Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Beginner’s Critter/Photography Dives, Scubafest - 3rd-6th May 2013

by Victor

Good visibility, a high probability of seeing critters, and a similarly-interested (or at least patient) buddy meant this was a good opportunity to dive with a camera and try to take some pictures. I’m no photography buff, my critter spotting and identification skills are limited, and my camera isn’t anything special (it’s a basic, 7-year-old, point-and-click thing with an integral flash, and didn’t cost a huge amount even with its underwater housing), but by the end of the weekend I had a few dozen half decent shots. Some of them are good enough to show other people.

Looking for critters – especially small stuff – can be like looking for a lost earring on a patterned carpet: you adjust and instruct your eyes to pick out a certain shape or colour. Claws poking out from behind a rock, a blue-grey body in a hole, and something that just doesn’t look quite right can lead you to interesting things. Best small finds on this trip were a pipefish (hard to spot in amongst the weeds) and a tiny bell-shaped hydroid medusa – as small as a 5p piece – which propelled itself using a pulsating movement and which was fascinating to watch.

Torches proved invaluable, even on relatively shallow dives. They’re useful for searching in nooks and crannies, and restore the colour (reds, then yellows) lost at depth. For photography, a flash does the same job, revealing how colourful UK waters actually are. Other things that help: a macro or magnifying glass feature on your camera, a lack of current and surge (so you don’t get thrown about when trying to take pictures), Paul Naylor’s book, and critters that kindly keep still (anemones, dogfish, crabs and starfish were easier to photograph than the bib, pollack and electric blue cuckoo wrasse we saw on this trip). And of course, due to sods law, more critters will inevitably appear on the last dive of the trip when your camera has run out of battery/memory and you left it on the boat – that’s when we saw cuttlefish, common prawn, burrowing bivalves with only their siphons visible in the sandy bottom, and dozens of hermit crabs. In these situations, it’s best to just enjoy the dive, take it all in (using your mental camera), and not worry about missed photo opportunities.

 As for future dives - if anyone knows where all the nudibranchs and seahorses are hiding, please let me know. Ta.

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