Saturday, September 10, 2016

Underwater Photo Fun in Turks and Caicos

Hi there,

It's been a while since I posted here as I got totally derailed this summer by a combination of lots of work (thank-you!), followed by a pressing family situation back in Vancouver (my hometown). All this time I struggled with whether it would be better to delay posting entirely, or share something current, interesting and available but "off brand."

At this point, I've come down on the side of abandoning strategy, and throwing consistency to the wind, so I'm going to write about a holiday, with, of course, a slight emphasis on the photo part of it. Two summers ago our son joined his already certified parents in becoming a PADI certified scuba diver, so this July we booked a one week trip to a dive resort called Bohio, on the island of Grand Turk. Bohio is run by Tom and Ginny Allan, a lovely, friendly Canadian couple, along with their son Scott and daughter Emily. We loved it there so much we are already booked to go back next year. 

The beach at Bohio, Grand Turk, TCI

With the package we booked, you (can if you want) get up every day for breakfast, do two dives before lunch and then spend the afternoons doing whatever you want, or working (if you are far too important to go offline for a whole week at a time ;)...

My ulterior interest with the diving part is always, of course, getting the opportunity to do some photography. Unfortunately, although I own a full sized DSLR underwater camera housing system, we haven't dived much since our son was born (that's changing now!) so my set-up is no longer anywhere near state of the art, not to mention huge and cumbersome (requiring its own large, rigid case). As a result, for this trip I borrowed a much smaller four thirds format camera with a much smaller underwater housing. And I hoped I wouldn't be too disappointed with the image quality from the smaller sensor.

As it turned out, I was kind of disappointed. But I kind of liken the experience and the results to using my old smart phone camera with a funky software filter to take fairly low res but fun pictures (which I sometimes do). And now I know that next time I want to take serious underwater pictures I will need to buy a new Aquatica housing for my full frame Nikon and suck it up and lug the big case.

In any case, one of the trickiest things I recall about underwater photography (and I did not miraculously get better at this after not practicing for an extended period) is balancing the output of the flash with the ambient light, something I do (very well) literally all the time on land. I think part of the problem is that I can't seem to judge distance underwater to save my life (I'm not the only one...the visual distortion caused by the water makes judging size and distance underwater challenging), and unlike shooting a job (I've shot the odd underwater job in the past), when on holiday in the underwater wild, one does not have the opportunity to make the subject "do it again!"

Anyway, partly thanks to the miracle of processing software, I was able to capture/create a few fun images, and some of them I wouldn't have been able to light anyway, so here goes:

Our son rides side saddle on his father

Here's a (not) fun fact we learned the day we watched our divemaster spear a lionfish and feed it to Jorge the mutton snapper, a friendly fish who turned up on 80% of the dives we did. As explained in an article in Scientific American magazine: " Lionfish arrived in the South Atlantic in 1985, most likely released by private aquarium owners,  and have caused native fish populations there to decline by up to 80 percent. In the Bahamas between 2008 and 2010 they reduced biomass of 42 other fishes by an average of 65 percent." And further "The invasion may be “one of the greatest threats of this century to warm temperate and tropical Atlantic reefs and associated habitats,” wrote National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist James A. Morris, Jr., in Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management (pdf)." Apparently another successful predator of lionfish is the grouper. So if  resorts, cruise boats, hotels and restaurants stop overfishing grouper and serve lionfish instead there may be hope.

L - Jorge the friendly mutton snapper, R - Divemaster spearing lionfish for Jorge (yes, I know you can't really see what's happening in this little picture, but an overview is what I was able to shoot. No do-overs, remember?)

On a happier note, I got to see and photograph several of my favourite underwater creatures, as well as some pretty scenes

Southern stingray
Stingrays at Gibb's Cay
Ray with fish companions
An elusive spotted eagle ray
Hawksbill turtle

Although being and breathing underwater is rewarding in itself, and visually it's always interesting inasmuch as it differs so much from our terrestrial experience, it thrills my heart to be in the presence of turtles, rays and sharks. (Not a lot of sharks around on this trip.) Still, even a mutton snapper can make pretty art:

At the end of every day, we had the great pleasure of sitting down to dine at Bohio's lovely Guanahani Restaurant. Executive chef Jorika Mhende's reputation is richly deserved: it's not surprising that visitors come from other dive resorts to enjoy her culinary creations. Bohio's website even publishes their wine list which is not that usual for a dive resort, and was a huge selling point for someone in my family. 

Guanahani Restaurant and the view at dinner

As always, thanks for reading and if you need photography of anything in southern Ontario, please contact me at