cameras is. They have an application for almost any activity and especially suitable for anything with any appreciable amount of risk that might destroy a more conventional camera. It doesn't matter whether you are skiing, riding a bike, taking selfies as a tourist or jumping off a tall building with nothing more than a wing-suit. No wonder they have proved to be the most popular Christmas present of 2014. Naturally, at Ocean Leisure Cameras we maintain a large stock of accessories and it goes without saying that many of our customers want to take their GoPro Hero 4 with them when snorkelling or scuba diving. The standard housing is good for 40m deep and if you want to go deeper there's a tougher diving housing available too. It's simple to bolt a GoPro Hero 4 to a bike but once you go under water, the characteristics of light conspire to make it more difficult to get good footage. It matters little whether you use a GoPro Hero 4 or a Red Epic camera that costs many thousands of pound, the physics remain the same. e8601920-10fc-4e5f-abd8-bad79331f9f4POV Buoy (2) Firstly, you need to keep your camera steady if your material is going to be watchable. We thoroughly recommend some sort of handle and one that can be made neutrally buoyant will be best. You neither want your precious Go Pro Hero 4 to float off nor to drop away to great depths. If you are doing some dare-devil activity, you'll be happy with whatever you record but underwater you'll want to be very much more selective. An LCD screen that shows what the camera sees is essential. The Silver Edition of the GoPro Hero 4 comes already equipped but in order to keep the retail price as attractive as possible, the much higher quality Hero 4 Black Edition (it will shoot 4k video and also will run at a higher frame-rate to smooth out the action) does not. gopro_touchscreen However, an economically priced LCD screen is available for the Black Edition that plugs straight into the camera and it comes with the fatter back door for the housing to accommodate it. Water absorbs light but it does it selectively. The warmer wavelengths of light, the reds and the yellows, get filtered out first so that as you go deeper, everything starts to look very blue. You can make the most of the red and yellow light that penetrates the water in the first 15-metres by filtering out some of the blue. gopro_SRP_filterThe GoPro Hero 4 has such a wide-angle lens that, although a flat red filter will work, a domed filter will be more effective over the whole width of the image and sharpness won't suffer at the edges. bigblue_dualsetupIf you want decent colour when you go deeper, there's no escaping the fact that you will need to take some white light with you in the form of some lamps. The same applies whatever camera you shoot with. Still cameras can use flash but for live action you need a constant source of light. A diving torch will not give light that is even enough. It will be patchy but not only that, the GoPro Hero 4 will try to look into the shadows leaving the lit parts burn-out. You need video lights. Ocean Leisure Cameras has a selection available at a range of prices. Check that part of this web-site for more details. What else do you need? A spare battery and charger will come in useful. That battery can be charging while you are under water with your GoPro Hero 4 and be ready for the following dip under water.  

  • Octoporn!

    _DSC3979The common octopus can be found throughout the temperate and tropical marine waters of the world and makes a good subject for your camera. It is an intelligent mollusc that has a complex eye mechanism that leads us to believe it can see very well. It can pass its boneless body through the tiniest of holes and it has the uncanny ability to change both its colour and texture at will by rotating tiny discs within the structure of its skin. This is used primarily as a strategy to avoid being detected by both prey and predator but is also a useful tool for communication and the expression of emotion. Never try to describe an octopus by its colour. This can range from a serene pale blue most often seen by divers at night, to an angry deep red with a white central stripe encountered by divers that try to interfere with one of these remarkable creatures. During the summer months the male octopus seeks out a female with which to mate and having done so begins a courtship ritual that encompasses all his flamboyant abilities to change his appearance. I was lucky enough to find two octopuses romancing together and photograph the whole forty-five minute sequence of events._DSC4093 The male stood erect, puffed up and demonstrating his ability to become dark and knobbly. She in turn will made herself smooth and silky, often embracing herself with her own tentacles as if to appreciate her own sensuality. Octopus have the ability to alter their size too. At this time the male was big and impressive while the female appeared small and demure. _DSC4107The male specially adapts one of his tentacles to become a sexual organ and it is this that is used to pass packets of sperm to the female. He proffered this tentatively, hoping to seduce her into accepting it. She coyly rejected him at first while he put on alternative displays of colour and texture in the hope of hitting upon a combination that pleased her. _DSC4138aThis game went on for a long period of time until he successfully persuaded her to accept his advances and penetration ensued. At this time she too changed from smooth and silky to be as knobbly as he was, and then back again. They took no notice of me, the camera-toting voyeur, even though I was extremely close to them. The male octopus pursues the female until she catches him! They stayed locked together for some time while his sperm was passed in special packages to her. They seemed to be enjoying it immensely and took little notice of the clatter of my camera or the pulses of light from my flash. _DSC4152Once the job was complete, she became impressively large while he looked very much deflated. She kept hold of his precious tentacle and dragged him off unwillingly. Was she taking him shopping? No, she’s looking for a suitable home. Does this story sound familiar? _DSC4150Once the female octopus finds a suitable place to lay her eggs she demonstrates what a dedicated mother she is. She stays will her eggs, oxygenating them regularly by blowing fresh water over them via her siphon. She stays until they are hatched, never leaving them to feed and consequently finally ending her life in the process. The male however escapes, usually leaving that specially adapted tentacle behind with her. He eventually grows a replacement but in the mean time he goes off looking for more action. You might see the occasional lucky male octopus with very few tentacles left while he cruises the reef, still looking optimistically for more action! You can get material like this on any underwater camera set-up, from GoPro, through compact cameras to the full nine-yards of a digital SLR. If you want to know how to get pictures as sharp and clear as this, check with the people at Ocean Leisure Cameras. If you need an octopus-rig for your regulator, the main store at Ocean Leisure has a selection to choose from. If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you will enjoy Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

  • Making Movies That Don't Bore Your Neighbours

    Movies4187Back in the day when I made television commercials, my first movie was quite an undertaking. It was 1980. I used a huge Panavision 70 camera, involved a lot of people with specialist skills, it cost £250,000 and lasted only thirty seconds, yet a lot of people bought a certain brand of tea because of it. A decade later, video cameras made things more economic. I shot the first commercially available instructional video for scuba diving. It only cost £10,000 to post-produce. Things have moved on apace since then and costs have plummeted. Now everyone can afford to shoot video. Some of you will only use your cameras for video clips, the moving equivalent of a snapshot. Indeed, often these clips get no further than being viewed on the LCD of the camera, never to be seen again. Others want to produce something more ambitious, in the form of a viewable programme. Whether you shoot on a Red Epic camera, digital DSLR, a compact or a little POV mini action camera like a GoPro Hero 4, air-side or underwater, the rules of move-making are the same. Still pictures can stand-alone whereas movies rely on the shot shown before and the one after. It’s a sequence that forms an event that might not have actually happened but it’s got to be believable to work. So gather your shots to tell a story. Look for an opening shot that will grab your viewer’s attention, something dramatic and something that can be used to bring your sequence to an end. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think of each short shot as a brick that will go with others to form the architecture of your final result. Bear in mind that your viewers may not be as engaged with your subject matter as you are and consider twenty minutes as the longest time they’ll watch your completed production before they make their excuses and leave. Continuity is crucial. Underwater, we have to think in terms of continuity of lighting, mainly dictated by the time of day and if we feature divers in a sequence shot over more than one dive, they need to be wearing the same kit in exactly the same way. Inserting a shot from night into a broad daylight sequence will never look right. Gather the shots that will become useful when it comes to constructing your movie. Shoot a wide establishing shot, a middle-distance action shot and close-up of each subject. You’ll be amazed how useful the material so gained with be when it comes to assembling a production. The subject moves and the camera remains still. Often more easily said than done underwater, but professional film-makers go to extraordinary lengths to keep their cameras steady while the action goes on in front of it. Ironically, the latest generation of little action cameras are harder to keep steady whilst recording. Following an animal as it moves is seductive when you are actually there but don’t do it for too long. It gets boring to watch. Let the animal move into frame, follow it for a bit and then let it clear the frame. These will give you the moments to cut from a previous shot and cut to the next one. A cardinal rule on land it to imagine there is a line down the middle of the path your moving subject takes. Never cross that line with your camera or it will look as if your subject has changed direction and gone back the other way. Less crucial with underwater subjects, ‘crossing the line’ often gives the impression that there is more than one subject, and that can make the action busy. “Not another video of blue fish!” I can still hear the groans of my friends from my early days of underwater video-making now. Light underwater is filtered so that only the shorter blue wavelengths penetrate much more than a few metres from the surface so if you are shooting elsewhere than the shallows, when a colour-correction filter over the lens will work, you’ll need some independent lighting to give you a full spectrum of colour. Increasing the camera frame rate from the viewed 25 frames per second to, say, double the speed, gives a slow motion effect. This smoothes down the action and is especially useful with fast moving underwater subjects and avoids that juddery effect often encountered when panning the camera at a normal frame rate. Slow-motion is almost standard procedure with professional underwater wildlife films. A cut-away is a shot that allows the editor to cut away from the main action for a moment and comes in very useful when constructing awkward sequences. The effect is to imply that these animals so recorded are bystanders to the main action. Luckily, you can use almost any underwater subject as a cut-away but it’s important that the camera is steady if these shots are to be inserted in a moving camera sequence. Once you get to edit your material, be ruthless. The cutting room floor is as important as the retained material. Choose the essence of the action. Keep it brief. Keep your audience wanting more not less. When you’ve got a lot of footage, the cameraman can be too emotionally attached and that is why Hollywood movies are traditionally edited by people who were not present at the shooting stage.Hammerhead and Video On the other hand, you might be just as happy collecting video clips that are the moving equivalent of snapshots. The choice is yours.

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