Award-winning underwater photographers share their love of the seas
It seems like almost everyone is a budding shutterbug these days. Not everyone, though, has the patience to lie still in the dirt for a long time to catch that perfect wildlife shot.
Fewer still, you’d imagine, are willing to do that while worrying about running out of air, dicing with strong currents - and the odd predator passing by looking for a quick bite.
However, if the turnout for the recent awards night of the Emirates Diving Association’s Digital Online Competition 2012 is anything to go by, underwater photography is surfacing as a top new hobby among the UAE’s diving community.
Jonathan Clayton (pictured), who captured the prize for best amateur photographer at the fourth annual awards, admits that his commitment to getting the perfect shot has seen him gamble with his safety.
“I got ‘narced’ a little from being down too long and holding my breath,” he says referring to nitrogen narcosis, the feeling of being drunk or lightheaded that is brought about by nitrogen entering the bloodstream at higher than atmospheric pressure.
“It’s about so much more than just getting your composition right.
“You’ve got to think about buoyancy, you have the current to deal with then you have got to deal with things like whip corals. It is really quite a challenge,” adds the 30-year-old who has been diving in UAE waters since he was a teenager.
“I got a shot of a scorpion fish yawning that I actually waited an hour for - watching him, concentrating on my breathing - while he was
staring me out.
“He just would not yawn and when he eventually did I had cut the corner out of the shot and I didn’t realise until I saw the photo topside.” Apart from the occasional frustrating moment, there have also been a few scary ones for Clayton, who admits a fear of stingrays.
“I saved my friend from a sea snake going right up his shorts,” he says. “We were on a dive and were looking at a hairy frogfish and my friend was lying on the bottom.
“I spotted this sea snake starting to go up his shorts leg, so I had to very carefully lift him up. My friend had not seen it and was like ‘what are you doing?’
“When I pointed down, he almost had a heart attack. The snake’s head was in his shorts. It could have been a lot more nasty,” recalls Clayton, adding that they were able to carefully coax the venomous critter out before he took a bite.
Apart from getting the chance to explore an alien world and capture breathtaking imagery, the sub-aqua documenters hope their work will serve a greater purpose - revealing the beauty of sea life that is so desperately in need of protection, in the UAE and across the globe.
“Dubai’s coast was destroyed quite a long time ago when they started dredging for The World and the Palms,” says Clayton.
“The other big problem here is shark finning (removing shark fins and discarding the rest of the body).
“Quite often we will come back from a dive from Musandam, or on the East Coast, where you may not have seen any sharks and coming back in to the harbour the only sharks that you have seen are those ones left there dead on the jetty.”
A WORD FROM THE JUDGES
Jonathan Ali Khan, a UAE-based sea-life videographer and photographer, was one of the judges. He says the key to taking the perfect underwater shot is not down to technical skills or diving prowess.
“You need to be able to anticipate the actions of the subject you’re shooting,” he said. “A masterful photographer takes into account all of the eventualities to be in position and in the right frame of mind. Relax and connect with the subject, the technical mastery is just how many dives you do and how many cards you fill... eventually you get the techniques right.”