Underwater Photographic Traveler, Underwater EGYPT
Divestyle and Andrew Woodburn’s Egyptian Photo Expedition 2007
Just like our brethren the underwater dive tourist, the underwater photographer also wants to tour the world, recording what is seen to show others the spectacular under water experiences they have been exposed to. This sounds all very acceptable except for a few small things that can turn out to be very big. So to test out what and how to solve some of these issues Andrew Woodburn, Divestyle photographer for over 5 years lead an underwater photo expedition to the deep, deep Southern Red Sea. The tour was setup according to Andrews’ requirements by Wild and Blu who provided the tour support to the group.
Our goal was to try and photography the endangered dugong ( a sea cow which may have provided the basis for the mermaid legends) and the impressive Oceanic Whitetip Shark ( longimanus), long held in fear as a man eating shark. While we failed on both counts, that didn’t mean the tour had an uneventful and boring trip. The following recollection is of what was achieved. On this trip to Egypt I recorded a list of what things the traveling underwater photographers should be planning for so that their trips go off without a hitch (ok without that many, as I’m pretty sure there will be at least a few)
My first challenge appeared while leaving from home and remaining in motion till we reached our dive destination. Losing sleep and hair is a common occurrence while facing how much luggage I was going to take but luckily Wild and Blu negotiated up front with Egypt Air for an extra 10kgs based on dive gear, as finally, at least one country understands that one of its key draw cards is scuba diving and therefore the national airline needs to allow divers extra weight to get their gear into the country (unfortunately I haven’t found any others, although with some preplanning and requests you may get some extra weight on some airlines. I’m pretty sure that at some time you are going to be forking out excess baggage fees). In fact this is, for me, the single biggest issue with flying or driving with your gear. Its not only aircraft weight limits that are problematic but getting in and out of taxis specially if there is two or more of you (in Egypt three of us needed a minibus to get us and all our bags around) as well as having to carry your bags from the taxi to the curb or hotel and guarding underwater camera gear while others need to attend to natures calls.
I traveled with two underwater camera housings, scuba dive gear, some clothes, toiletries, laptop, strobes, torches, spares, and free diving fins ends up being a pile of baggage.
And this is the rub: strong cases allowing the camera and housings to go cargo, but weigh (a ton) about 10kgs when empty. Take all risk insurance on your gear for the duration of your trip. Alternatively I carry hand baggage on board with all my valuable electronics including the laptop. The downside is enjoying all the current security checks coming my way and the mad rush to get hand baggage space for your bag weighing in at way more than average hand luggage.
What really made our trip easier is when your operator like Wild and Blu organize transfer assistance where we were met and helped with luggage to transfer to ongoing flights or land transport to your destination.
We had chartered a large live-aboard and used that as a basis for our adventure even though in general, boats, by nature are a more difficult platform to dive and photograph off than land based resorts which offer more space, drier environments. Our boat took us to awesome unique dive sites, and provided sufficient charging space, as well as more fresh water dip tanks to soak cameras in after diving. The Dolce Vita provided plenty of space to store cameras out of the way between dives and by laying towels on the saloon tables we could setup up or change housing configurations in a dry cool environment. But always remember to warm up the housing after taking it from the aircon out into the heat, before plunging into the water or else your housing may fog up due to condensation. With digital cameras these days it’s all about power, charging batteries for cameras, strobes, laptops so make sure you carry converters and extensions for multiple chargers.
We cast off heading towards the Saint Johns archipelago of atolls where it turned out magnificent underwater cave structures honeycombed the reef systems allowing spectacular diving and incredibly challenging lighting for photographers to grapple with in order to provide inspirational images. Paul Hunter, chairman of GUPS reflected afterwards that he had never had so much variation on a dive trip with Walls, drop-offs, shallow reef tables, pinnacles, wrecks and Caves providing a smorgasboard of under water photographic options and challenges. Primarily this was a Wide angle tour due to pristine under water visibility and large features to work with, but the global fish experts Dennis and Sally Pollack continued to accumulate std and macro world class imagery of fish for their Fish Database (www.fishwise.co.za), so if you want to know the name of a fish go check out their website.
Quote from Paul Hunter Chairman GUPS www.gups.co.za : "Awesome trip" - with so much freedom in terms of diving and a variety of dive sites from a small wreck, caves, dolphins and walls covered in soft coral. Just being on the same boat with other underwater photographers inspired me more than ever. Endless discussions on what worked and what did not every evening really helped. Normally I return from dive holidays with 4 or 5 good images however this time I must have over 20 really good images and counting.
But caves, soft coral and wall diving wasn’t the end of our treats, snorkeling with wild dolphins in crystal clear water was a highlight for all concerned. We had a wonderful opportunity to engage with the spinner dolphins on dolphin reef. A massive pod of friendly and engaging creatures that would dive and leap about us cruising to touching distance and looking us in the eye. This opportunity for photographers is hard but exhilarating work. Swimming with an under water housing is no easy task specially attempting to match lithe speedy dolphins. Due to nitrogen buildup we couldn’t really do a lot of free diving but even so, the photos and thrill of the dolphin engagement was wonderful. Richard and Claire enjoyed the experience and with Clara and Jane gave the photographers awesome opportunities to get world class dolphin photographs. Other useful tips for photographers are to always keep a neoprene cover on your dome as all the passing of cameras in and out of boats means you need protection from scratches and chips that could occur, try take a spare sync cable and o-ring just in case as even on our trip two sync cables leaked and one whole under water strobe went down.
The traveling dive photographers all tested their mettle against the options and every night selected photos that they either wanted to improve on or were going to enter into the tour competition. The fact that Andrew Woodburn’s trip had gathered a spectacular bunch of like minded individuals lead to humorous episodes and shared learning on Photoshop , underwater photo fundamentals , free diving and photo modeling. Dave and Jane Fleischman from PE pushed the limits in terms of moving their photography from the odd lucky shot on tour to being able to produce consistently good images which then allowed them to start playing around with composition to achieve photos that really made me proud. The Marx team using rebreather technology and diving passion produced good deep imagery and experimented with attracting shark and tuna as well as banking an awesome father and son adventure while Garth, Paul, Vanessa, Max, Genevieve and Jon all progressed their underwater photography to the next level. The cake though must go to team Epstein who together conquered Israel and Cairo before beating back a cold to produce a competitive image or two and Anthea proved that free diving with the dolphins wasn’t just for pros. Lance was such a legend and has asked for the next trip to include smaller rooms with no aircon where he does all the cooking. (Only joking, the tour delivered on a level of luxury that really did allow for photographers such as Epstein to go the extra mile without even wearing a wetsuit.) Paul Hunter presented 3 brilliant images to take the first place in our on-tour competition with a broad range of subject matter with Jon taking second utilizing dolphins and Lance bringing up the third place. The Pollack’s were commended for their fish photography while Dave entered a photo of Andrew blowing a bubble ring which is pretty rare as he’s normally behind the lens.
The tour concluded with some wonderful opportunities in Luxor and Cairo where photographers turned their attention to the famous temples and Egyptian pyramids. So don’t forget to see other sights around your dive environment and remember the photos aren’t always everything, keep an eye out for your own memories, make new friends and and enjoy your tour too.
“Deepest thanks for your great effort in organising such a fantastic trip. For Jane and I, everything was perfect. You really helped me with my photography. I can see what works and what doesn’t and importantly why it doesn’t. I can't wait to get back into the water and try out stuff differently. I enjoyed everyone's company and stole tips from some good photographers.
Regards Dave and Jane (Port Elizabeth, South Africa) “
Divestyle Magazine and GUPS are proud to present their photographer Andrew Woodburn as the tour leader of the Egyptian Expedition 2007 supported by www.Wild&Blu.co.za tour operators.