Journal archives for August 2019

August 30, 2019

Nigel Marsh - Member profile

If you regularly read the Bio Blurbs in the Journal section you will see that many project participants say they were first attracted to the underwater world through television shows and documentaries. Classic shows like Sea Hunt and The Amazing World of Jacques Cousteau probably set the fires of interest in the marine environment to many impressionable young people, however what stoked these fires over time were other resources such as fish identification books and diving magazines. While documentaries introduced us to the wonders of the ocean, it was the dive magazines which taught us the logistics of the adventure. Not having the crew of the Calypso at our disposal was no setback because we could learn about places we could actually go on holidays and dive trips. The magazines told us what to expect when we got there. Finally, at the end of most episodes of Sea Hunt, Lloyd advised us, “Don’t take any chances and know the sport well”. Dive magazines, journals and articles are where we went to continue our basic certification education, learn about developments in equipment and encounter stories of when things go wrong as well as when things go right. They were an essential aspect of our education and our identity as divers.
Even today, when flying on a commercial jet, 36,000 feet above the planet, we gravitate to the articles of in-flight magazines which highlight our underwater world. It is not unusual to see breathtaking and artistic images of fish accompanying stories of diving trips to places like the Great Barrier Reef or the South Pacific. These images and stories were created by talented people and this Bio Blurb is about Nigel Marsh, one of the people who has taken their early diving passion and developed it into dive photo journalism and underwater reference books, helping us retain the wonder of the marine environment, even when we are on land.
Like many in the project, Nigel has always loved the ocean and all the creatures in it. You could always find him underwater on holidays, from an early age. He finally learnt to dive in 1983, at 18 years old, three years after he began his passion for taking underwater photos. While working as a full-time draftsman, he worked part-time as a photojournalist since 1985, documenting his dive trips and marine encounters for numerous dive magazines and other publications in Australia and overseas. Over the years he has produced over a dozen books, including dive guide books, marine life guide books, children’s books and special location guide books. He has contributed regularly to diving magazines. To get a view of the wide range of publications Nigel has produced and to learn more about him and his wife, please visit his website – www.nigelmarshphotography.com . He has worked with his wife, Helen, on many of the publications, photographs and articles and even a brief visit to his website will illustrate how interesting and widespread this collaboration has been.
For those of us in the project, we feel very fortunate for Nigel’s contributions. He is currently ranked 12th in Australasian Fishes with 1,376 observations encompassing a massive 662 species. More impressive has been his generosity by going in to his expansive personal archives and posting observations from the 1990’s, which helps our database in terms of reporting history, making it a more useful scientific research tool. Of course, this is accompanied by the artistic beauty of his submissions, which show fish in great detail with realistic colours and texture. It is a pleasure to see Nigel’s submissions, and it should inspire those both new and experienced to the project, with an interest in underwater photography.
From his work, it is clear fish, especially sharks and rays, have been a passion for Nigel for a very long time. They were one of the reasons he first entered the water. It would not surprise project participants to know his work has won a number of photographic competitions in the past, however, for scientific purposes, he likes to capture marine creatures in their natural setting, showing their habitat and if possible and their behaviour. He tells us that he feels very fortunate to have worked closely with one of Australia’s greatest marine authors and naturalists, the late Neville Coleman, who was a wonderful mentor to Nigel and a great inspiration for his underwater photography. This has resulted in collaboration in several books, found on his website.
Nigel captures images mainly on scuba, finding snorkelling too much hard work with a camera. Living in Brisbane he dives as much as he can (but not as much as he would like), diving locally off Brisbane and southern Queensland on weekends, and around Australia and overseas on holidays. He and Helen often pick a dive destination just to see one animal and his rule of thumb is to photograph almost anything that he encounters including fish, molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans, corals, mammals, worms, etc just to document the species that are found in an area.
Nigel now uses Nikon DSLR cameras in Ikelite housings, his two favourite lenses being the Nikkor 60mm for closeups and fish portraits and the Tokina 10-17mm for wide angle. Surprisingly he only uses a single strobe (shock horror) providing him greater control of lighting, plus a far more natural look. He does very limited post production, just cropping and maybe slight adjustments to the exposure. This experience comes from shooting with film for over twenty years, so he quickly learned to get the exposure and settings right. For those us, myself probably leading the list, who use a lot of post-production, Nigel offers a supportive scolding, “Today I see too many people spending more time playing with their images on a computer than spending time in the water and learning how to get the image they want in-camera. I also see many images with over-saturated colours that are just not real, they may look great, but they are not real, sharks don’t have pink bellies! The best advice I can give to anyone is learn from your mistakes and fix them next time you dive and not on a computer.” Good advice!
Nigel’s photographs reflect not only technical camera skills but an understanding of his place in the marine environment. He offers advice on how to get those award winning shots. “Photographing fish is not an easy thing to do, as most fish see us as potential predators. You have to learn how to slow your breathing and appear as non-threatening as possible. Often the best way to start a dive is to just settle on the bottom and let the fish become accustomed to you. Don’t go chasing the fish around, wait for them to come to you. You are never going to be able to shoot every fish species on a reef, but if you managed a few each time, you are doing well. Also fish have different personalities, so don’t give up on a species just because everyone you have tried to photograph has previously swam away, as there will come a day when you meet the one fish of that species that is bold and quite happy to have its photo taken dozens of times.”
Nigel’s travels have allowed him to see some amazing marine animals, from tiny gobies to whales, resulting in hundreds of memorable encounters. One he fondly recalls, was seeing a bowmouth guitarfish off Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. He says, “This was a rare ray I had always wanted to encounter, and when I finally saw it gliding along the reef wall I almost cried, as I had a macro lens on my camera. I still shot a number of images, but would love to see another one with my wide-angle lens on.” Another favourite encounter was with the Colclough’s Shark, a member of the blind shark family only found off southern Queensland and northern New South Wales after searching high and low for many years, he finally found one off Brisbane.
Nigel’s support for Australasia Fishes helps the work of the project in expanding the knowledge of what fish species are found in Australia and over what range. He noted, “It has also been great fun going through my back catalogue of images from around Australia just to see what I have recorded over the years, I was surprised at how many species I had photographed. I think the project has a great deal of potential, allowing scientist to better understand the range of some fish species, and it gives us a great data base for feature fish studies, especially with the predicted impacts of climate change. “
Having devoted himself to diving, photography and photo-journalism, Nigel is in a unique position to note the changes to the world of diving in Australia. He says, “Not just diving related photojournalism, but the entire dive industry has changed a great deal over the last 30 years. When I started to write for dive magazines the dive industry in Australia was booming in the 1980s and 1990s, and there were three dive magazines in the country. But over the last ten to twenty years the dive industry in Australia has sadly declined by up to 75% in some areas. There are many factors for this decline - high wages, too many backyard dive instructors offering cheap courses, high insurance costs, people buying gear online, the cost of dive courses not reflecting the true cost and especially the growth of dive travel. According to PADI figures the same number of Australians are learning to dive, but they are doing their course in Asia and then never dive at home. This decline has also affected the dive magazines, with only one left in Australia.”
Let’s hope that things don’t change too much so talented and motivate people like Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose can continue to do what they do best, bring us on their explorations through their books, articles, stories and photographs of the marine environment. While we cannot be underwater all the time, or learn everything about each fish we see, photojournalism is an important aspect of the underwater experience, and having Nigel and Helen as participants to Australasian Fishes has greatly benefited the project and its scientific value. It is also very nice to see a husband and wife, as best dive buddies and best friends, as they follow their passion, taking us along for the ride.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on August 30, 2019 05:14 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment