Posted 19 April 2018
Not all ‘pro’ photo workshops are the same – on some you just pay and hope. But what’s it like learning to get the best from your camera under water from a recognised master? HENLEY SPIERS studies at the school of Mustard
Posted 19 April 2018
Not all ‘pro’ photo workshops are the same – on some you just pay and hope. But what’s it like learning to get the best from your camera under water from a recognised master? HENLEY SPIERS studies at the school of Mustard
I’M PRONE TO DAYDREAMING, and sometimes imagine what it would be like if underwater photography was a globally recognised activity with the same kind of following as football. Billions of people would be familiar with the top underwater photographers, and the announcement of big competition results would be televised. 
This popularity would of course bring commercial benefits too, and the likes of Tony Wu and Paul Nicklen would be earning £200k a week. 
Sadly, this is far from reality. Underwater photography is very much a niche activity in which the celebrity of the top “players” doesn't extend too far outside a small community of insiders – at least they don’t have to worry about the paparazzi!
Now I bring this up because one of the benefits of underwater photography being a niche activity is that as a fan it’s easier to get access to the top dogs. 
As a budding image-maker, you can quite easily sign up for a workshop with the Lionel Messi of the underwater photography scene. 
For me, the Ballon D’Or of underwater photography goes to Alex Mustard. In fact, as both the best player and coach I guess he’s kind of like Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola rolled into one. 
Back in 2016, I decided to get serious about underwater photography and duly signed up for two of Dr Mustard’s workshops. I figured it was an investment in my education; the closest you can get to doing a degree in underwater photography.
I’d signed up for a Red Sea trip, headlined by the possibility of seeing oceanic whitetip sharks, and one on Grand Cayman that was advertised as being a solid grounding in using light under water. 
The Egypt trip came first. I packed my dive- and camera-gear and rocked up at the airport, feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves. I’d never met Alex Mustard before and was a little in awe of him during our first encounter. 
I soon came to realise that while he is a seriously impressive photographer and teacher, he’s also just a nice guy who likes to have a few laughs along the way, and you needn’t be intimidated. His enthusiasm for underwater photography is infectious, and it was great to see that even after 30 years of shooting he is still the first one in the water and the last out.
It quickly became apparent that most of the other 15 divers on the trip were regulars. These workshops are sold out almost as soon as they’re announced, and Alex has clearly built up a loyal following of divers who seem to do a lot of their trips under his guidance. 
The regulars are of course familiar with how it all works, as well as with each other, so as a newbie you may feel a little behind the curve at first – I certainly did. 
That’s not to say that they weren’t friendly. Indeed, a few beers with the group on the first night made for a slightly uncomfortable sail across rough seas the next day!

IT’S WORTH POINTING OUT that, unlike the formal dive-training with which most of us are familiar, Alex does not follow you around and teach under water. 
The set-up is as follows: pre-dive, Alex briefs us on photographic opportunities and techniques relevant to the site. We then go for multiple dives and capture some images.
In the evening, Alex will give another presentation and then conduct an image-review session. It will be announced earlier in the day that everyone is allowed to enter one or two photos, and he needs them by such and such a time. 
Officially there is no competition, and the idea is that we all learn from the critique of, not just our own photos, but those of the rest of the group too. 
I really enjoyed this concept and learnt enormously from it. To have your image come up on screen and then hear the immediate reaction and feedback from one of the top wildlife photographers in the world is fantastically valuable. 
Some people get a bit shy at this point, and don’t enter their photos to the review. To me this seems a shame, because it is one the very things you’ve paid for. 
Don’t worry, he doesn’t crucify any images – it’s very much about looking for the positive and displaying what improvements can be made. 
You can edit your shot or not for submission, and one of the most valuable things I gained was watching Alex at work on Lightroom and Photoshop. Essentially, your image comes up, he reacts and then starts re-editing it – watch those sliders closely and your editing process will be much improved by the end of the trip. 
A word on the competitive aspect. Alex does as much as he can to make it a friendly exchange of ideas but hey, you can’t hold back human nature. I hold my hand up to feeling like the image review, at least at first, was an opportunity to see how I measured up against the other shooters. 
Even so, this doesn’t result in any feelings of animosity towards other photographers, only disappointment if your results aren’t what you hoped for. 
In fact, I found that I learnt a great deal from the other photographers on the trip. Being based on a liveaboard is conducive to this, because we were all living in close confines and would gather side-by-side to review and edit images. 

To Read the full article, Login here or Register for a free account

For more great articles like this get the MAY 2018 issue of DIVER below or subscribe and save.


5 Stars
(1  Customer Reviews)
12 Issues per year
DIVER is Britain's best-selling scuba diving magazine – regularly out-performing all its competitors combined on the open market.

Select your version

Digital Edition
SAVE 44%
Single Issue
JUNE 2019
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $1.67 per issue
SAVE 44%
6 Month Digital Subscription
Only $2.00 per issue
SAVE 33%
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only $1.99 per issue
SAVE 33%
Payment Options


Best diving mag
This is by far the best diving mag. Great features and amazing photos
5 Stars   
Reviewed 25 November 2012

More great content like this...

For more great articles like this get the MAY 2018 issue of DIVER below.

MAY 2018 | Buy for $2.99


There are currently no comments for this post
Be the first to leave your feedback

More Articles

More than two million US service personnel were successfully transported across the Atlantic to England and France during World War One, and for the USA the sinking of HMS Otranto was the worst troop-transport disaster of that conflict. PETER KENDRICK reports on the recent Otranto 100 expedition to the wreck, which lies off Scotland near Islay More...
You don’t have to stay on a Greek island to enjoy Greek diving with all the trimmings, and ‘best-kept secret’ Epidavros offers its own argument for a mainland base. STEVE WEINMAN reports More...
A manta ray called Mathilde was just one big reason why SIMON MORLEY will never forget his recent trip to Socorro, San Benedicto and Roca Partida – the main Revillagigedo islands More...
The WW1 U-boats at Pendennis have been dived for many years, by many people. The site is probably the second most popular shore-dive in Cornwall. Thousands of trainees did their first open-water dives there, most seeing the remains of one or two of the U-boats. Not sure what to write into their log-books, other than 'Silver Steps’ or ‘Pendennis’, what were these subs? MARK MILBURN investigates, and believes he can now paint a clearer picture of what lies where and why More...
When she took up scuba 40 years ago, Alexandra Hildred had no idea that her life would become inextricably linked with a Tudor warship. Now the Mary Rose Trust’s Head of Research and Curator of Ordnance & Human Remains, she tells STEVE WEINMAN about the lead-up to the raising of the iconic wreck, still one of the biggest such operations ever attempted. More...
Not all ‘pro’ photo workshops are the same – on some you just pay and hope. But what’s it like learning to get the best from your camera under water from a recognised master? HENLEY SPIERS studies at the school of Mustard More...
In February IAN PEACH and his buddies went through a nightmarish boat-separation experience off Mozambique. In a DIVER exclusive he explains what happened – and how to avoid it happening to you. More...
Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS
You don’t think you need a PLB – until you do. If there have always been reasons not to invest in one, a new product looks set to sweep them away. NIGEL WADE tests it. More...
Like a knight of yore on a sacred quest, NIGEL WADE finally faces the prospect of bringing an epic journey to a stirring conclusion – at a Balinese location he has already visited four times before! Can his quarry live up to the weight of expectation? More...
It’s a diver’s dream, and Vince Thurkettle is the underwater prospector who came across the biggest gold nugget ever found in British waters. He talks to STEVE WEINMAN More...
Powered by
Powered by Pocketmags
Diver is owned and operated by:
Eaton Publications, Suite B, 74 Oldfield Road, Hampton, Middlesex TW12 2HR
© Copyright 2015 |