How to care for your underwater camera on a daily basis!

Master Divers underwater photographer, Rob Kelly provides his top tips on his daily camera care routine!

So today we were due the weekly dive report from the 1st to the 7th September 2017. Unfortunately, I have had a dilemma and my underwater camera needed some TLC, should we say plus, a lot has been going on which means I have been out of the water.

Having a faulty vacuum bulkhead on your camera housing is not always a bad thing…

For me, it meant the opportunity to spend more time with one of the most inspiring people in my Pro-diving career. The IDC Staff course with Gaz Lyden and hosted by Master Divers, gave me the chance to sit back and watch his trade craft. A holistic and genuinely person-centered approach to help candidates become the best instructors they can be.

Instructor Rob with Course Director, Gaz for IDC Staff Instructor Training

Unfortunately, without my camera I’ve been unable to continue with the weekly dive reports, showing the wonderful marine life to be seen whilst scuba diving Koh Tao.  Instead I have decided to write a little about camera housing care and maintenance; hopefully, I can help any of you interested in underwater photography, to avoid some of the mistakes that I have made. So I’ve written a brief summary of my day focusing on camera care.

I’ve heard the saying many times that if you dive long enough with an underwater camera; it’s not a case of IF you have a leak but WHEN.  I decided that I wanted to try really hard not to make this come true!  So here’s my setup and care routine.

Start: 1 hour before boat time.
  • Remove batteries from chargers and put in strobes, camera and lights.
  • Check function i.e. do they turn on.
  • Remove Housing from freshwater soak tank, dry and open.
  • Check main housing O-ring for debris i.e. dust and especially hairs, clean and re-grease if necessary.
  • Insert camera with SD card into housing.
  • Seal housing and remove air with vacuum pump.
  • Check camera function: focus, flash trigger, card reading and full battery charge.
  • Pack components into protective case.

Green is good to go Blue is vacuum pump now Red light means fail or failing Strobe arms, floats and the important camera housing

On the boat:
  • Assemble camera and floats/ strobes and arms.  Check vacuum is still holding.
  • Check all camera functions again; once you’re in the water; IT’S TOO LATE to remedy.
  • Brief groups on underwater shots, not to follow me, and that their guide or instructor is in charge.
  • Pre-dive scuba checks.
  • Jump
  • Boat crew pass the camera, final vacuum check and dive!
Water exits:
  • Pass equipment up, wash and/ or soak the camera if these facilities are available.
  • Check all camera functions.  Remedy if necessary; including batteries, SD cards.
  • Switch everything off and make sure there’s enough charge for dive 2.
After diving, I tend to head home and once there, I will:
  • Unpack everything and remove batteries from cameras, strobes and lights for charging.
  • Check and vacuum seal empty camera housing for soaking in fresh water (this helps to dissolve any salt crystals that have built up during the day)
  • Different types of diving present different cleaning issues.
  • A day in shallow bays with fine sand usually means a good deal of sand along the outer edge of the main housing O-Ring.
  • This O-Ring would then need to be removed, cleaned and re greased before soaking.  (less is more when it comes to the silicon grease used; enough to lightly coat the ring is enough)
  • For me a soak can be anywhere from 2 Hours to overnight.
  • Rinse and repeat!

My Camera Housing Extra equipment for wide and macro photography!

Just a quick word about my housing.  It didn’t leak whilst diving but I did find a small amount of water in the empty housing after an overnight soak.  To be fair, there had been some warning signs; I was having to tighten the vacuum bulkhead more and more to maintain a seal.  In fact, this part has been slightly redesigned since I first bought it, so whilst it’s having it’s annual service this month; this part will be replaced with the updated version.

I learned early on that routine and systematic checking is very much the way to go regarding underwater camera maintenance.  I found out the hard way that if you don’t check camera functions, or haven’t switched on your flash trigger or even put a battery in the wrong way round; during a dive is far too late to remedy the problem.  To be honest, it’s pretty easy to replace batteries the wrong way at 05:30 and before my first coffee!  It’s also a really simple to fix if I check everything before leaving home.

I hope this helps but if you have any underwater imaging related questions, I can be contacted on my Facebook page Ocean Secrets and I’m always happy to help where I can.  It’s also worth mentioning that you absolutely do not have to be a scuba diver to take underwater photos.  Whilst snorkeling around Koh Tao, it is possible to see and record some pretty amazing sights!

Shallow Reef whilst snorkeling in Koh Tao Turtle whilst snorkeling in Koh Tao

We’ll be back soon for some more awesome dive site reports so watch this space guys!

 

 

 

Weekly Dive Site Report 18 – 24 August 2017

Hi everyone and welcome to Master Diver’s weekly diving report, bringing to you all the news, from myself, Rob Kelly, about diving in Koh Tao this week.

This week’s worth of diving has bought an abundance of marine life to enjoy, with some very up close and personal encounters. We have enjoyed beautiful conditions at a broad range of the sites we have visited.

Divemaster Katie with a Batfish at Twins Dive site Koh Tao, Thailand Divemaster Brian with a Pufferfiash at Twins dive site, Koh Tao, Thailand

On a couple of days this week we had advance notice of minor squalls, resulting in slightly choppy surface conditions. Fortunately, with the heads up from our management team and the 30+ years experience of our legendary lead captain P.Dong we always managed to find the optimum dive location for our divers and customers who were snorkeling.

Highlights for this week in our photo blog are Japanese Gardens, Twins, Chumpon Pinnacle and the Koh Tao reef regeneration project called Junkyard.

Blue spotted Coral Trout at Japanese Gardens, Koh Tao Tahiland Barrel Sponge at Chumphon Dive site, Koh Tao, Thailand Longfin Banner Fish at Chumphon Dive site Koh Tao Thailand Finding Nemo at Twins Dive site Koh Tao Thailand

My personal favourite encounter this week, was a Green Turtle, fascinated by his reflection in my camera dome at Twins dive site, one that we often visit scuba-diving Koh Tao. We hope you enjoy the pictures as much as we enjoyed diving these sites. See you next week!

Green Turtle encounter at Twins dive site Koh Tao, Thailand

A week through the eyes of a Scuba diving photographer!

After a hiatus, we are going to resume the weekly dive reports here at Master Divers. We’d really like to share with you some of the amazing marine life that we get to see on a daily basis diving on Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand and what goes on underwater through the eyes of a professional photographer; namely me, Rob Kelly. We’re even showcasing video’s so you don’t miss out on anything! Watch out for the first installment next week which details what to expect when diving in Koh Tao, Koh Tao’s dive site conditions and the marine life we see. For now here’s a little something about me and what I’ve experienced this week as Master Divers photographer.

First of all, a little bit about me: I’m a PADI specialty instructor, I first dived 25 years ago on the Great Barrier Reef. Since then I’ve dived in tropical and very cold water and most things in between. I’m trained on the open circuit scuba systems that the vast majority of our divers use and also the Hollis Explorer semi-closed rebreather. In short, I’m a diver with fairly broad experience and I have specifically chosen Master Divers as my home.

Master Divers Photographer Rob Kelly

This week, we have experienced some lovely conditions at the various dive sites we have visited. One thing to note about us is that we have 2 boats, meaning that we are able to cater to both experienced divers and anyone who is seeking a first experience and training for the underwater world. With up to 5 trips a day with each boat, the variety of sites we are able to offer is fairly extensive, and the office team are always happy to try to accommodate requests. I had the pleasure of shooting PADI Open Water courses, with 2 of our full time instructors; Jason, a PADI Master Instructor, and Rafa, a PADI Staff Instructor. What I noticed is how these professionals made excellent judgement calls on what we in diving call ‘close control’- When you are learning with us, your dive professional is at all times there for your safety and comfort.

The 2 shots I’m referring to involve the mask removal skill. Jason was working with a student who clearly had a high level of comfort with this skill, he still maintains physical contact and therefore control and his choice was entirely appropriate for that situation. Rafa had a customer wearing contact lenses, slightly less comfortable with this skill; his position is closer and in addition to holding the BC D, also holds his fingers in front the student’s regulator. This is textbook control.

PADI Open Water Mask Removal Skill PADI Open Water Mask Removal Skill

Among the beautiful marine life we saw were a very relaxed Star Puffer Fish, a lovely Banded Sea Krait, the gorgeous Nudibranch ((Risbecia Trioni) and a Flatworm that I’ve not yet managed to identify.

Diving in Koh Tao, PufferFish Sea Snake Nudi Branch in Koh Tao Flatworm not yet identified

All of the shots of divers and marine life are by me Rob Kelly @ Ocean Secrets Underwater Photography. If  you’d like to look at this cool underwater world, I can certainly help. See you next week!

Underwater Photography and Bad Buoyancy: Don’t be THAT guy!

“What kind of camera and equipment are you using?”

 

This is a question I get asked EVERY SINGLE DAY. Without fail. And while I am absolutely happy to answer and give the specifics of every single bit of equipment I have,  I am always a little wary about who’s asking – particularly if the question comes from a novice diver or a student who is just about to complete their open water course. Sometimes, they are asking me simply out of curiosity, but most of the time they are asking because they are genuinely interested in underwater photography. And who wouldn’t be?

Videographer
A videographer displays superb buoyancy while hovering over a delicate reef of anemones.

In this day and age, it is widely accessible and relatively cheap to own a camera that can be used underwater, so naturally most people want to take one along with them on their dives. However, several things happen when an inexperienced diver does this, whether they are taking a simple go pro, a compact camera or a whole DSLR rig (go big or go home, right?):

 

1. They start paying less attention to their instruments, particularly their dive computer and air pressure gauge.

2. They get distracted by fish they want to photograph and forget to check their depth and NDLs as they are chasing certain animals for their shots, sometimes ending up over 10 metres or more below or above their dive guide and group.

And the biggest problem I see:

3. Buoyancy gets thrown out the window and the safety of coral reef and marine life gets compromised.

 

Having a camera with you on your dives can be incredibly distracting because your attention shifts from concentrating on your diving skills/equipment/environment to complete focus on the camera and photo opportunities. Too many times I’ve seen divers with big camera rigs taking a photo of something while resting their fins on some nearby coral for stability… or even laying down entirely on a coral patch (yes, I have actually seen this). DON’T BE THAT GUY.

Underwater Photgrapher
This photographer is in good trim with fins up and hovering calmly away from the sensitive reef below him. A good example of a responsible diver!

 

Corals take years/decades/centuries to grow! They are fragile animals that require our undivided attention and respect while diving. Also, erratic swimming tends to scare the fish off making them unapproachable to you and other divers… practicing good buoyancy is key to being a responsible and safe underwater photographer.

 

So… fresh out of your Open Water course? Really excited to start bringing your camera with you on your future dives? Then I will tell you what I tell every novice that asks about my camera gear: take a course on buoyancy and/or get a few fun dives under your belt where practicing your buoyancy is your primary focus during the dive. I promise it will go a long way and you will be much better prepared to handle a camera under water.

 

Because no one wants to be THAT guy… I promise you.

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This diver is currently being “THAT GUY” … fins on the bottom (there is probably sensitive marine life there) and in a vertical position. Always try to stay horizontal while diving!

 

Just me – or any of the dive centre staff – for more information on buoyancy dives and courses, or for more details on underwater photography. We teach both PADI specialties, and tailor made courses to suit your needs 🙂

Why Scuba Diving is Perfect for Couples

You don’t always have to have the same interests as your significant other to have a strong healthy relationship – however, it is always nice to share a common hobby. Imagine being able to add an extra element of adventure that you can both take pleasure in on nearly every holiday you plan! So why not try scuba diving?

It’s the perfect recreational sport to share with your lover. Once you both start diving, it will come to no surprise that every holiday will be tailored around good diving spots found around the globe! You will end up being each other’s best dive buddy – who else would you rather put your trust in? You will share every new discovery with joy and wonder! “What was that nudibranch that we saw?! I’ve never seen anything like it!” “Wow, did you see the size of that Manta Ray!” “This wreck was so cool, lets go get our wreck speciality!” It will come as no surprise if diving becomes an obsession for both of you.

As an underwater photographer, I get to witness and capture moments between couples as they share this adventure together: sweet gestures such as holding hands, or sneaking in a cheeky kiss or excitedly pointing out new fish species or beautiful coral to each other. Some of the couples I see have been diving for years or even decades together, some are getting their PADI Open Water certification and some are just trying a Discover Dive – whatever type of diving they are doing, I nearly always see an exchange of smiles from behind their regulators and my heart melts all over again.

Here are some moments that I have managed to snap of couples that have come diving with us:

Couples

Couples

Couples

Couples

Couples

Couples

I apologize if this post is so sweet it has give you cavities, but I just couldn’t help myself! I adore seeing couples develop and share a love for scuba diving as it reminds me of my own relationship… Five years ago, my boyfriend and I did our Open Water course on Koh Tao – we have now been living on this island for 3 years doing what we love (diving of course!), and each day we come home from work and still excitedly talk about what we’ve seen and where our next diving holiday will be. It has changed our lives forever… maybe it will change yours and your lover’s too 🙂

Couples
A selfie I captured of myself and my partner in crime while on holiday in the Similan Islands 🙂

 

Jellyfish: Totally Under-Rated Beauties

When people enthusiastically talk about their favorite underwater animal encounters, most divers will mention whale sharks, manta rays, turtles etc… and while these are animals that certainly get your heart racing (they definitely do for me!), there is something about the majestic jellyfish that makes my heart sing with every graceful movement.

Much like sharks, Jellyfish tend to bring out feelings of fear and apprehension amongst scuba divers, snorkelers and swimmers alike…Understandably, since their tentacles are widely known to cause a world of pain if touched – even I have experienced the indescribable agony of being stung by the infamous Box Jellyfish. But rather than associating all Jellyfish with fear, that experience was a sobering reminder that all creations of nature are to be respected and appreciated. I have come across many different types of Jellyfish in nearly 3 years of living on Koh Tao and each encounter has had me researching more and more information about them. Here are some of my photos and a few little fun facts about these incredible creatures:

 

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They are food for a number of animals that live in the ocean such as turtles, big fish, small fish and sometimes even birds!

 

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Jellyfish provide a habitat for many types of juvenile fish. You will often find them living inside the bell or flitting around between the stinging tentacles. Some animals such as tiny crabs and brittle starfish can be found attached to the bell of the Jellyfish… they like to hitch a free ride to avoid moving around on their own.

 

20151212-sharkisland-and-sailrock-1011
Fossils of Jellyfish are very rare because they lack a skeleton – however there has been evidence suggesting that their existence predates dinosaurs by 400 million years! Whoa…

 

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Jellyfish are typically very difficult to identify – there are around 1000-1500 known species in our oceans worldwide. This one is in the Chrysaora family, but which sub-species is it? Seriously, no idea 😛

 

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Jellyfish are invertebrates. They lack a backbone, heart, blood, brain, and gills and are in fact made up of over 95% water.

 

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Not all Jellyfish have the ability to sting… but some species possess millions of small stinging cells in their tentacles called Nematocysts. These cells are used to capture food by injecting toxin into the prey. Keep in mind that even if a Jellyfish has died or if the tentacles are severed, the Nematocysts stinging cells remain active for some time and therefore can still deliver a sting!

 

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It is actually relatively easy to protect yourself from the sting of a jellyfish… simply wear exposure protection such as a wetsuit when swimming/snorkelling/free-diving/scuba-diving in the ocean. Always look around for jellyfish while in the sea and keep a healthy respective distance when encountering one. If you find that you have been stung by one, start by removing any tentacles still stuck to you using gloves and a tweezer as soon as possible, irrigate the area with vinegar and only rinse with SEA WATER.

 

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Jellies are carnivorous animals and hunt their prey by using their tentacles as a drift net. They typically feed on plankton, crustaceans, fish eggs, small fish and other jellyfish. They also eat and poop using the *same* hole in the middle of the bell (ewwwww!).

 

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Did you know that a group of Jellyfish is called a “Swarm” or a “Smack”?

 

So there you go… a few fun and interesting facts about Jellyfish! Needless to say, I love and adore all jellyfish and would never hesitate at the chance at being in the water with them whether snorkelling or diving. They are totally fascinating and gorgeous animals with mesmerizing movements that actually has a calming effect… just please remember that all marine life should be respected – and maybe a small healthy dose of fear doesn’t hurt 🙂

 

Welcome to the Team Christine!

We’re excited to introduce Christine Albanese as our new underwater photographer. Christine joined the team at the beginning of October, and we could not be happier to have her on board (pun totally intended!).

Christine made the switch  to photography shortly after becoming a PADI Divemaster, and has not looked back since. A natural behind the camera, she has built an impressive portfolio of shots of Koh Tao dive sites, marine life and divers. You’ll see Christine and her enormous alien space ship style camera on board one of our boats most days, and chances are she’ll be following you on one of your dives with us too, capturing some souvenir images and of course those all important Facebook profile pictures!

Christine’s photographic abilities speak for themselves and some of her photo’s have been published in PADI contests and articles. She is also a member of the National Geographic community, and as such has had some of her pictures published on the Nat Geo website too!

Check out some of her images below, and feel free to have a look at her portfolio on her Instagram page: @chrisalba_underwater_photogram

snapper

 

jelly

Pinnacle

night dive

chumphon

whaleshark

sattakut

Pretty impressive huh?! So we’re understandably excited to have Christine join the team! If you’d like to read more about Christine and our other team members, feel free to have a look at our staff profiles.

If you have any questions or would like more information on availability and prices for souvenir photography on your dives with us, or about Digital Underwater Photography Specialty Courses, just let us know. You are also welcome to chat Christine up about anything and everything photography and marine related on arrival. You are guaranteed hours of enthusiasm – some on relevant topics, some not so much! 😉

How to enter the water and descend safely with a camera.

While the entry technique will vary depending on where you are diving, the conditions and the boat you are diving from, the fundamentals stay the same.

On the whole when you dive,  it’s usual that you will have the camera passed to you once you are safely in the water. When a negative entry is required and/or when strong current is present this might not be possible. In these conditions the first thing you need to evaluate is whether it’s prudent to take your camera with you at all. If you have a small camera then it’s possible to cradle it by your belly as you backward roll or hold it high (arm stretched full length) above your head if you giant stride. Above your head is far from ideal as this means you have to choose between holding your camera, weight belt or mask. If the camera hits the water and submerges you run the risk of causing a leak from the force of the impact but clearly the most dangerous part of this whole procedure is that you could simply hit your head with your camera while jumping in. So this really shouldn’t even be considered with anything more than a small point and shoot.

Pass Carefully
Pass Carefully

So let’s assume that you are safely in the water, take your camera carefully from whomever is passing it to you as this is when mistakes happen. Once you have it, secure it to yourself. The best method is to use a stretchy lanyard and not a wrist lanyard. Having your camera around your wrist will complicate matters when you need your hands for other things, particularly in an emergency.

Look at your camera
Look at your camera

Now look at it underwater, you are checking to see if there are any streams of bubbles or water entering the housing. If it passes this test then you and your buddy can descend. While descending hold your camera so the lens or the port is facing down. There is usually extra space in the housing here so by holding it this way, if it leaks, then the water will run passed the camera and collect there, doing as little damage as possible. Watch it and check it, clear the bubbles that are stuck to the camera by fanning your hand close to the housing, so you can get some clear visibility through the housing too.

Descending is most likely when you are going to see a leak but don’t stop being vigilant during the dive. Want to know what to do if it leaks? Read here.

If you want to learn more about underwater photography, this course could be for you.

What to do if your camera floods?

The first thing NOT to do is panic.

Yes your camera is expensive but so is a trip to the decompression chamber or worse. Remember that you are way more valuable than the camera and unlike the camera, you cannot be replaced.

If the camera is fully flooded then there is likely to be little hope that anything other than the housing is salvageable. A complete flood is reasonably rare unless you have forgotten to put the o-ring in, trapped the o-ring or have something caught in it. This is why a thorough pre-dive check on your camera is very important.

Turn it port down
Turn it port down

So if you notice a drip, trickle or leak you should react, as in any dive ‘situation’, calmly.  Turn the camera port / lens down so that the water will collect in the lens port, running passed the camera. This will hopefully avoid some damage or at least limit it.

Now you can ascend, SLOWLY!

Should you do a safety stop? Well, remember a safety stop is just that, for extra safety. If you can remember back to that recreational dive planner, you will recall that it’s a recommendation when you come within 3 pressure groups of or at your limit or if you dive greater than 30M. Practically we do one on every dive but you can blow it off in an emergency. As a certified diver your decision is your own, I would simply continue to ascend slowly.

Once on the surface and buoyant you can hold the camera clear of the water but remember to keep it pointing port down and not slosh the water around. If the dive procedure calls for a pick up then you simply need to wait but if you are supposed to end your dive at the boat then you could be in for a surface swim. In this case do your best to keep your camera level, pointing port down and out of the water.

When you pass the camera to the boat, be clear with your instructions as to what has happened. Tell them to keep it level and pointing lens down and NOT to put it in the camera bucket!

First you want to get the memory card and the battery out. If these aren’t wet, simply keep them dry. If they are soaked then there’s no harm in rinsing with fresh water and then drying them off. This might just save your card.

If your camera is fully soaked then to be honest it’s unlikely to work again, but it’s worth a shot. Rinse it in fresh water and pack it in rice. If it’s not soaked but just got a bit of water damage and even worked then don’t rinse and again get it packed in rice.

Either way it’s a bit of a long shot. Leave it in the rice for as long as you can before you try it, and by this I’m meaning days rather than hours, the longer the better. Make sure it’s well packed and fully covered.

Then all that’s left to do it hope!

If you want to learn more about underwater photography, this course could be for you.

Welcome from Twitter !

Thank-you for clicking the link from my Twitter Profile and welcome to my world !

I am one of the owners here at Master Divers along with my boyfriend Wilco and friend Elaine.  You can meet the full team here.

You have landed on the blog, which along with other things, I keep up to date. I welcome any comments or guest blogs – so just get intouch. 

If you want somewhere to start, why not look at our Top 10 posts, or click on one of the topics or categories that interests you.  You’ll find these to the right a little further down.

You can read more about me here, read my other published work here,  come and join me personally on Facebook, follow Master Divers on Facebook and check out our YouTube channel too.

If you want to help us heal the world then check out our #RandomActsOfConservation campaign.  Keep up to date with our environmental activities here.