As we continue to highlight the work of the photographers featured in our exhibition of the British Wildlife Photography Awards, we caught up with Dan Bolt who travelled 600 miles to capture his image.
Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?
Every April for the past seven years, I have travelled the 600 miles north from my home in Devon to the village of Lochcarron on the western coast of Scotland to spend a week diving the area’s Sea Lochs.
One of the most amazing sites is on Loch Carron itself, at a place called Conservation Bay which has a bewildering array of marine life clinging to every surface it can. Swimming straight out from the beach, in around 25m of water, is a huge area that is simply covered in starfish and sponges. This ‘brittlestar bed’ is home to countless numbers of brittlestar starfish, all waving their spindly arms in the water to grab a morsel of food as it is swept past by the current.
From a distance, the area looks like a barren moonscape but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth and I wanted to portray a sense of uniformity in this almost 2-dimensional habitat; where almost nothing rises above the beds of starfish. The crab in the shot looks like it could be planning a route through the crowded sea-bed, or perhaps just taking a rest.
How did you go about getting that shot?
As with all wildlife photography, respect for your environment is paramount. In this particular habitat, there is quite literally no ‘ground’ for a diver to settle onto, or to put even a hand down to steady yourself. It took some time to find this solitary piece of kelp sticking up out of the brittlestar bed, and as soon as I saw the crab perched there I knew this was a shot I had to make work.
From a distance, I made sure I could control my in-water buoyance simply by how much air I had in my lungs, and I approached the crab very carefully so as not to scare it into moving off the kelp. I wanted to have the foreground well-lit by my strobes and the background with natural light only, so as to add to the sense of scale and distance. This took some time to get right by slowly adjusting the angle of my strobes – all the while ‘hovering’ just inches off the inquisitive mass of starfish just below me.
How long did you have to wait for this shot?
With underwater photography, you are limited to how much air you have in your tank, and how deep you are, which dictated how long you have to grab your images. On this particular site, you are limited to around an hour before you have to make your way back into the shallower waters.
Did you use any particular equipment or software?
I use a normal land camera (Olympus OM-D EM-1), but in a special aluminium ‘housing’ that means I can take it underwater. As light is absorbed very quickly in water (giving the gorgeous green colour) I have to use two waterproof flash-guns (or strobes) so restore the true-colour of any subject I work with.
What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?
I love the Scottish Sea Lochs for their unending diversity of marine life. From tiny colourful sea-slugs and rare flame shell molluscs, all the way up to huge walls of life over 15m tall. The scope for an underwater photographer is immense.
What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?
Obviously the limitation of being underwater and having limited time there is the greatest difficulty. That’s why you’ll find many underwater photographers returning to the same spot time and time again so to better understand the nature of it and the life it contains. When you know what is usual for a site, it becomes easier to spot the unusual when you find it.
What would you like people to think about when they see your work?
I love the reaction when you show people the colour, shape, and form of UK marine life. Almost to a person they are surprised about the wealth of diversity I can show them – and I’d like to think that my work is a window on this hidden world we have just a few metres off our coastline.
How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?
I’ve been shooting underwater since 1999. This is when compact digital cameras became more affordable, and plastic housings made taking them underwater very accessible. It was a natural progression from my life-long fascination with the sea. I learned to dive when I was 13, and before that, I’d been snorkeling for as long as I can remember.
What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?
No matter where you are in the UK, your local water be it in the sea, lakes, or rivers will have a wealth of flora and fauna to interest you. The longer you can spend in those environments the better your understanding will be – and from that understanding of weather, seasons and behaviour will come some great imaging opportunities.
What projects are you working on now or have coming up?
I will be visiting my beloved Lochcarron again in 2018, and have plans to spend more time in the rivers of Dartmoor to try and capture photos of the, frankly alien-esque, aquatic insects that can be found there.