Taking pictures of your underwater adventures can only make them more exciting. Andy Mills finds out about Al Mahara Diving Center’s unique course for any and all budding submariner snappers.
‘You should have seen it down there, the fish were incredible’. If you’ve been scuba diving, or even snorkelling, this kind of phrase may well have passed your lips. The problem is, no matter how much you talk about your underwater sights to friends, nothing gets close to seeing it for yourself.
This is a good reason to visit Al Mahara Diving Center and book into their PADI Digital Underwater Photography Course, a practical solution that will help you capture plenty of perfect pictures to entertain/bore your friends with. Thanks to digital photography it’s easier than ever to take snaps beneath the sea, with companies like Fujifilm offering basic underwater cameras from as little as Dhs700. However it’s still something of a skill to get good ones.
‘There’s always a good shot somewhere, but even now I can take 150 shots and get back to the surface with only three that I’m happy with,’ explains Darren Drewery, instructor at Mahara. The specific issues of underwater photography make this a regular occurrence, no matter how experienced you are or how good your equipment is.
‘The further you dive down, the more colour you lose, typically with red disappearing first. It’s important to get the white balance right to compensate, so we dive with a white tile to take a measure from down there,’ he explains.
There are other things to master too, including the very basic idea of holding the camera still, something that even the gentlest current can disrupt. Often that can involve holding onto something, but Darren points out knowing things like what to hold on to is another integral part of the course; ‘We teach people to leave nothing but bubbles and take nothing but pictures. Responsibility for the environment and an understanding of it is paramount’
There are two levels of the course to choose from, both of which are PADI certified. After all, even the best photograph isn’t worth putting yourself in danger for. Alternatively you can take the course as a snorkeller, which doesn’t require diver training, obviously. ‘The only problem with snorkelling is you often only get the snorkeller perspective; looking down. You can still learn a lot of the same principles, like camera settings, framing and light, but you get to see things better when diving,’ explains Darren.
While you may think the water around Abu Dhabi is too murky or the sea life too scarce to even contemplate giving underwater photography a go, Darren is keen to disagree. ‘When you get out into the open water we have huge coral reefs and artificial reefs like the Blocks, which I call my aquarium as there are so many fish. I’ve had visibility on deep wrecks of 15-20 metres, but typically it’s about seven to ten metres. You won’t get that in the man-made channels here as the silt doesn’t ever settle.’
Darren uses a Nikon digital SLR camera (the big ones that you can swap lenses on), which is wrapped by an expensive, watertight plastic case. He also has two external flash lights that connect to the case on adjustable arms too, which help to light up his subjects in deeper water, but at more shallow depths he’s also had some great results with a point-and-shoot compact camera.
‘Underwater photography with any camera is far more rewarding because it takes more effort to get that really special shot. Even the subject has to play ball. Ultimately though you’re getting shots that very few other people are.’
Whether it’s colourful sea slugs in macro or wide-angle images of ship wrecks and fellow divers you fancy snapping, Mahara’s photography course will give you the edge; they’ll even teach you the best ways to edit your shots. So if you fancy being called up for David Attenborough’s next book or simply want to bore your mates with submarine scenes, perhaps it’s time to give their underwater photography course a go.
Course costs are from Dhs1,550 for two dives. Al Mahara Diving Center, Wasit Street, Al Dhafrah (02 643 7377).
Take a better picture
It’s not just underwater photography you can master in Abu Dhabi. The courses offered below can also make you a genius behind any lens.
Gulf Photo Plus
Sign up for this Dubai-based online photography community (with courses all over Abu Dhabi as well) and take one of their photograph workshops, show off your photos on their member’s gallery, buy camera accessories at their online store and sell your old camera gear. You can also purchase work by photographers.
Offers three types of tuition: expert beginner, creative beginner and prolite, which teaches the disciplines needed to work in a studio environment.
Keylite Studio, Professional Building block A, Najda Street www.jayalonzophotoworkshop.com (052 989 9851).