The “Visions in the Sea” summer series has reached its halfway point; with three of its planned events having taken place. Caroline Robertson-Brown, one of the event organizers, has written the following report (pictures by Nick Robertson-Brown):
The “Visions in the Sea” Summer Series continued with the 2nd & 3rd weekends held over gloriously sunny, consecutive weekends in June. Our aim for both these weekends was to capture images of some of the largest and most magical underwater experiences the UK has on offer at this time of year – Basking Sharks in Cornwall and playful Grey Seals in the Farne Islands. We could not have had better luck on both the weekends.
Our trip to Cornwall to photograph Basking Sharks saw us once again working with Charlie Hood, who is an expert in finding these elusive characters off the Cornish coastline. The Basking Sharks usually arrive in Cornwall in May and are on their way by the end of June – so there is a small window of opportunity to get in the water with them. They do then head up the western coastline and so sightings are possible in Wales, Isle of Man and Scotland as well as up this stretch of the English coastline throughout the summer. They are here to feed on plankton (so don’t expect good visibility) As well as being the 2nd largest fish in the world, Basking Sharks add to their imposing look by opening their mouths as wide as possible to filter large quantities of plankton – this is the shot you hope and dream of as an underwater photographer. Charlie did not let us down! Within a few minutes of looking for them we had our first encounter with a youngster swimming right under RIB Logan. However this one was a little coy and so we moved on and soon found a group of Basking Sharks in a sheltered bay. This was it! Charlie gave us a chat on how best to photograph these magnificent creatures, went through the Shark Trust Code of Conduct we had to follow in order to be in the water with them and in we went. This group was not shy! Every photographer had several close encounters to give them great opportunities to get some shots. We were in the water for some 5 hours with 4 sharks, each of about 5m in length. By the end of the day we had given them all names and were excited about day 2. We were lucky again with our Basking Shark encounters, and to top off a great weekend, we also had a pod of dolphins play around the boat for the last hour of the day. Sometimes it is important to step away from your camera lens to enjoy the moment, no matter how hard, as this may have been a once in a lifetime experience. But we will be going again next year to try all over again.
The very next weekend we packed up our photography gear and headed for the Farne Islands. Cameras Underwater kindly sponsored this weekend and also lent us Duxy for the trip. Unbelievably, this was to be his first go at UK diving and we were going to the Farne Islands to try to photograph some Grey Seals. We were diving with Paul Walker from Farne Island Divers who has a huge RIB capable of carrying the 12 divers over the weekend, all our diving equipment, huge amounts of camera equipment and other bits and bobs. His boat is also perfect for getting in close to the rocks and to enter near where the seals are sunbathing. As soon as the boat neared the sites, the seals seem to know their job and slide into the water, bobbing their heads up periodically as if to ask why we are taking so long to gear up! Our first day gave us some excellent, yet brief, encounters with the Farne Island seals zooming around in and out of gullies lined with kelp. In the evening Duxy sat with each participant and went through their photos offering advice on composition, techniques and editing and gave a spot prize of a memory card to Liz Skinner for her stunning seal portrait taken that day. Sunday saw the sun come out and the sea flatten to give us perfect conditions for some underwater photography. And this time the seals were up for a bit of fun! On our last dive of the weekend we were mobbed by a group of inquisitive juvenile seals, biting fins, holding cameras, pressing their noses up to our lenses. My favorite game, made up by the seals, was their humorous hiding technique where they would lie on the pebbles behind us while we squinted into the distance to see where they were – the pantomime line “look behind you!” kept popping into my head. It was a truly wonderful dive and just what we had come for. The dive site, Megstone, had a gully with kelp on both sides, a pebble floor and cathedral sunlight streaking down onto the seals – perfect.
Sadly both the species we set out to photograph in June are endangered. The Grey Seal is one of the most rare seal species and 2/3 of the world’s population lives here in the British Isles. The Basking Shark has been on the endangered list for many years now and saw huge drops in the population numbers throughout previous decades. Hopefully, now both these species are protected, we will see more and more of them in our waters. Caroline from Frogfish Photography said, “it is so important that we support organizations like the Shark Trust to provide education, research and conservation for these wonderful creatures.”
In September, the Visions in the Sea Summer Series is teaming up with the Northern Underwater Photography Group (NUPG) for their Summer Splash-In. Participants will put their competitive underwater photography skills to the test on Saturday 4th September in North Wales. All underwater photographers are welcome. As with all the Visions events there will be expert advice on hand to give tips on how to get the best from the cameras and the local dive sites. Images from the day will be entered into the competition and judged by all the participants that evening. There will be some great prizes on offer for those who succeed. For those that have not celebrated too hard there will be more diving and underwater photography on Sunday along with the change to try out some Mares diving equipment.
The “Visions in the Sea” Summer Series was designed to get underwater photographers into UK waters to practice different types of photography, get tips from pros and peers, and to have fun diving some of the best sites and experiences the UK has to offer. David, Visions in the Sea Summer Series participant, had this to say, “I had started to get a bit disillusioned about my underwater photography not going anywhere but the weekend and Duxy’s input really got me focused again.” We are half way through the series now and so far we have been very lucky and privileged to dive with some amazing wildlife. It has also been a revelation to dive with such a great bunch of underwater photographers who are so enthusiastic and keen to both learn and share ideas. We can only hope that the next 3 weekends shore diving around the UK will offer as much.