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Photosub Tenerife 1991

First International Festival of Photography and Video 1991

by Mark Webster

Reproduced from in focus 42 (Nov. 1991)

Canary Islands (Spain)

International Photosub events have become increasingly popular, both with photographers who can pit their skills on an even footing in real time, and with sponsors, who recognise the publicity benefits which the unusual nature of the events attract.

The most recent European event was held in October at the Ten Bel Hotelparque in Tenerife. It differed from many others in that it offered both stills and video photographers a chance to compete. Ten countries were invited to field one photographer of each discipline with models and assistants as appropriate. However, the main theme of the competition was marine life, with no contrivance, so many photographers arrived on their own.

I had not dived in the Canaries before and by the end of the week I had been pleasantly surprised by the variety of the dive sites, marine life and, not least, by my encounter with Pilot Whales! But more about this later.

The rules of the competition were very precise and the categories for submission clearly defined at the outset. Both photographers and video cameramen had five one-hour long dives at preselected locations, followed by a one and a half hour snorkling session with Pilot Whales. We were all intrigued to see if the latter would prove to be as simple as the organisers assured us it would be. Each photographer was given seven rolls of Fujichrome 100 ASA film to produce up to five slides in each of three categories A) General views B) Marine Life and C) Pilot Whales. There were to be no macro photographs. The video cameramen were required to produce a video 7-10 minutes in duration with no more than 20% surface footage.

The diving was organised by Coral Sub Diving, a long established organisation located within the Ten Bel complex on the beach, and it could not have been more convenient. The competitors were split into four small groups, each with its own Zodiac inflatable. Each group dived each site in rotation so that not too many competitors were in the water at each site at the same time. The sites had been chosen for their variety of marine life and differing topography and all offered excellent opportunities.


Anyone familiar with Sting Ray City in Grand Cayman would feel at home on this site. There are literally dozens of Rays, ranging from small Bat Rays to large Eagle Rays and Sting Rays, plus one or two very unusual Rays, all of which wait to be fed - by hand if necessary. Needless to say, this provided excellent photo graphic potential. The site also boasts a small wreck and reef system which is home to a variety of fish, octopus and other invertebrates in a maximum of 20 metres.


La Condosita was a small coaster carrying cement which was wrecked on Punta de la Rasca, close to the light house, in 1973. Her bows lie in 8 metres and her stern in 16 metres and she is surprisingly intact. There are no brassy trinkets to be had, but the hold, where the cargo can still be found, offers easy access and the wreck is home to a variety of marine life. I was able to photograph squirrel fish, sergeant majors, rainbow wrasse, trumpet fish and octopus. The adjacent reef comprises some fascinating volcanic rock formations, similar to the Giants Causeway in Ireland.


This site was perhaps two miles offshore and in deeper, and therefore clearer, water. The top of the reef is at 20-22 metres with a drop off to sandy ledges at 35 metres and beyond. The site was selected for the reliable appearance of a massive shoal of yellow lined snappers (or sea bream), which showed no fear of divers. The walls and deep gullies provided excellent backdrops for this subject, with the sun bursting through on cue. There are a wide variety of other species on the site, including several large barracuda and shoals of jack fish.


This site lies approximately half a mile from the sea bream and is an extension of the same reef system. The area also hosts its own shoal of these fish, but our visit was to capture the large shoals of squirrel fish or big eyes which are found under the many overhangs and in deep gullies which are a feature of this site. These fish are nocturnal and reluctant to venture into open water during the day, and therefore can be approached extremely closely. Depths are again 20-30 metres and the site offers a variety of other marine life such as nudibranchs, octopus, rays, shrimp cleaner stations and numerous fish species.


Jean Koller, who owns and runs the diving centre, is fast becoming a celebrity with visiting divers due to his activities on this site. The reef system, in depths of 12-20 metres, hosts a variety of other moray eels which Jean has trained to be fed by hand and handled by both himself and others. The eels are very docile and friendly and consequently can be approached very closely for photography. I saw three species of moray, the common green/brown eel, a more unusual species which is black with startlingly white eyes and the exotic tiger moray with its bright yellow and black markings. The site also features several large volcanically formed lava arches which provided good photogenic spots and attracted a variety of fish species including some large barracuda.


Our final site lay some three miles offshore from the port of Los Cristianos in approximately 1000 metres of waterl For several years it has been known that the area hosted large family groups or pods of pilot whales as well as dolphins and other whale species. It is only since May 1990 that small groups of divers have been able to swim with the whales and this experience was to be the highlight for all the competitors. Only snorkelling equipment may be used and specific techniques have to be adopted to get close to the whales, which I will describe in detail in a subsequent article. Suffice it to say that it is a truly awesome and emotional experience, and all the competitors came away feeling absolutely gob-smackedl We were also utterly exhausted as the whales can move extremely fast as soon as they see you are ready to press the shutterl


So after four days of competition we had four hours to select our portfolios and edit the video footage. The four members of the jury then retired for the remainder of the day to choose the winning images, whilst we struggled to find distraction as we wafted for the results. The results were as follows:


1. Robert Braunschweig (Switzerland) 2. Lionel Pozzoli (France) 3. Mark Webster (Great Britain)


1. Andreas Koffka (Germany) 2. Rudy Van Geldere (Belgium) 3. Peter Verhoog (Holland)


1. Serge Hanquet (Tenerife) 2. Peter Verhoog (Holland) 3. Mark Webster (Great Britain)


Peter Verhoog (Holland)


1. Johnny Letellier (Belgium) 2. Michel Vrignaud (France)


1. Michel Vrignaud (France) 2. Johnny Letellier (Belgium)


Michel Vrignaud (France)

On a closing note I would like to extend a vote of thanks on behalf of myself and fellow competitors to the organisers and sponsors of the event, without whom the competition would have been impossible. They include Jos Audenaerd, the competition coordinator from Belgium, Hotelparque Ten-Bel, Coral Sub Diving, Olympus cameras, Thompson Holidays, Scubapro and many others.

The competition was a great success and ran faultlessly due to the efforts of the organising team and Coral Sub staff. With luck the event will become a regular feature of the photosub calendar.

Reproduced from in focus 42 (Nov. 1991) with kind permission of Mark Webster (

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