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BSoUP Meeting - October 2003

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Kurt Amsler

 

An evening with Kurt Amsler

by Andy Clark and Gill McDonald

Photo Techniques: Light by Kurt Amsler

It's a simple fact that an attempt to take underwater photographs without light is a futile attempt. We all know that. But what do you think of when someone raises such a seemingly lucid subject? Kurt will point out to you that photographers do not pay enough attention to light. He wonders too, how many really understand light and how to get the best from it. How many understand about reflection, refraction, diffusion or absorption? It's just a case of education. The trial and error factor comes into it certainly, but a little more understanding may increase your success rate.

With macro photography the problems are few. One strobe usually, top or side positioned and set to TTL. What could be easier? Good balanced light, lifting your subject and as long as you're shooting into it's face, you're sure to get decent results. Even with the addition of a second strobe macro remains uncomplicated. Just keep it TTL.


Wide angle proves a little trickier. Your subject will need more light and there will be more water between you, thus the potential for backscatter. Be mindful of you strobe positioning, use either the horizontal or vertical positions and avoid diagonals across the port - your image is likely to burn out in those corners. Accept that generally, the greater the distance between your lens and the strobes, the better and employ that second strobe on occasion to ensure your intended image is covered. Fit spotting torches to aim your light. It'll safeguard your strobe coverage.

When shooting with a fish eye, two strobes is (in absolute must for the angle of coverage. Never use TTL, there's just too much to affect the readings. Remember the strobe positioning and experiment with TTL and full power, and bracket the aperture. Consider your background and mix your strobe light with ambient - try prolonged shutter speeds of 1/30th, 1/15th or even 1/8 th second.

The subject of light is anything but lucid. Quite the contrary! Consider the basics, explore the variables and you'll begin to appreciate the complexity of this vast topic. Its value to the underwater photographer should not be underestimated. Understand it and your work will reflect your learning. 'A photographer should be able to do with his camera and light as he chooses' Kurt will tell you. He will urge you to experiment and explore every possibility to 'paint with light'. Your images should reflect a sense of adventure, danger and exploration but there is also room for creativity. Experiment further with models using your slave strobe as a torch. Carefully position the slave strobe to light something of interest and make good use of it in difficult environments like caves when trying to light a number of divers. Consider your tungsten torches as a second light source in your creative shots but keep an element of realism in them - they have to be believable.

The options for success with fighting are many. Have your image in mind and consider your alternatives but in doing so 'read the light and use every bit available!'

Focus On: Best of British Portfolio

The Best of British Portfolio attracted 15 entries for consideration and once again it has to be pointed out that the definition of 'Portfolio' (unless a 'theme' portfolio ('samples of an artists work') means you should be showing a balanced set of images that illustrate your ability in a number of photographic techniques, not all wide angle or macro! That said what images were shown adequately depicted the beauty of UK diving in a generally acceptable proficiency. Sue Heaps and Lesley Maw shared 6' place with 24 points each. 5th place with 38 points went to Pedro Vieyra. Pat Morrissey grabbed 4 th place with 45 points. In 3rd place with 49 points - Bob Allen - with an admirable selection of nudibranch, jellyfish, sea urchin, tompot blenny, common octopus and sun star. Stealing ahead with 54 points - Bill Hewitt - with his perfectly balanced portfolio of seal over kelp, jellyfish, john dory, red gurnard, diver and skate and seal close up. But out on her own with 85 points the Cuttlefish Trophy and a generous cheque from biver for f100 - Anita Marshall - and her brilliant display of diver swimming over submarine, propeller of submarine, cockpit, wrasse, nudibranch and hermit crab. Full results and images

British diving at it's best. Congratulations!

Main Event: Diver behaviour and the environment by Kurt Amsler

One of Kurt's overriding passions is the protection and preservation of the marine environment and this was the subject of the 2 nd half of his presentation. His mission is not just to share the blue-washed beauty of the watery world we are privileged to enter, but he also strives to promote awareness of the problems and not hide the truth when things are not so wonderful.

Several factors destructively affect the marine environment ranging from light damage to complete devastation e.g. global worming, the El Nino weather pattern and subsequent coral bleaching. Much coral has been damaged/killed from the Maldives to Mauritius and Madagascar, the Red Sea and the Caribbean. The beautiful split image shots of a healthy, colourful reef underwater and an idyllic, sun kissed island above simply cannot be achieved any more in the Maldives.

Another tragic and avoidable factor is man-made debris, thoughtlessly abandoned to the oceans whether from boats or the beach. For example, plastic bogs closely resemble jellyfish underwater, and jellyfish are staple food for turtles. Many precious turtles along with numerous other marine inhabitants are harmed or killed by plastic bags and general litter.

Many of the worlds most stunning marine habitats are also beautiful holiday destinations and very few places are now untouched by resort development. Originally, the coral itself was used to construct buildings in the Maldives and Seychelles, destroying ancient reefs and many habitats. Thankfully, due to more awareness and education, this has now been stopped, but development can sometimes be uncontrolled and inherently damaging to the very environment it is seeking to exploit.

In the northern Red Sea, 200 dive boats head out of Sharm harbour every single day, although many efforts have recently been taken to limit negative effects. Much damage has been done in the past by carelessly thrown anchors, badly controlled divers and indiscriminate fish feeding. However, there are now more drift dives undertaken so less moorings required, there are permanent mooring buoys strategically placed and a much greater awareness of the dangers of random feeding.

Compared with some issues, divers themselves pose a relatively small threat to the health of the environment, but the problem still does exist. People can be seen standing or lying on the reef, or carelessly kicking, oblivious to the trail of destruction in their wake. However, on a more positive note divers, operators, guides and dive centres are all now much more aware of the problems and are much quicker and more willing to try and prevent bad behaviour!

Photographers need to be acutely aware of their potential affect on the environment. Camera equipment should be weightless and balanced, gear too heavy or too light can lead to loss of control, For macro photography, shooting down is never good as it is easy to become disorientated and collisions can occur. Better by for is to hold oneself horizontal, if necessary by placing one finger on a piece of dead coral for steadiness, particularly in a current. To move to the next site, leave by pushing against dead rock or inhaling a breath and going out upwards/backwards, making sure to look down and all around. This prevents general or fin damage and stirring up sand. Wide angle photographers should first check buoyancy, then set the camera and aim strobes etc. before getting close to the reef.
Photographers can help educate by avoiding pictures showing models appearing to be in the middle of a reef with perspective implying physical contact. If a photographer can convince a dive guide on the 1' dive that they are skilful, careful and responsible to the environment the guide will be more relaxed and also much more helpful. There is nothing like local knowledge for locating those rare, elusive animals you are longing to capture in your camera.

Greater, more destructive problems are more difficult to control. Astoundingly, 1 million sharks are killed in the ocean every year - one every 30 seconds, 365 days of the year. 80% of these are to provide shark fin soup to the Asian market. Sharks are the most important animals in the ocean as they are at the top of the food chain and theim destruction adversely affects the entire chain, right down to zooplankton. Shark fins are big business, for example in Columbia the harvesting of shark fins for export to Hong Kong is linked with the drug maf ia and Kurt needed bodyguards at the hotel he was staying in.
Turtles are also under threat, for example in Indonesia where they are still killed for souvenirs etc., or where their habitats are destroyed to develop resorts, but looking up, there is much greater awareness now and many significant campaigns to save these graceful and breathtaking creatures. Kurt is himself actively involved as Project Manager in the 505 Sea Turtle Bali Campaign in association with PAbI Project Aware.

Dolphinariums are also now thankfully banned in many places. All dolphins in dolphinariums are wild, none are born in captivity and they ore taken from their habitat at such a young age it is like taking a child from it's parents at 3 years old. Experience has been gained medically and their lives can be artificially extended but they do not live well, they are often clearly unhappy, and they die early. Happily, England was the I` country in the world to ban dolphinariums, the last one being in Brighton.
Kurt sums up his philosophy with this quote: 'I want my pictures to show people who do not dive themselves what wonders are concealed under the water's surface. Also, lead them to respect those wonders and to act, if action is required, to protect and preserve the sea and its inhabitants'

Reproduced from in focus 77 (September 2003)


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