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Creatively Exploring the Red Sea

Mix together strong coffee, GUE divers, err models, dancing, a liveaboard, and six-day photoshoot on the Red Sea and you would have the annual Creative Trip with the Red Sea Explorers. Sponsored by DAN Europe, Fourth Element, GUE and Halcyon Dive Systems. What might such a week-long, breathe-outside-the-box photoshoot—in the Red Sea!—look like? Here’s a snapshot.

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Header Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus

Each year, GUE makes a trip to the Red Sea, in Egypt, with the goal to drink coffee, go diving, and most importantly, capture photos and videos. Anyone from a GUE Recreational Diver Level 1 and up can join for a week-long adventure with multiple dives a day at some of the best dive sites in the world. With the global pandemic continuing to be a factor,  we thought we would miss the trip again this year, but we were able to follow travel guidelines and gather with friends old and new for a very successful trip. This year the Creative Trip was sponsored by Fourth Element, DAN Europe, Halcyon Dive Systems, Red Sea Explorers, and GUE.

Here are some of our captured moments and thoughts on the trip from photographers and models.

“Photography is not my day job anymore these days, so my personal goal was to practice my hobby. Essentially, I wanted to create a few beautiful images with the help of models who are comfortable in the water and disciplined in their approach to diving. I managed to do that, coming away with several dozen photos that I’m excited to add to my portfolio. Working together with the other photographers and filmmakers was an unexpected bonus, and the highlight of the trip for me. Somehow, between all the planning, diving, sorting, and editing of photos, we also found the time to  exchange ideas for new images, share lighting and editing techniques, and collectively level up our skills. It was an intense week, but I certainly learned a lot. I’ll be back next year if I can – I’ll just book another week of holiday afterwards to recover!

6 DAYS – 16 DIVES

Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
The Red Sea is an ideal setting for this kind of trip. Warm water, easy conditions for diving, and effortless logistics (thanks to Red Sea Explorers), which means the whole team can focus on the fun stuff – image-making. Great visibility makes for much more impactful wide-angle photos (my favorite). And the reefs, shipwrecks, and charismatic animals which were excellent subjects and backdrops for our talented models. There are so many great wrecks to explore, even in shallow water! Now that I’ve had the chance to visit some of them, on my next trip I’d definitely like to focus more on interior shots and creative lighting techniques to capture the mood of wreck exploration.” –Andrei Voinigescu, Florida, USA

5 Shipwreck Dives – 11 Reef Dives

Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
“Before the trip I was buzzing, obviously, as there are not  many things that sound better than a week on a boat and diving in the Red Sea, but oh boy it delivered more than I could imagine. Before the trip, I was a bit anxious since it was my first Creative Trip. I had zero modeling experience underwater, or any for that matter, so all I had was my willingness to learn. Luckily, my anxieties were instantly cured, as working with these photographers and videographers was just incredible. The constant feedback, tips and tricks, as well as just sheer talent of these guys will quickly turn you into a top underwater model.
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
Photo by Imad Farhat
Photo by Imad Farhat
Photo by Imad Farhat
Photo by Andrei Voinigescu
It’s  frustrating that a piece of paper cannot translate how amazing this experience was for me. Even now, writing all of this, I’m smiling and I feel this fuzzy warmth, as well as excitement for next year. I would also like to say a big, big thank you to every single one of you who was there and who made this trip so special. I hope to see you next year!” –Robert Zawrzel, Poland

4 Creators – 13 GUE Divers

Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
“To date, I have been on four creative trips. None was like the one before. But there were a few things all of the trips had in common—a nice group of divers with a common goal, a certain level of diving experience, a lot of fun, and a lot of good pictures afterwards, even some really good ones. For me as a photographer who likes to take pictures of divers, I always hope to tell a small story with each picture.

Another great thing about the trip from a photographer’s point of view, especially this year where we had three photographers, was the opportunity to learn from others, sometimes during editing pictures and talking about editing possibilities and styles, sometimes only by seeing pictures that others took at the same dive site and getting more inspiration and ideas.
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Imad Farhat
During the trips I have seen some of the wrecks multiple times (i.e. Giannis D, Thistlegorm). But  every trip with another dive team with another set of skills offers a totally different view of the wrecks. For me, for example, the dives where we were able to be inside the wrecks with more experienced divers allowed  the wrecks to appear totally different and opened up a lot more opportunities than before, especially the opportunities regarding lightning the interior.” –Julian  Mühlenhaus, Northern Germany

Over 10k Photos and Videos Taken

Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus
Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus

How to Become a Model on the Trip

To join the trip as a model, one needs to be certified with  a minimum of a GUE Recreational Diver Level 1. You also need to have mastered the following skills:

  •  Patience in order to wait for the photographer to position you where he wants and waiting for him to be ready.
  • Buoyancy in order to be where the creator wants you to be and adjust very very very minor buoyancy changes and body position to get THE shot.
  • Solid communication skills in order to understand what the creator tries to tell you to do.
  • Great awareness in order to know where you are in space, where the environment is in relation to you, where the other people in the modeling team are, taking care about team’s exposure and gas checks, taking care about good looks and proper gear placement of all team members.
  • An Understanding of what the creator wants, your position as a model, any light position if used, your “mood”. 
  • Great attention to detail in order to spot all minor inconsistencies on yours and your team’s equipment.

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How to Become a Photographer on the Trip

If you’re a photographer and/or videographer, you can send your work to the trip organizer, GUE VP Dorota Czerny, who determines which creatives will be joining. The skills a photographer needs outside of the ability to use a camera are:

  • The ability to clearly express to the models—before and during the dive—the ideal image you’re seeking and the scene as you imagine it (as well as according to the sponsors’ requirements).

The dates for the 2022 Creative Trip will be 18-25 September.

Photo by Imad Farhat

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The Risk and Management of Record Chasing

The pursuit of deep diving records is an unsettling but accepted facet of tech diving culture. On the one hand, we are driven as a species by our genetic predisposition to “Go Where No One Has Gone Before.” Blame it on our DRD4-7R explorer gene! On the other, many question the value and legitimacy of conducting a high risk, touch-and-go line dive for recognition and bragging rights alone. Where and how do we reconcile the two? Here diving physiologist Neal Pollock seeks to answer those questions in a compelling, principled exposition that may help you to sharpen your beliefs.

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By Neal W. Pollock, PhD. Header image: Nuno Gomes getting ready to make his 2005 world record dive to 318.25m m/1039 ft in the Gulf of Aquaba.

Humans have probably been chasing records as long as we have existed. Og was almost certainly proud of discovering that two stones could be rubbed together to make fire, and it likely resulted in a solid community standing for at least a while. Tempting though it may be, we cannot blame our interest in records on the advent of the Internet or social media. The Guinness Book of World Records, a small example of documenting novelty, was first published in Great Britain in 1955. The Internet and social media, however, have made the striving for and tracking of new records more intense. 

Record making is well established in diving as well as in most other communities. There are interminable lists of the first makers of equipment, the first to implement or explore, and the most extreme doers of deeds. History shows them to be pivotal, meaningful, or trivial as it unfolds. Keeping the record straight is important, but the decision as to why and whether to pursue records is worth debating. 

I am a fan of documenting meaningful events, but I have concerns over an excessive focus on arbitrary milestones. When a community puts more weight on records than actual achievements, the drive can become pointless or problematic. The pointless includes many Guinness records, such as the most number of people brushing their teeth simultaneously and the largest rubber band ball.

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While some in the diving community have pursued fairly pointless but low risk records, it is the problematic ones that are a much greater concern. Underwater activities involve greater risk than many other endeavors, relying on equipment, training, technique, and practice to produce an envelope in which reasonable levels of safety can be maintained. Pursuing records is generally about pushing boundaries, and when the boundaries are set by the interaction of physics and physiology, the erosion of safety buffers can produce serious risk. The pursuit of targets can overwhelm well-founded safety concerns and common sense. 

“Record chasing can produce good outcomes, and some meaningful achievements, but when going forward is reliant on misplaced beliefs that personal motivation and superiority can overcome unforgiving limits, the outcome can be bad for both individual and community, even if considered successful.” 

Record chasing can produce good outcomes, and some meaningful achievements, but when going forward is reliant on misplaced beliefs that personal motivation and superiority can overcome unforgiving limits, the outcome can be bad for both individual and community, even if considered successful. 

Nuno Gomes’ support team for his 2005 Guinness World Record Dive to 318.25m/1039 ft

One of the chief challenges in diving is that the interaction of physics and physiology creates difficult-to-define limits. There are differences in tolerance between individuals and often between exposures. Different breathing gas mixtures can alter narcotic potential, respiratory gas density, decompression stress, and susceptibility to oxygen toxicity and high pressure nervous syndrome, among other concerns. Differences in workload, stress, physical fitness, and physical skill can also alter the response to other more fixed stressors. Practically, the interactions between the host of factors is complex and can make the element of chance more important than people would like to admit. A scary reality of many boundary-pushing events is the fact that getting away with something once, or even multiple times, does not necessarily make it safe, and almost certainly not safe for all. 

Ahmed Gabr’s 2014 Guinness World Record Deep Dive remains under controversy

Records achieved with a large helping of good luck still count, but they can be extremely troubling if others are encouraged to try to surpass them. Not only can tolerance and good fortune differ, the lessons learned in building to “record” performance may not be appreciated by those who follow, potentially magnifying the risks. 

Care is warranted to decide on what “records” are truly worth pursuing and what should be left alone. A simple practical test is whether an activity serves any purpose beyond the record attempt. If there is no other benefit or purpose, the value in it may not be sufficient to continue, especially when the associated risks may be high. 

Source: Nuno Gomes

Record attempts are sometimes pursued by relative newcomers to a field. It is unclear how much of this is due to simple enthusiasm or a desire to stand out, but all such efforts are best met with counsel before encouragement. The field needs leaders, and the next generation of leaders, but this requires keeping those with potential both healthy and engaged. This may come down to mindset—finding what is most important and appropriate to pursue as part of personal growth. 

Leaders who want to establish themselves are best served by ensuring that they have the best understanding, skill, and experience within the realm of what they will need to do rather than pushing the envelope for increased fame. Chasing records by sacrificing safety margins and/or ignoring compromised states of affairs is not compatible with accepted best practice. Those looking up to leaders for inspiration may not fully appreciate the issues and concerns, but the best leaders will be conscious of the total impact their efforts can have on others. 

Karen van den Oever after she dived to a depth of 246.65 m/809 ft in Bushmansgat cave, South Africa, representing the women’s world record deep cave dive. 

Bragging about exceptional or record exploits is problematic in that it can encourage others who may be inadequately prepared to follow suit. It may be a hard reality for the keen, hungry, and superbly confident instructor to accept, but they can provide a much better service to their students by encouraging them to stay within the accepted realm of operational safety. This is often most effectively demonstrated through example. The goal should be to promote a long and healthy diving life, effectively achieved by solid training and an instilled appreciation for the value of robust safety buffers and a constant revisiting of “what if” preparation. 

We should recognize the meaningful efforts in the community, but without losing sight of the implications of such endeavors. Promotion of a positive safety culture requires questioning whether things should be done, and how things that should be done can be done with appropriate safety margins. If meaningful efforts result in record achievements they should be applauded, but always with an appropriate framing of any associated value, limitations, hazards, and implications.

Reporting the exceptional is important, but a high priority should also be put on recognizing activities and efforts that are unexceptional in outcome due to appropriate preparation and execution within safe boundaries. Efforts to improve training, awareness, and operational safety must always be promoted. Safety programming is challenging since, when it is effective…, nothing happens. Ongoing commitment is required to ensure that it continues to be effective. 

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I would posit that the best record attempts are those pursued without fanfare, moving quietly from concept through to safe workup stages and then safe completion. The reporting of record efforts should always consider the value and relevance of the activity. Achievements that violate the criteria for safe performance should be neither encouraged nor glorified. 

We live in a time when the pursuit and promotion of records can be expected to continue, but appropriate framing can help to ensure that the community benefits from a sustained focus on safety and thoughtfulness.

See Companion Story: I Trained Doc Deep by Jon Kieran

Dive Deeper

InDEPTH: Fact or Fiction? Revisiting Guinness World Record Deepest Scuba Dive by Michael Menduno

InDEPTH: Karen van den Oever Continues to Push the Depth at Bushmansgat: Her New Record—246m by Nuno Gomes

InDEPTH: South African Cave Diver Karen van den Oever Sets New Women’s Deep Cave Diving Record by Nuno Gomes

InDEPTH: Opinion: Don’t Break That Record by Dimitris Fifis

InDEPTH: Diving Beyond 250 Meters: The Deepest Cave Dives Today Compared to the Nineties by Michael Menduno and Nuno Gomes

InDEPTH: Extending The Envelope Revisited: The 30 Deepest Tech Shipwreck Dives by Michael Menduno

InDEPTH:  High Pressure Problems on Über-Deep Dives: Dealing with HPNS by Reilly Fogarty


Neal Pollock holds a Research Chair in Hyperbaric and Diving Medicine and is an Associate Professor in Kinesiology at Université Laval in Québec, Canada. He was previously Research Director at Divers Alert Network (DAN) in Durham, North Carolina. His academic training is in zoology, exercise physiology, and environmental physiology. His research interests focus on human health and safety in extreme environments.

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