Diving with Nile crocodiles in the Okavango Delta

Didier Noirot and I have just got back from a very intriguing trip to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, where we succeeded in diving with large Nile crocodiles and documenting these extraordinary living dinosaurs underwater. I am going to write up a full expedition report when I get the chance, but can report that initially it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life - those iconic images of huge crocs lunging out the water and taking down huge animals are not easy to push to the back of one’s minds when you get into the water with your first big one. Below are some screen grabs from the video sequences we shot for potential ‘Behind The Scenes’ use - that’s Didier with his Sony 900 in the Subspace housing. To check out short video clips from these dives, click here…


Why Predive checks and protocols are critical...

We arrived onto the action almost immediately, and had no time to prepare beyond the obvious. The baitball action we were on was sporadic and scrambled, nothing tightly defined, but something. I had decided to try a different auto focus setting with a larger number of potential focus points, and immediately realised that this was not going to work for action as intense as that which you witness underwater on the sardine run. So in the midst of some precious moments of gannets diving and dolphins blasting past, I was fumbling with camera controls, BIG MISTAKE! Back at base, I downloaded my images to discover that my ISO setting had been left on 800 - what a school boy error. Images grainy. Sacked! Had that been the mother of all baitballs, I would have been devastated. Important school fees paid, will not repeat that error again. Lesson learnt - Define your predive checks and complete them, no matter what.

Gannets diving, shot at ISO 800 in error, beware the grain! 


BBC Earth's Great Events 'The Great Tide' Shoot 2008 Kicks Off

Today was the first day of our allotted five weeks to capture the final imagery for the BBC’s Earth’s Great Event feature on the Sardine Run off the east coast of South Africa. Last year the underwater team was plagued by bad visibility, as was the shoot in April recently in Plett, so this shoot really needs to deliver. Launching out through the harbour, we headed out into the deep and were greeted by very workable visibility which in the afternoon light became truly lyrical. Even later in the afternoon, on the edge of Didier’s working window we teamed up with the topside crew who had found a working pod of common dolphins, and were rewarded with what are probably our first magical underwater images on this shoot. In this image, Didier Noirot is captured filming a segment of the pod as they blast through the blue cavern of ocean in around 100m of water, 25km’s out to sea.



Baby Giant Petrel meets Didier Noirot

While searching for sardine run action of Cape St Francis during the Earth’ Great Events Great Tide shoot, we were treated to a vist by a fledgling giant petrel. Hugely inquisitive, the bird landed close to the boat and then proceeded to follow us around as we drifted during out tea break. Didier jumped into the water and filmed the bird on his Sony HD; I followed suit with my Nikon D200. According to Didier these birds are normally incredibly shy - this juvenile must have either been extremely bold or never had any form of contact with humans before.





BBC Nature's Great Event Shoot in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

During April the BBC Sardine Run team meet up in Plettenberg Bay to focus on capturing more footage for the Earth’s Great Event Series. Unlike last year, where I had been assisting Jusin Maguire topside, Hugh Person shifted me onto the underwater team to assist Didider Noirot, and to film underwater footage and stills for the making of section. We were plagued by bad visibility for much of this shoot - this image of a common dolphin and her baby shows just how bad - a function of upwellings and plankton blooms. In late May we kick off another five week shoot, our last chance to capture this compelling, dynamic yet elusive marine phenomenon.



Julie Andersen diving with Tiger Sharks on Aliwal Shoal

In March, after a diving trip to explore the area around Cape Aghulas with Blue Wilderness, I headed up to Shark Park with Wolfgang Leander and Julie Andersen to dive with the tigers and blacktips. Julie Andersen is a shark conservationist from New York who runs a conservation organisation called Shark Savers - she is also one of the ‘Shark Angels’, a group of three woman from around the world who have teamed up to promote the conservation of sharks through what will hopefully become a documentary series, and is responsible for marketing the shark documentary ‘Shark Water’ in the USA. We have great visibility on the two days we were there, and despite being new to freediving, Julie excelled as an underwater freediving model, enabling us to capture these images from the shoot.





The most southern scuba dive site in Africa

Yesterday I headed out with the Blue Wilderness crew to the Alphard Banks, 42 nautical miles SE of Struisbaai, Cape Aghulas, to what is arguably the most southern scuba dive destination in Africa. The spot rises up to around 15 meters, and then drops off to around 80 meters to the west and 70 meters in the east. 

Two short tail stingrays on Alphard banks

The trip out in relatively flat seas for this area took two and a half hours, steaming at around 30 to 35 km/h. Once there we put down a market buoy, and I rolled over the side to freedive the drift and get a feel for the current, visibility and animal life. The visibility was green but clean, and on shallow section was visible from the surface, as were shoals of small hottentot, and it was exhilarating to be diving in wild new territory where pretty much anything was possible from an interaction perspective.

Mark then joined me and for half and hour and we hunted yellowtail, shoals and singles of which kept appearing out of the fringes of our vision, mostly singles, but twice massive shoals of perhaps a thousand individuals. Then it was onto SCUBA and down to the bottom, where we engaged with four short tailed rays who kept us entertained in this epic location that has al the makings of a legendary dive location, albeit someway off the coast.

A large shoal of yellowtail on Alphard Banks.

According to local spearos who have dived this area many times, when the variables are right the place lights up like a pelagic bomb - marlin, pelagic sharks, yellow tail, and huge shoals of reef fish. Yesterday the water was perhaps too cold for us to witness the reef at its best, but we left with the certainty that its the kind of location which when exploding is just phenomenal. Clearly we will be back - on good days hopefully, when the drive time there and back is under five hours.




Island of the Mad Geese - Malgas island, South Africa

In late January, early February I spent almost three weeks on Malgas Island with Justin Maguire, filming Cape Fur Seal Predation on Gannet fledgelings as part of the Sardine Run ‘The Great Tide” documentary for the BBC production, Nature’s Great Events. It turned into a brilliant shoot - great animal behaviour, great location, great company - and we were able to document behaviour that we believe has never before been captured on film. I was also able to get some underwater footage that while short, may just make it into the final production, which would be genius.





Setting Photographic Goals for 2008.

Tiger Shark On Aliwal Shoal, Nikon D200, 12 - 24 Nikkor at 14mm, 1/160s f4

Increasingly I am referring to Thom Hogan’s excellent site for a perspective on all things photographic, from lens choice to matters of technique and photography practice. One of his more recent articles is titled ‘What’s your goal?’, and as the title suggests, it puts the case forward for why it is important for photographers on all levels to set goals against which to measure their development and achievements over the year. Thom’s goals are as follows:

Let me tell you mine for the coming year: take six photographs that I’ll print at 24” and sell in limited quantity as signed prints. That’s it. Take six photographs. Take six photographs that’ll withstand being pushed to 24” with current print technologies. Take six photographs that’ll withstand being pushed to 24” with current print technologies and which some number of people will find good enough to pay significant money to get one of those signed, limited edition prints. Take six photographs that’ll withstand being pushed to 24” with current print technologies and which some number of people will find good enough to pay significant money to get and which I’ll be proud to say represent my best work ever.

This strikes me as very good advice, and I intend to work on a set of goals for myself for the rest of the year, which I will publish and thereby make myself accountable to delivering them. I particularly like the simplicity of Thom’s goal, a simplicity which clearly belies a lot of complexity and hard work.

The image posted above is of a large female tiger shark on Aliwal Shoal, and is one of my favourite in the current series, largely because of the negative space in the image and the almost vertical swimming position of the tiger shark in the water column, a posture which I feel is strongly characteristic of the tiger shark. I suspect this image would have to be blown up really big, A1 or A0 to be really effective, so I intend to do some print tests when I get back to Cape Town to check my suspicions. One of my goals next year on the product side is to release a series of limited edition prints as a way of testing the commercial viability and appeal of my images, and to learn more about what sells and what is popular, but more about that later.


Wild Seas, Secret Shores of Africa - Thomas Peschak

WildSeasSecretShores.jpgIf you’re looking for a great Christmas present, check out the latest book from Tom Peschak, Wild Seas, Secret Shores of Africa. It is available from most leading South African book stores, as well as from  if you don’t live in South Africa.

Tom has mastered the recipe for blending dry science with salacious imagery and prose, and the broth that he cooks up in this instance is a feast.

What sets Tom’s imagery apart is his commitment to creating images that put you in the action, through the use of a style on large and small animals alike that is almost macro-wide angle in nature. Another great feature of this book is a section at the back which features all of the images in the book with a short story of how it was shot, including the relevant camera settings