Lawson Wood is a professional underwater photographer who has carved a career from his passion and authored and co-authored over 50 books focused on the underwater world. Here he shows us how capturing stunning underwater scenery doesn’t have to mean travelling to the ends of the earth.
“As a working underwater photographer and author, when it comes to choosing a destination where you are pretty well guaranteed clean, very clear and warm water with just a short travel time from the UK, the Red Sea always comes at the top of the list. The Red Sea is the closest true coral reef to Europe and only a four hour flight from most European airports. This incredible (almost landlocked) sea is well within our reach and is able to offer simply staggering opportunities for exotic and colourful underwater photography, without travelling too far.
An extension of the African Great Rift Valley, the Red Sea was formed some two million years ago, when the Strait of Mandeb in the south opened, resulting in the Red Sea becoming an annex of the India Ocean. This of course means that most of the tropical fish, corals and invertebrates found in the warm and tropical Indian Ocean are now found virtually on our doorstep! At over 1400 miles long, the majority of the diving takes place in the northern region where the Sinai Peninsula cuts the Red Sea in two, with one side travelling north towards the Mediterranean and the other northeast towards Jordan and Israel.
Living in Scotland, I chose to fly from Glasgow direct to Hurghada on mainland Egypt. That first frisson of excitement came at 20,000ft when we were starting to descend and flew over the Red Sea mountains of Upper Egypt and I could see the shores of the Red Sea beckoning and that beautiful mixture of the colours of the sea. The route of the Thomas Cook airbus to Hurghada took us directly over Ras Abu Soma which was the destination of the dive resort that I had chosen for my underwater photography assignment. Soma Bay is a small peninsula just 40 minutes south of Hurghada with a number of different resorts to suit all tastes, with Breakers being the only dedicated diving and kite surfing resort. The potential for underwater photography is incredible, with a superb house reef found at the end of the jetty; fantastic offshore reefs; historic and modern shipwrecks and of course the chance for encounters with dolphins, dugong, rays, sharks (for those who look for them), turtles and over 1200 species of fish, 1000 species of invertebrates and 200 species of soft and hard corals.
Diving trips are organised each day and you can choose half- or full-day offshore trips, unlimited shore diving, night diving and wreck diving. Shore diving is certainly the favourite option as you can spend as much time as you want on a shallow reef and use a variety of equipment from the OM-D range in waterproof housings or, as I was also using, the TOUGH TG-5.
This point-and-shoot type of compact camera is waterproof down to 50ft and with its microscopic settings and supplementary wide-angle lens, it was perfect for the shallow house reef where the greatest majority of tropical fish and corals are found. In fact, much of your photography can be done without having to learn to dive and snorkellers can capture great shots of reef squid, schools of angelfish and butterflyfish and the ubiquitous black and white striped sergeant major damselfish. Soma Bay in the Red Sea is the perfect destination for your underwater photography, whether you are at the professional end of the spectrum, or just keen to capture some of the most amazing colours of tropical fish and corals: and all so close to home. I’d hugely recommend this, and a top tip would be to arrange your transfers well in advance; Soma Bay will send a car to pick you and your equipment up, avoiding the scrum at the airport. And remember to take Euros as the preferred cash for your trip to Egypt.”
Article featured in Olympus Magazine Issue 58 – to see the latest copy of this free digital magazine click here.