How did you get started in underwater photography?
Totally by accident in the early 90s. I was helping a friend edit an underwater video about the Red Sea, logging and tidying up more than 100 hours of underwater footage. And so I knew all the names of the fish, and was familiar with the dive sites around Sharm before I even put a pair of fins on!
Then the film maker Mike Portelli, sadly now deceased, out of the blue paid for me to visit Sharm as payback for my helping our mutual friend with the video edit. When I got there, unbeknownst to me they had laid on dive instruction with Birgitta and Guy at Red Sea College and Oonas. I wasn’t a natural born diver and it took me over a hundred dives before I could say I got it together, but I think that this has given me a lot of empathy with newbies over the years.
What came first – diving or photography?
Definitely photography. I was a very nerdy kid, getting my first film camera in the mid-70s, learning from my dad how to develop and print my own pictures in a homemade darkroom. This then transferred in my late teens to work for skateboarding and BMX magazines, combining all my teenage hobbies.
I then started work in specialist photography retail working for a local independent camera store, while moonlighting, taking pictures of local bands and the aforementioned skate and BMX.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
I currently shoot with a mirrorless Micro Four Thirds rig. I started with an Olympus and I currently use a Panasonic GX7 with a variety of lenses from fisheye to macro, inside Nauticam Housings and ports. I also shoot with a range of other mirrorless formats from Sony and Canon, APS-C and one inch sensor inside Fantasea housings which I think are astounding value.
I like Micro Four Thirds because I can fit everything I need to do the job in my carry on bag, including laptop. It may not be as good quality as a full frame DSLR, however it is good enough for large format prints and the magazine and blogging work that I’m required to do. It’s also a less intimidating look for newbies that I’m teaching, which is the feedback I get a lot.
I use Inon and Sea and Sea strobes, but am always trying new kit kindly loaned to me from a variety of manufacturers, so thank you to Brett from Nautilus, Lisa and Steve from Inon, Leo from OLC and Jussi from Mike’s. I use Fantasea and FIX Video lights, as I’m as likely to shoot video as I am stills, and it’s important to have a handle on all the underwater digital imaging disciplines if you’re running trips for all comers. So I make sure I’m fairly familiar with current kit and don’t make any differentiation between someone turning up with everything from a full frame DSLR rig to a GoPro.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
I like anywhere I’m diving at the time, and try and approach a dive with the mindset of what I can do rather than what I can’t. What I mean by this is that I try not to get annoyed if the conditions aren’t perfect for photography, and instead approach the dive as a technical and artistic challenge if the circumstances aren’t ideal, and if its still not working out photographically I just enjoy the dive.
I’m very lucky indeed to have dived all round some of the world’s most beautiful dive locations, and they all have their merits. I’ve just returned from Alor and Komodo in Indonesia and it was bloody stunning. However, for quality, value for money and a vast choice of photogenic locations then the Northern Egyptian Red Sea, which was my home for many years, really takes some beating. The Barge, Jackson and Shark and Yolanda are all places there that never fail to disappoint me.
Most challenging dive?
Shark and Yolanda which is the showcase dive within the Ras Mohammed National Park is a chaotic jumble of currents, up, down and all around. When she’s feeling kind you’d never know and it’s the most benign and beautiful place to visit and take pictures of the vast variety of marine life and corals.
However, her beauty belies a darker side, and because of all the crossing currents and water movement at the very tip of the Sinai Peninsula she can punish the less wary, and those that don’t take heed of the briefing closely, as she can turn on a sixpence, often on the same dive.
Who are your diving inspirations?
The friend who started it all for me back in the early 90s – Bob Johnson. Who was/is a local Sharm legend and even has a dive site named after him – Ras Bob – but is from my native North East and got me started in it all.
From a sheer diving perspective, and in my old professional capacity as a guide i.e. working at the coal face of dive tourism, with a bunch of vastly varying ability divers to manage and lead, I would have to say it’s an equal tie between the people I would most like to have my back if the shit hits the fan would be my partner Shelly, and my friends Valeria and fellow Hartlepudlian Mark Ellison.
None of them are cert chasers, but for sheer in-water ability, calm in a crisis, and an almost supernatural ability to part the water molecules with seemingly no effort, I’d have any one of them by my side any day.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
The Galapagos and Socorro – I’d like to visit both these spots. And I’d really love to see a great white but not in a cage, and I think a leopard seal encounter would be super cool, although I’d be equally as excited by a marine iguana. I’d also love to be alongside a really big cetacean like a blue or sperm whale, super close.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
I actually had this advice and was obliged to take it, and it was to “Put the bloody camera down until you’ve learnt how to dive”.
I didn’t use a camera underwater until I had nearly 300 dives under my belt. Instead, I was an assistant and buddy to my mentor Bob mentioned above.
I realise nowadays this would be almost impossible to suggest, as digital cameras are everywhere and much more financially accessible. However, I still think that you should be patient, and be able to effectively move up and down, forward and backwards, left and right, without touching the bottom, and hover perfectly motionless before you add a camera to the scenario. Or at the very least have these as your primary goals. You’ll be a much more considerate underwater photographer and diver because of it.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
In the early days of my diving I was required to take off my kit, and pass it through a hole in a tunnel too big for me and the gear, squeeze through, and then re-don it all on the other side. At the time that was definitely a bit squeaky bum. Knowing how not to panic and great trust in my much more experienced buddy got me through.
What is your most memorable dive and why?
Probably my last dive ever working as a dive guide out in Sharm. It was at Jackson Reef late in the afternoon, the conditions were ideal and wind free, we were the only boat and I stayed in the water a good ten minutes after the guests had ascended, totally alone in perfect warm clear waters.
Just bobbing about in the shallows with the sergeant majors and the anthias offset against the most painfully beautiful blue backdrop with the wall dropping away beneath me, tears streaming down my cheeks. It’s making me fill up now thinking about it!
Paul ‘Duxy’ Duxfield
Duxy has been working within the dive industry for over two decades, starting his professional career as a dive guide and videographer out in Sharm. He returned home in the early noughties, where he established himself delivering talks and writing articles for the consumption of the diving public, while working as the sales manager for the largest specialist in underwater photography equipment in the UK. This led to running overseas photo workshops worldwide, with an emphasis on good diving practices, and a holistic approach to the subject, combining technique, artistry and an understanding of the marine life that you’re shooting.
He has carried out over 50 escorted trips across the globe, and is currently working with Dive Safari Asia, Emperor Divers, Diverse Travel, Red Sea Dive Safari and any independents who’d like to have him bring his special brand of fun and knowledge to enrich their club excursions.