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Cameras Beneath the Waves 1985

by Peter Rowlands

A special report of the major festival of underwater photography held in Birmingham during October.

Reproduced from in focus 13 (February 1986)

The third National Festival of Underwater Photography - Cameras Beneath the Waves - was held at queen Elizabeth Medical Centre, Birmingham, and was organised by United Birmingham Hospitals branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club and Diver Magazine.

Attended by some 260 people from all over the country, Cameras was the culmination of a national underwater photography competition for British citizens with separate sections for beginners and experienced underwater photographers.
The award for the Best British Photographer went to David George, who was given a close run by Alan Youngs. In the beginners, Chris Chiles was a clear winner with a strong portfolio which would have competed well in the advanced section.
The event itself began on the Saturday evening with a film show hosted by Horace Dobbs, For the 300 who attended, this turned out to be a re-showing of a selection of diving films which emphasisea the low number of films currently being completed.

The evening climax was reached with Mike Portelly's film 'Ocean's Daughter', which was the most modern film show but this is now over two years old so let's hope that more films are being made to provide us with fresh inspiration.

The main event of Cameras Beneath the Waves took place on the Sunday with the morning session chaired by Peter Scoones. The first speaker was Peter Rowlands, who outlined various ways of improving underwater photographs. The main improvementg he said, would come from one's attitude to underwater photography. Concentrating on and planning specific shots would help to give consistency while darkroom work can turn average shots into effective slides wither by selective enlarging, colour alteration or sandwiching two images.

Finally, Peter voiced an opinion on the current state of British underwater photography saying that the general standard was higher now than ever before but that there did not seem to be the creative images coming through as there seemed to be in the past. He felt that the creative category had been stifled with the result that we were seeing too many straight-forward marine biology shots with little in the way of artistic exploitation. The solution, he suggested, was to encourage land photographers and artists to sample the underwater medium and to allow more creative images in future photography competitions.

David George then followed with a talk on Underwater Photography of Marine Life. He described the simple close-up equipment that most marine biologists use to take record shots and discussed the need for composition to lift an ordinary shot into a pleasing image which still communicates marine information. He showed how various angles of approach produce differing results and how cropping unwanted areas can improve effects by concentrating on the important areas. Not restricted to close-up, David showed wide-angle shots which are not as widely used in the marine identification world.

After coffee, Bernard Eaton showed some slides of Samantha in the Red Sea and of other buddies with comments on how to brief your buddy to achieve better diver shots. Bernard has dived in several exotic locations but finds himself teamed up with non-photographeers who are not always sure how to pose or act for an underwater photographer.

Mike Portelly then continued on the same theme but from a different standpoint. His work with models has earned him a reputation for quality results with excitingly different images. He described the lengths to which he has to go in order to achieve a successful result and the time and expense involved. His shots varied from basically simple diver shots to underwater ballooning on a Red Sea reef. He attributed his success to determination to produce results combined with the help of several assistants who ensured that the diving was safe and that the equipment was functioning at all times.

Prior to lunch, John Hall described the type of shots and stories which Diver Magazine are looking to publish. Himself not an underwater photographer, he used slides from the competition which he felt were suitable for publication.

Tom Hawkyard followed with a brief talk on submitting shots to larger circulation magazines such as the Sunday colour supplements. He ended his talk with a three projector AV shot in Caribbean waters.

After lunch, Bernard Eaton took the chair to introduce Mike Portelly, who had the task of presenting the results of the competition. He showed shots which had not quite made the grade and built up to the presentation of the trophies which, when displayed on the rostrum, were a very impressive sight. A list of the winners is printed at the end of this report.

Once the audience had settled down again, Steve Birchall talked on his specialist subject - Putting Together Audio Visuals. He showed the basic equipment need to put on AVs and showed how different voices can affect the overall presentation. In addition, he talked of the music choice and also of atmospheric sound - all of which help to produce a professional product. All of these elements were well illustrated on their own and then shown all together in Steve's latest AV - Britain's Underwater Kingdom.

Steve works with Peter Rowlands to produce AVs and this latest show is aimed at schools to illustrate what the underwater world is like round the British coast. The show was well received and was followed by a few illustrations of AV techniques aimed at improving presentations.

Continuing on the AV theme, Martin Edge and Jim Eldridge showed their six-projector AV entitled 'Sea of Dreams', This excellent show illustrates the beauty of the Red Sea both during the day and at night, and is a constant flow of sympathetically coloured images blending from one fade to another. The applause at the end voiced the audience's enthusiastic response to this splendid AV. Martin gave a brief talk on the history behind the AV.

With time ticking away, the final slot of the day was Peter Scoones talking on Underwater Film Making. Peter is without doubt our most talented underwater cameraman but when films are being made he is one of a crew, all of whom have specific responsibilities, Underwater filming poses different limitations to the normal roles and the cameraman becomes a director/cameraman as only one person can look through and operate the camera.

Peter has been involved in filming for BBC TV's Natural History Unit together with companies producing both documentary footage and commercials. His description of some of the hurdles to be overcome during filming would make most mortals retire but the film must be shot whatever the difficulty.

As a finale, Peter showed some footage not being used for a film on cave diving in the Blue Holes of the Bahamas. Edited together rapidly with a sound track on a separate cassette, his final showing was a ten minute sequence taken inside the caves using lighting laid down days before with time allowed for the visibility to clear.

The result was a fantasia style sequence of spectacular eaves full of underwater stalagtites and stalagmites. The Planets Suite music provided superb accompaniment to compliment the images and produce an eventual result which would be hard to improve. If this is what can be done with the 'out-takes', one can't wait to see the final film which should be shown on BBC in the very near future.

With eyelids dropping after a full day of images and words, it was decided to drop the Open Forum and Bernard Eaton closed Cameras at around 6-30pm.

Those who attended saw high quality presentations which were for the most part well prepared and well illustrated. However, the presenters were marred and I felt that the organisers were hindered by the choice of venue. The blackout facilities were far from perfect and before emergency measures were taken to cover offending windows, the first two speakers suffered as their images were projected on to a screen covered with stray light. The internal lighting on each speaker affected the screen and could have been avoided by the provision of a small anglepoise light. The seating was all on one level and can never be as visually comfortable as the tiered seats normally used in proper photographic venues.
In addition to the lighting/blackout, the venue suffered by having the catering area right next to the speaker's rostrum and screen. The result was a very distracting noice as lunch was firstly prepared and then cleared up afterwards.

Despite the venue and lax time-keeping which led to a late finish with the final discussion being axed, Cameras was well received and was supported by a trade show from local and national companies.

However, how much better it could have been in a more sympathetic photographically orientated venue. The idea/principle behind Cameras is sound in its intentions and correct in its programme but would be enhanced immeasurably by a different venue for the next event.

A total of 121 people entered 475 prints and 1,257 slides. Of these 120 were from laveon Wood and 100 from Chris Chiles. Others who contributed to this massive total of entries were Mike Glover (54), David George (50), Alan Youngs (45), Jack Jackson (42), David Nance (37), Steve Page (35) and Martin Edge (30).

Two others entered between 25 and 30 prints or slides, five put in between 20 and 25, nine accounted for 15 to 20 entries, thirteen for 10 to 15 prints or slides, thirty-nine for five to 10 entries and forty-four people submitted between one and five entries each.

Broken down in another way, there were 97 black and white prints. Of these, 21 were from beginners and 76 from advanced workers. The total of oolour prints was 315. Of these 198 were submitted by beginners and 117 by more experienced underwater photographers. A total of 1,035 slides was entered. Of these, 606 came from beginners and 429 from advanced photographers.

In the macro category, there were 63 prints and 222 slides. Beginners submitted 42 of the prints and 131 slides. Advanced workers accounted for 21 of the prints and 91 slides.

Saturday night's film spectacular was attended by 300 people. Sunday's symposium had an audience of 260.


Black and white prints. United Kingdom, moving life, gold medal, Alan Youngs, silver and bronze medals, David George; still life, gold, silver and bronze medals, Warren Williams. Mike Portelly Trophy for the beat black and white print (UK), Warren Williams. O-ent moving life, gold and silver medals, David George, bronze medal, Alan Youngs; still life, gold medal, David George. The silver and bronze medals were not awarded. The BSoUP Trophy for the best black and white print (open), David George.

Colour prints. United Kingdom, moving life, gold medal, Kevin Cullimore, silver medal, David George, bronze medal, Ian Goddard, still life, no medals were awarded. The Derek Berwin Trophy for the beat colour print (UK), Kevin Cullimore. Open, moving life, gold medal, Alan Youngs, silver medal, Jack Jackson, bronze medal, Linda Pitkin; still life, silver medal, David George, bronze medal, Alan Youngs, The gold medal was not awarded. The BS-AC Trophy for the best colour print (open), Alan Youngs.

Colour slides. United Kingdom, moving life, gold medal, Kevin Cullimore, silver medal, Brian Pitkin, bronze medal, M.D. Griffins; still life, gold medal, Charles Hood, silver medal, Alan Youngs , bronze medal, Ian Irving, highly commended, Warren Williams. Horace Dobbs Trophy for the best colour slide (UK), Kevin Cullimore. Open, moving life, gold medal, Alan Youngs, silver medal, Doug Allan, bronze medal, Alex Double; still life, gold medal, Lawson Wood, silver and bronze medals, Keith Cunningham. Spirotechnique Trophy for the best colour slide (open), Alan Youngs.

Macro. Slides, gold medal, Jim Greenfield, silver medal, Brian Jubb, bronze medal, Keith Cunningham; prints, gold medal, Alan Youngs, silver medal, Charles Hood, bronze medal, Ian Goddard. Lady Jenny Trophy for the best macro shot, Jim Greenfield.

Beginners, gold medal, Christopher Chiles, silver medal, Martin Edge, bronze medal, Jack Jackson. UBH BS-AC Trophy for the best beginner, Chris Chiles.

Best British underwater photographer. Diver Magazine Trophy, David George.

Reproduced from in focus 13 (February 1986)

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