30 November 2020 – Cate Barrow – “Underwater Photography”

Last night’s meeting was presented by an old friend of our club, talking to us from the Brecon Beacons, with another aspect of the photographic art which requires both athletic skills as well as technical knowledge – a truly international journey describing the complete fantasy of underwater photography. Cate’s talk wasn’t just 200 glorious images but also a whistle stop tour of many of the great dive locations around the world.

As can be appreciated this requires, diving skills; buoyancy control; clear knowledge of maximum dive depth; accurate time control; specialist equipment; available light and environmental awareness – SAFETY being essential. Cate is a Nikon DSLR user and the critical choice of lens has to be made made before entering the water and can make or break a dive session.

Cate shoots in RAW at ISO levels around 200 – 400, though higher is possible, AWB, 16 Gb cards, auto focus and single point focus. She carefully described her kit from a photograph and clearly it is equivalent to entering deep space in both its complexity and technical appreciation under what might turn out to be very testing conditions, in close proximity to very dangerous aquatic life!

As might be expected the light conditions can be challenging and strobe, flash and natural light might be met depending on the dive venue, including night dives. Composition is very demanding and often opportunities to seize a rare moment are fleeting, backgrounds varied from blue water, dazzling corals and black, when a stunningly bright fish is pictured in close (very close) detail. We were shown exciting examples of fish eating, mating, emerging from caves and under sandy hides and it became very clear that Cate was always ready to suffer many privations in order to secure the image that she sought.

Diving in the UK – It was amazing to many of us that there is a wide range of life close to our shores, even when the maximum sea temperature is only 14 degrees C. and visibility is less than 5 metres. Popular areas are, Farne Islands, Scilly Isles, around Stomer, off the Devon coast and Plymouth Sound – we were shown Tinpot blennies, one huge Lobster (possibly 100 years old), Starfish, Shrimps, Leopard spotted Goby, butter fish, blue sharks, all captured in their own environment. Most of Cate’s trips take her abroad, regrettably she described her susceptibility to sea sickness, always taking extreme care to avoid sunburn, very cramped rooms on board, no camera spares, in other words not a glamorous holiday but the rewards are considered worthwhile.
Diving locations abroad –
We were shown a number of trips beginning with Fiji and the Beqa Lagoon to enjoy ethically fed sharks. Images included sharks, shrimps, sea cucumber, emperor shrimps, red spotted goby, ribbon eel (that changes sex and colour, turning bright blue with a yellow mouth!), lizard fish, grey roof shark, these can be aggressive the shot was head-on and very close.
Next came New Zealand, Poor Knights Island, sacred Maori Land, sea slugs, sponges, Tasman blenny, Captain Cook Scorpion, huge crayfish, mosaic mori eel, often killer whales, though not this time, many sting rays.
Australia was next but on this trip the Great Barrier Reef was not included but we saw Western Australia, South Australia, NSW including Sydney. SA, Merion Bay – great whites, leafy sea dragon, frog fish, blue ringed octopus, poisonous pipe fish. NSW Jervis Bay – nurse sharks, wobbegong shark, Spanish Dancer slug, appearing like a piece of liver. Sydney Harbour – frog fish, scorpion fish, and at Manly Beach amongst an old hessian shark net lots of tiny sea horses live, agility is needed to photograph them amongst the whirling of the ferry.
Away from Australia to Indonesia, Bunaken Island to find turtles, hiding amongst soft coral, jaw fish protruding from the sandy bottom, anemone fish, cleaner shrimps (full of eggs), pipe fish, crocodile fish, gobies. Onwards to Lambert straight in a busy shipping lane to see gurnards, octopus, eels, cuttlefish, and more anemone fish at night, pygmy sea horses, coconut octopus, gobies and shrimps co-habiting in symbiosis, stargazers and frog fish and the nudibranch sea slug.
Onwards to the Maldives and associated atolls. Regrettably some coral damage is reported, due to climate change, stunning images of manta rays, mori eels, leopard mori eels, tawny nurse sharks, an unusual guitar shark, huge shoals of banner fish, batfish, blue cheeked angel fish, long nosed hawk fish, frog fish, green turtles all in fine detail. Further on to the Southern atolls – again coral both dead and dying, plankton surge gave opportunities to catch turtles, whale sharks, eagle rays, gobies and damsel fish.
Further adventures on the Solomon Islands – this is an unspoilt tourist area with significant WW 2 interest from the major US action at Guadalcanal, there is much evidence of the detritus of war and some opportunity to dive on the area of action e.g. a Japanese zero aircraft on the sea bed (a war grave). This is a volcanic area and powerful sound waves abound, sea life includes black tipped reef sharks, crocodile fish, Orang Outan crabs, an Archer fish on nearby mangrove swamps and …worryingly crocodiles and snakes.
Next, heading towards Papua New Guinea and Raja Ampat Islands, an area close to the Equator, rich in brightly coloured species, barracuda, rock cod, scorpion fish, with mouth wide open, frog fish, well camouflaged sharks, pygmy cuttlefish, toad fish flying gournad, wasp fish mori eel, Teddy bear crab – a veritable feast.
A lengthy journey now to Guadeloupe Island, New Mexico where people of all ages are submerged in cages to be close up to great white sharks, a couple of serious incidents had recently occurred and modifications to the viewing experiences had become necessary. The sharks were described by Cate as awesome with dead eyes!
The last part of this journey took us to Socorro Island, Mexico to see the gigantic oceanic Manta Rays, huge crayfish, large shoals of huddling fish amongst the sea coral and appealing inquisitive seals and sea lions.
Finally, our wonderful speaker’s Christmas trip in 2019 we arrived at the enchanting Bahamas. Immediately on leaving the boat, ready for a dive, she was surrounded by lemon sharks, who looked fearsome, but were safe, unlike the great hammerheads which lurked below on the sea bed. The feeding regime took place under controlled conditions and all divers were required to behave as the sharks were very close feeding over the sea grass and they were advancing in a menacing way with eyes half open – this was described by Cate as prime wildlife camera work.
An entirely unique and captivating evening for our members, beautifully photographed and presented factually and with the usual enthusiasm of an expert in every field that she explores – our members responded with grateful thanks.
Have a look at Cate’s website and be enthralled at https://catebarrow.co.uk/

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