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  • Christine Grosart

Macro with Mustard

"Ooh that'll be good hun" my partner Rich Walker said, excited for me. "Alex Mustard is.....well....the mustard!"

Sealoch Anemone. Image: Christine Grosart

2020 has been rubbish for everyone. Well, to be clear, everything from terror, bereavement to annoyance and fury and my favourite one, disappointment.

This year I lost one of my closest friends when she took her own life. She was one of the strongest, toughest women I knew. So there but for the grace of god go any of us.

I was joining in with a British Society of Underwater Photographers (BSOUP) online meeting where we oggle the winners of the latest monthly competition.

That is where I heard about an underwater photography workshop being run in the UK by Alex Mustard.

Alex has a long standing reputation for being one of the best underwater photographers in the world and for once, I was not only available on the dates but had the cash (just about!)

I ummed and ahhed about it, thinking that I was nowhere near ready to be attempting a course for seasoned photographers to hone their skills.

I was barely starting out and really had no clue what I was doing. Rich pointed out that I'd had a pretty underwhelming year and this was my chance to do something fun, for myself.

So, I contacted the agent at Scubatravel who were absolutely superb, especially with the ever present threat of 'cancellation due to covid)' and I signed up.

The road to Kinlochbervie

The cool thing about this photography workshop is that it really was remote.

8 hours after I had set off from the Dales following some caving and diving, I was still driving in the dark, howling wind and sideways rain along a single track road with thankfully plentiful passing places and DEER!!!

I slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt.

There, in my headlights, staring right at me was a big, beautiful stag.

Highland deer, on the way home.

Nobody else was about and through the driving rain I could see him, staring right at me. He stood for a while until nonchalantly wandering off into the undergrowth and the dark.

Thereby followed a hairy drive in the dark and weather, dodging deer a plenty.

Obviously, I had all the wrong lenses for photographing Scottish wildlife above water!

It seemed to take forever to get to Kinlochbervie and then 10 minutes of complete darkness later, the bungalow where we were staying for the week.

We exchanged greetings in a covid fashion and fed ourselves, before Alex set out a plan for the week. We met Chris and Cathy from Kinlochbervie Dive Centre (formerly Northeast Dive) who were our hosts for the week. Cathy is no shabby photographer either! They looked after us well and we were never short of gas, hot drinks and biscuits.

The weather was not going to be favourable and the chances of getting outside the loch to photograph wide angle vistas, slim. But I was on such a steep learning curve I was secretly pleased to just be able to work on my macro.

I'm no marine biologist and have a LOT to learn about marine critters. This is kind of cool for me because I get a lot pf enjoyment out of learning about their behaviour, making friends with them underwater and slowing down to a halt to watch their little worlds unfold.

I watched for ages as a hermit crab tried to climb a vertical 'wall' of encrusting pink algae...only to fall off as he approached the top and had to start all over again. He looked miffed.

I watched another hermit crab trying out a new shell for size and a very angsty pair of squat lobsters joining up to defend themselves against me while I tried to get a decent shot.

Hermit crab checks out a new home. Image: Christine Grosart

Pagurus bernhardus, or 'Bernard'. Hermit crab portrait. Image: Christine Grosart

Then I spent a while photographing two queen scallops when the long arm of a large starfish came into view. My shot was being photobombed by a starfish! I knew as soon as the arm touched the queenie they would be off and, sure enough, the starfish prodded the scallops and they were gone, stropping off into the silt.

Queen scallops with starfish lurking in the background. Image: Christine Grosart

Alex has quite a hands off approach to workshops and you learn things without even realising it!

He ran a lecture most nights, expanding our horizons with ideas many of us hadn't thought of. I was in good company with well established and award winning photographers such as Kirsty Andrews, so we were able to learn from each other too.

Details such as giving as much consideration to your background as your subject, really improved my images. The workshop gave us 'permission' to try things out, make mistakes, get better and the real value was that everybody on the boat was aiming for the same thing and we all had the same agenda.

In the evenings we'd have a talk from Alex and a show and tell of some of our best images of the day.

Working on black backgrounds. Featherstar, Image: Christine Grosart

The logistics meant we could do two dives of at least an hour each day with a decent surface interval back at Kinlochbervie, whilst being back at the bungalow nice and early evening to have the time to go through our images and fettle them.

This was probably the biggest benefit of the workshops. Mostly on diving trips, I can be up until 1am still sorting images from the day, especially on Ghost Fishing missions where the media needs to be out and with the press the next day or even the same day.

Scallop close up, an image I'd always wanted to take.

My set up is relatively cheap and all but the camera is second hand. I use a cheap, small and lightweight Canon 100D which is use mainly for cave photography.

It is limited with things like ISO but I enjoy wringing out the camera's capabilities which still exceed my own.

I bought the housing on the Wetpixel forum for a steal and then spent the same again on strobes, arms, clamps and lenses.

For this trip I used a Canon EFS 60mm f/2.8Macro USM lens. I have a Tokina fisheye but as we were unable to leave the sea loch to to weather, never got to use it on this course.

It didn't matter though as I had a tonne of fun with all sorts of creatures, getting closer...then closer still and looking for that all important background.

Devil in the detail. Squat lobster. Image: Christine Grosart

My photography definitely progressed in only four days and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn with a true master of underwater photography. I am enjoying so much and cannot wait to get back into the water to get snapping again.

Here is what Alex had to say:

Some of my images from the week.

About the author

Christine Grosart is a Paramedic, working offshore mainly on diving vessels. She started beach cleans around 2011 and has gone on to be a trustee, secretary, instructor and underwater photographer for the charity Ghost Fishing UK. She wrote the first training course for scuba divers to remove lost ghost nets, in the world.

In 2020 she became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for her work with Ghost Fishing UK as well as her cave diving exploration.

In the same year she was included in the BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List.


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