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How GUE’s Approach to Rebreather Diving Compares to My Previous Courses

No one will be surprised to learn that GUE’s got its own somewhat contrarian approach to rebreather diving. Scottish wrecker, Andy Pilley, contrasts GUE’s CCR Diver Level 1 course to what he learned in other rebreather courses.

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By Andy Pilley
Header photo by Marcus Rose.

At the beginning of March 2020, I completed Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) Closed Circuit Rebreather Diver Level 1 (CCR1) course with Rich Walker. Taking this course had been a long term goal since I began diving under the GUE framework.  By way of an introduction, even though I had been curious about GUE for a couple of years, my focus had been on training to use a CCR so that I could extend my diving and undertake more challenging dives. At this point, taking a ‘step back’ to participate in a Fundamentals course, the first step in the GUE education system, was not high on my agenda, and I pushed ahead with a 60 m/196 ft normoxic trimix and Cave CCR.

Andy with his teammates at the 2019 GUE Conference.
Photo by Owen Flowers.

In May 2018, I had joined a trip to Molnar Janos in Budapest, where we did some relatively deep dives to the 60m/196 ft section of the cave. During one of the dives I realized that if something were to happen at this point (deepest phase and farthest point from the entrance), the likelihood that any of the divers I was with would be  able to effectively assist me in an emergency, was slim to none. After returning from this trip, I completed my “Fundies” with Marcus Rose, and made the decision to pack away my JJ-CCR and dive with the growing GUE community we now have in Scotland. My end objective was to get back on to my CCR, but only when I was ready and could be an effective and vigilant teammate.

Since completing Fundies, I have built up experience, worked on my core skills to develop my capacity as a teammate, and undertaken more serious dives. Following up on this, I completed GUE’s DPV1 and Tech 1 courses in order to develop my abilities with mixed gas diving. 

We’re very fortunate in Scotland that there is such a wealth of maritime history around our coastlines, and divers can find wrecks to suit any level of depth and ability. The east coast of the town of Eyemouth provides access to a huge range of wrecks, which include HMS Pathfinder, U-12, the British submarines HMS K4 and HMS K17, as well as the NJ Fjord passenger liner. Many of these wrecks were on my list to dive; but, I wanted to do them with a team that I trusted, so it made sense to proceed with my training in the appropriate manner.

Andy diving on the the Cesare Rossarol in Croatia. Photo by CA HO.

A huge problem in Scotland is that helium prices  are astronomically expensive, and a fill of Trimix 21/35 can cost in the region of £180/US $219 if filled from empty cylinders. This of course restricted the frequency of when we could carry out these dives.  In addition to this, there are a number of very remote sites that we have dived in the recent past, and gas logistics became the biggest problem in being able to carry out these trips. We would often load up with two twinsets and two stage cylinders each for a weekend, and the cost of these fills soon adds up. As I’m sure you can imagine, the ease of logistics that is made available by using a CCR became appealing very quickly. 

Diving Into The Course

GUE On-site Checklist. Photo by Adam Hanlon, Wetpixel.

What struck me about the course with Rich Walker was the level of detail that went into every aspect of using these machines. In my previous CCR courses, we had carried out checklists for pre-dive assembly and breathing checks. But, these were done as a group of individuals rather than as a team. Prior to this there had never been a sense of accountability toward my teammates, as it was very much a solo diving mindset. 

For example, with the GUE class, the pre-build checklist sticker,  recording individual measurements of cell linearity, and cell manufacture dates contained a new level of detail that I hadn’t experienced before. That is not to say they weren’t discussed in my previous training, but cell linearity went only as far as, “If the cells sit between 46-54mv (millivolts) they’ll be ok,” and, “remember to change your cells every 12 months.” It was left to us as individual divers to maintain our own equipment without any real accountability to those we were diving with. Needless to say, looking back on this from a GUE view point, I was shocked that I had once been prepared to accept that level of risk.

From the start of the GUE CCR1 course, the point was made that rebreathers are meant to facilitate dives that are infeasible on open circuit due to gas logistics. When you are venturing into these remote and hostile places, why would you be willing to expose yourself to an intolerable level of risk? Especially when something as simple as a checklist could identify faults and prevent a potential failure that could result in an aborted dive for you and your teammates. Teamwork requires that each member be accountable to the others. Something as simple as a completed checklist confirms that you are thinking with the end in mind, and providing reassurance that you have physically checked each element of your unit.

My previous CCR training had no prerequisites in terms of skill level prior to enrolling in the course; the only requirement was a minimum number of dives. I managed to complete Module 1 without too much difficulty; however, Module 2 was a different story. 

CCR diver practicing bailout to OC. Photo by Adam Hanlon, Wetpixel.

In my previous CCR training, when I started Module 2, I felt as if I was ready to start undertaking deeper dives. However, my lack of fundamental skills, stability, and buoyancy control became apparent when we started diving with two bailout cylinders and trying to manage these effectively. My buoyancy fluctuated massively, and problems I encountered became progressively worse as new skills and increasing depth were introduced and I became task-loaded.

As with Module 1, I managed to pass the course; however, looking back on my performance at that time, I should never have passed. I should have been sent home to work on my foundational skills since what I was missing was the appropriate skill level.

After completing GUE’s Fundamentals, that solid base became apparent.

Capacity and Configuration

As we moved on to learn new rebreather skills in my CCR1 class, the necessity for solid fundamental skills was clear, as we now had to manage our loop volume in addition to our wing and drysuit buoyancy. As I mentioned previously, prior to undertaking Fundamentals I had perceived this as a ‘step back’ from the point where I thought I was in terms of my own diving. However, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a solid skill base from which to build your capacity, and progress in your diving. 

The capacity that GUE training instills in divers provides a common baseline for the team. It provides the reassurance that each diver is trained to the same standard, and will respond in the same manner to particular scenarios. In contrast, the skills taught in my original CCR courses varied depending on which instructor taught them. This could lead to a significant variance in an individual’s response in any given scenario without guarantee that the response will be correct, and more importantly safe. The difference led me to consider GUE’s rebreather configuration in particular, and the benefits it offered in comparison to a standard CCR configuration.

GUE CCR configuration. Photo by Adam Hanlon, Wetpixel.

The rig, configured GUE style, looked very different from what I had seen previously, but after it was explained to me, and how it fits into the GUE framework, it all made sense. I first saw the setup about four years ago in a video demonstrating how a long hose deployment would work, and my first impression was that it looked very complicated and time consuming. ‘Why would you not just hand over a bailout cylinder and be done with it?’ was my thinking back then. In hindsight, I believe that deploying a long hose is much less risky than giving/receiving a bailout cylinder that may or may not have been analysed by that particular diver. Some of the CCR divers I had dived with prior to coming across GUE, don’t analyze their bailout gas before each dive. [Ed. note: GUE standards mandate analyzing and labeling gas before every dive.]

Incorporating a twinset of diluent into the rig reduces the number of external cylinders that must be carried on any given dive. As I alluded to earlier, I was carrying two Ali80’s (11 liter cylinders)—one bailout, one for deco—during my Mod2 course and was overweighted to the point that my wing was fully inflated and impeding my ability to manipulate the valve on my oxygen cylinder during a high PO2 drill. 

Maintaining muscle memory from using a twinset allows for a smooth and familiar manipulation of the valves when required, and mounting the O2 bottle farther back removes any risk of the valve being caught by the wing if it’s overinflated. Overall, the rig feels safer to me, particularly when bailing out to open circuit. As mentioned previously, my prior training had been to use an external bailout cylinder and deploy that if the breathing loop was compromised. 

I was not taught a set drill for verifying and deploying the bailout reg in my original CCR classes, and in a state of panic, I could very well have switched to a cylinder containing 50%, rather than a deep mix. In the case of the GUE configuration, it’s a case of either switching to a backup reg or using a bailout valve (BOV). Personally, I would prefer to do this, rather than running through a full gas switch procedure, especially if I was hypercapnic for example.

Andy post course, diving his CCR. Photo by Marcus Rose.

With this piece, I thought I would provide an overview of the particular elements of the course rather than a day-by-day account. I hope you’ve found this an interesting account of my experience and reflection on how the course sits in comparison to some other CCR training courses. If your objective is to move to CCR diving in the future, I would thoroughly recommend this course. I look forward to diving more with the GUE community and seeing you all on projects in the future.

Additional Resources:

GUE CCR1 Course

The Thought Process Behind GUE’s CCR Configuration


Andy Pilley is a Chartered Surveyor, team member of GUE Scotland, passionate wreck & cave diver and Ghost Fishing UK team diver. Andy started diving with the Scottish Sub-Aqua club in 2011 and began diving with GUE in 2018. Andy dives on the east and west coasts of Scotland where there is a rich maritime history and an abundance of wrecks to be explored. He has a passion for project diving and is developing objectives for a number of sites with the GUE Scotland team. He hopes to assist on the Mars Project and with the WKPP in the future.

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Brown In Bardo: Exploring the Commercial Art of Diving with Jason Brown

British photo phenom Jason Brown continues to redefine the commercial art of diving, all the while thrilling dive audiences around the planet. Where does he look for inspiration? And why is he always seen in the company of a boxer named Rufus? InDepth editor Amanda White chats up the man behind BARDOCreative in search of answers.

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By Amanda White
All photos by Jason Brown

Jason Brown with BARDOCreative’s chief morale officer Rufus, an essential part of Brown’s creative process.

British picture maker Jason Brown has been wowing the dive industry with stunning magazine covers, striking underwater imagery, and creative commercial photography. If you haven’t heard of him or his company, BARDOCreative, he is a man of many talents, who has transported us through time and space to feel as if we are a part of his images. We recently had a chat with Jason to learn a little bit about him and his photography. Dive in!

InDepth: Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Jason Brown: As a kid growing up in the ’80s, I loved tinkering with early 8-bit computers. Like many teenagers of the time, I would spend my days glued to an old TV screen connected to a Commodore 64 in my bedroom. What really changed things for me, though, was the advent of the Commodore Amiga. The Amiga was a revelation, and programs like Deluxe Paint got me hooked on using computers for creativity. It did stuff that was just unheard of back then. You could record and remix digital sound, overlay graphics onto live video with a genlock, and even capture real-world digital images directly into the computer and manipulate them in Deluxe Paint. The Amiga practically invented digital art!

The Amiga got me my first job working in editorial for one of the biggest consumer magazine publishers in the U.K. Working on magazines was a lot of fun, as I would spend everyday rubbing shoulders with some very creative people—writers, fellow editors, designers, illustrators, and photographers. As a completely self-taught photographer, I credit those early magazine days as my best teacher.

How did your underwater journey begin? 

Brown and buddy indulging in some UK beach diving..

If I have one regret, it’s that I wish I’d taken up diving earlier. Like many, I was convinced to sign up when a friend was given a PADI Open Water course for his birthday. I was in my late 20s when I took my first breath of compressed air and some twenty-plus years later, I’m still loving every minute of it. Having switched to diving a twinset fairly early on, I discovered Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) and took DIR Fundamentals (as it was called back then) in 2006 with former GUE instructor Andy Kerslake. Since then I’ve climbed the GUE ladder to Tech 2 and more recently, CCR 1 with Graham Blackmore, one of the best instructors that I’ve been fortunate enough to train with. The switch to CCR has been a revelation. It’s been tough unlearning some deeply ingrained habits, but it’s been so worth it. 

What was your motivation to switch to CCR?

My switch to CCR was driven by a single, very focused desire to photograph the wrecks of Malin Head off the coast of Ireland. Laying in 60 meters-plus, you can do them on open circuit, but to truly appreciate them without running up an obscene helium bill, you need to dive them on CCR. I’m sure everyone has seen photo pioneer Leigh Bishop’s images of the massive 13.5” naval guns on the wreck of HMS Audacious or the Sherman tanks stacked on top of each other on the Empire Heritagethe Malin wrecks are a photographer’s dream! Visibility of 40 meters-plus is not unheard of, so you can really capture the scale of these amazing wrecks.

You participated in project diving before your switch to CCR. Can you tell me a little bit about what projects you were involved in and your role?

One of the first projects that I was lucky enough to be involved in was based out of Portland in Dorset here in the U.K. A team of passionate volunteers set it upon themselves to scour the seabed off Portland and Weymouth looking for uncharted wrecks, many of which had never been dived before. Using sidescan data captured during longs days scanning the seabed, we’d identify marks of interest and would set out to dive them. Sometimes those marks would simply be scrap on the seabed but, with surprising frequency, we’d find stuff of genuine historical interest, too.

Stock footage: Inside the SMS Coln at Scapa Flow.

“What always surprised me was the sheer volume of objects of historical significance just waiting to be discovered.”

What always surprised me was the sheer volume of objects of historical significance just waiting to be discovered. We got to the point where finding yet another Admiralty anchor or a centuries-old cannon was considered routine! Then, of course, there were those days when we’d stumble across really exciting finds. The seabed off Portland is very dynamicit constantly shifts, burying some objects and revealing others. For me, a real highlight was the day we located a large section of hull from a 17th century vessel that had been buried for many years. We were certainly the first people to lay eyes on her since the day she sank! It’s a bittersweet memory too as my buddy that day is no longer with us.

Stock footage: Diver on a vintage wreck with wooden decking located in the waters around the UK.

My role on that project was to record what we’d find underwater through my photography. Photography had two purposes: The first would be to aid in the identification of the objects we’d find. The secondand possibly even more important purposewould be that my images hopefully inspire others to take an interest in maritime history. We even set up a visitor center where divers and non-divers alike could view artifacts recovered from wrecks in the local area and learn more about Portland’s rich maritime history. These days, of course, the focus has switched more to photogrammetry, but I still feel that photography has an important role to play. 3D models are a fantastic visualisation tool, but they can also be rather clinical. Photography, on the other hand, gives far greater scope for creativity.

“These days, of course, the focus has switched more to photogrammetry, but I still feel that photography has an important role to play.”

In recent years, I’ve started giving something back to the community by sponsoring a number of U.K.-based projects. I’m proud to support the amazing work that GUE Instructor Marcus Rose has been doing with Project Baseline here in the U.K. Hopefully I’ll be able to get actively involved in a few of them, too!

You have no interest in photogrammetry?

Far from it. I honestly think that photogrammetry is a very exciting development, especially for project diving. I just don’t believe that it replaces traditional photography. If anything, it supplements it very nicely. Diving explorers like Ingmar and Richard Lundgren, Immi Wallin, Chris Rowlands, and Kari Hyttinen are doing some amazing things with photogrammetry and have proven its worth as a fantastic tool for visualising wreck sites. I see photogrammetry as an additional skill set that I could bring to diving projects, rather than being a skill I can offer commercially. The key to being a useful member of any project team is to bring skills to the table that both compliment and indeed supplement what they may already have. If you have the camera gear, it makes sense not to limit what you can offer.

Tell us a bit about how you came to name your business Bardo?

Swimming through the veins of Mother Earth in France, 2011

Contrary to what most seem to think, it’s got nothing to do with 1950s French actresses and a whole lot to do with my exploration of Buddhism back in my 20s. It’s actually a reference from the Bardo Thodol (or TheTibetan Book of the Dead as it’s called in the West). Wikipedia explains it better than I could as “the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth.” The Tibetan text describes, and is intended to guide one through, the experiences that the consciousness has after death in the Bardothe interval between death and the next rebirth. Who knew I was quite so deep, eh?

Very poetic. How did you get into photography? 

My first exposure to professional photography was during my magazine publishing days. Magazines are very visual mediums and need a constant supply of professional-quality photographs, and so I would spend many long days trapped in hot and stuffy photographic studios working alongside some very talented photographers. Seeing how they shaped light always fascinated me, and it’s something that I explore a lot through my own photography.

My own passion in photography started when I inherited my father’s SLR camera. It was a pretty basic camera, but it taught me how to shoot in full manual mode. Modern digital cameras are very sophisticated, but you still need to understand basic camera theoryf/stops, ISO speed, shutter speed, and so on. This is particularly important underwater as cameras will only capture what they perceive to be a correct exposure based on top-side theory. Full manual unlocks full creativityyou can capture the image you want rather than the image that the camera thinks you want.

Some of Jason Brown’s cover story images including GUE’s QUEST magazine.

When I first learned to dive, it didn’t take long before I wanted to take a camera with me on my adventures. Back then, film was still king, so my first attempts at underwater photography were captured on a roll of 36 exposuresmany of which usually ended up in the bin. Shooting film is far more challenging than digital. Compared to the technology available to photographers today, getting a decent image on film was a lot more hit-and-miss.

Do you ever still shoot with film?

I honestly haven’t shot on film for many, many years now. Very occasionally, though, I do like to set myself a challenge. I will allow myself a maximum of 24 shots and go shoot something interesting. Forcing yourself to not “spray and pray” really makes you focus (if you’ll pardon the pun) on each and every shot. That’s one aspect of film photography that I fear we’ve lostthat sense that you’ve only got a very limited opportunity to get it right. In my experience at least, restricting yourself in this way often results in far better photos

“That’s one aspect of film photography that I fear we’ve lostthat sense that you’ve only got a very limited opportunity to get it right.”

You are doing more than just capturing your time underwater, you now work with brands and magazines doing commercial photography and graphic design. How did you get into that?

Photoshoot for Apeks.

Through blood, sweat, and tears. Seriously though, none of it happened overnight, and it required a lot of networking to get my name out there and develop the contacts I have today. Ten years ago I was working in marketing for a travel company, and I would always become disheartened when days trapped in the office would stop me from going diving. In 2010 I made the decision to sack my boss and start working for myself. I really didn’t have a robust business plan; I just knew I wanted to be able to go diving whenever I wanted. Of course, the reality is somewhat different, and I still find myself occasionally trapped by work. Finding like-minded friends who can skip work to go diving is always a challenge, too, and then there are those pesky project deadlines that still get in the way. To be fair, being self-employed does give me a lot more flexibility to do what I want when I want, though. That alone makes it worthwhile.

Does anyone work with you on your projects?

For me, every shoot is a collaborationwhether it’s with your models, the client, or indeed your dive buddy. I always welcome input, and I’m always open to trying something different if I think they have a cool idea. Never assume that you’re the only one with the creative ideas.

You need to learn to collaborate when you’re working with diver models in water. As any underwater photographer will confirm, models can make or break a shoot.  Diving with someone who instinctively knows how to be a good model can make the difference between capturing great images and a wasted dive. Developing that understanding takes time and doesn’t happen overnight. That said, I’m always mindful that I don’t want to monopolize my dive buddy’s in-water time. Often they’ve paid to be on the boat too, and the last thing they want is to spend the entire dive posing for my camera! 

What is your thought process like when you’re doing a shoot?

It’s important to understand that every photoshoot is different. There’s no “do this, do that” formula that you can apply to ensure a successful shoot. The first step is to always talk to the client to get an understanding of what they want to get out of the shoot. Some clients have a very clear idea of what they want. The last shoot I did for Apeks, for example, was well-planned by the marketing team in Blackburn. They provided me with a comprehensive list of topside shots they needed to market and launch their then new VX-1 mask. How I executed those shots was up to me, but even then, a good photographer needs to develop an insight into the sort of “look and feel” that best matches the client’s brand.  There’s no point shooting something completely off the wall if it doesn’t fit in with either the client’s brief or their own brand image. Photo commissions aren’t about you as a creative; they’re about satisfying the client’s needs.

“There’s no point shooting something completely off the wall if it doesn’t fit in with either the client’s brief or their own brand image. Photo commissions aren’t about you as a creative; they’re about satisfying the client’s needs.”

Brown showcasing his images at the Sport Diver booth at a diving conference.

Do you have any favorite projects that you’ve worked on? 

Magazine shoots are always fun, and occasionally you get to travel to some quite exciting destinations. One of my favorite trips was to the beautiful island of Alphonse in the Indian Ocean, which was sponsored by the Seychelles tourist board. Three other photojournalists from the U.K. dive press and I were whisked away to a private island catering to the rich and famous. This island was just paradise personified and would normally cost far more than I could ever afford. Being able to spend a week on the island being treated like royalty under the pretense of writing a travel feature was quite a sweet gig!

Due to HSE restrictions here in the U.K., all my paid commissions are topside only. The stuff I shoot underwater is licensed as stock photography via my website, so I get a lot more free rein over my underwater images. That said, I do tend to tailor what I shoot with an eye to future licensing opportunities. 

“What I enjoy is shooting people underwater. For me, what makes an image interesting is human interaction with the underwater world.”

What I enjoy is shooting people underwater. For me, what makes an image interesting is human interaction with the underwater world. It’s that human element that subconsciously connects us to an image. Without a diver, a photo of a wreck is just a shot of a pile of rusty metal on the sea bed. Photography is story-telling, and having a diver in your shot just adds a whole different dimension that invites the viewer to ask questions about what they are seeing. 

Tell us about the InnerSpace piece? What was the assignment? What was the most challenging aspect?

The InnerSpace poster was my panacea to the coronavirus lockdown. Like many self-employed people, the lockdown had a dramatic impact on my business. Virtually overnight, I found myself with zero work, as dive businesses and magazines all shuttered up and closed down for the duration. Not being the sort of person who would busy himself with gardening, I spotted a competition on Instagram being run by camera equipment manufacturer Godox inviting photographers to shoot cool and imaginative imagery at home during lockdown. It gave me the excuse I needed to get into the studio and get creative!

A creative “movie poster” made during lockdown.

Being unable to dive my JJ-CCR due to lockdown restrictions, I decided to create a cool movie-style poster in the studio by combining a stylish sci-fi style shot of the CCR with one of my underwater shots from Dreamgate cenote in Mexico. My long-suffering wife was drafted to model. I set the unit up on a table top in the studio and sat her into it. You’ll be relieved to know that the unit wasn’t functioning and the loop was closed. She still hated every minute of it but tolerated my creative distraction without so much as a complaint. She’s definitely a keeper.

The images were then combined in Photoshop, and the fancy movie text added to complete the effect. I’m pleased to report that the movie poster image seemed to do wellGodox picked it up, and I bagged myself a nice prize. I’m pleased to report that the CCR diver image has also been picked up by Otter Drysuits for a future promotional campaign. All in all, not a bad way to turn lockdown into something positive.

I love the shot of the cave diver looking up towards the light. Can you tell me a little bit about it? What were you envisioning?

Cenote Chac Mool in Mexico, 2013.

I captured that image on my first trip to Mexico back in 2013 at Chac Mool cenoteprobably one of the most famous cenote dives in the area. Chac Mool is best known for the breathtaking light show that appears in the head pool for much of the day. To get the full effect, though, you need to time it just right so that the sunlight cuts through the water at just the right angle. I challenge anyone not to be blown away by the beauty of Chac Mool as the strong sunlight cuts through the clear cenote waters. As a photographer, it’s a dream come true. You cannot fail to capture amazing images in such an environment. The first time I visited Chac Mool, I don’t think I got any further than the head pool. I literally spent 90 minutes just shooting the light beams!

“As any cave diver will tell you, the stream of light that cuts through the water at the end of a cool cave dive is always a welcome sight. Even though it signals the end of the dive, we subconsciously feel drawn into the light as it signals safety and a return to the world.”

As any cave diver will tell you, the stream of light that cuts through the water at the end of a cool cave dive is always a welcome sight. Even though it signals the end of the dive, we subconsciously feel drawn into the light as it signals safety and a return to the world. My idea for the shot was to create an image of a diver literally being drawn into a welcoming beam of sunlight, drawing them toward the surface like a sci-fi movie tractor beam. Convincing my model to drop out of trim for the shot was probably the biggest challenge. As any GUE diver knows, diving out of trim just feels wrong, but once I’d explained what I wanted to achieve, he was very obliging. I’m still impressed that he got the angle so right!

None of what I capture underwater is shot for a particular client, and so it always pleases me when one of my photos is picked up by a big diving brand. That particular image was featured on a full-page advert and exhibition stand for Fourth Element. Seeing your work being used as the eye candy for a high-profile promotional campaign never gets dull.

How does it feel when you see your finished product being used at a dive show or in a magazine?

It’s always a buzz! I’ve been lucky enough to have my photography featured on quite a few magazine covers over the years, and even now it still makes me beam when I get a cover. Most magazines will tip you off when your image has been selected, and some will even send you a “strictly for your eyes only” preview of the cover layout. Getting a screenshot of a future cover in my inbox first thing in the morning always brightens my day!

The worst thing about getting a cover, though, is not being able to tell anyone for a couple of weeks. Until the issue hits the newsstands, I have to keep it to myself. Even now, I still get some of the better covers blown up to poster size and framed. These take pride of place on the wall in my office and serve as a constant reminder of some of the awesome stuff I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph over the years.

Spotting my photography at dive shows is always very cool, too. Most recently, my shot of the Bristol Beaufighter wreck in Malta was blown up and displayed on a 6 m/20 ft wide light box at the Go Diving Show in Coventry, U.K. You really couldn’t miss it!

Jason highlighting his shot of the Bristol Beaufighter wreck on display at the Go Diving Show in the UK.

Can you tell us a little bit about the shoot for this cover of Scuba Diver magazine with a 17-year-old cave diver?

That cover accompanied a feature that I’d pitched to the magazine about young U.K. cave diver Robert Thomas. It was a perfect fit for the magazine as they were keen to promote young people coming into diving. In fact, that feature was used as the launch pad for a series of articles which ran over several months, showcasing young divers and some of the cool stuff they were doing. Most of them weren’t quite as extreme as Robert who, accompanied by his father, was squeezing himself into tight holes in the ground from a very young age. 

The feature first came about when I accompanied Robert and his father on a caving trip to Porth Yr Ogof in South Walesa beautiful cave located near the village of Ystradfellte, near the southern boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park. I’d gone along to try my hand at dry cave photography using remote strobes dotted around the inside of the cave. During that trip, the idea of featuring Robert in the magazine had come about. I spent most of the day snapping shots for the potential feature of Robert and his father in this beautiful Welsh cave.

This diver was shot in the Vobster Quay .

The one thing I didn’t have, though, was any underwater shots of Robert, so we hatched a plan to shoot some on another day. The U.K. isn’t blessed with too many caves that you can dive on a twinset, and even the cool caves like Wookey Hole are jealously guarded by the CDG (Cave Diving Group), so getting access to these wasn’t an option. Although both Robert and his father were CDG members, I was not, and CDG sadly doesn’t recognize other agency certs. To get around this problem, we travelled to Vobster Quay inland diving lake and shot some images there. If you know where to go underwater, there are quite a few little holes that, with a little creativity and some fancy lighting, you can make look like U.K. caves. So yes, I cheated. That cover shot was completely fake, but it really didn’t matterit was an eye-catching image that grabbed the attention of anyone who picked up the magazine.

Do you do the layouts for magazine stories where your images appear? Or approve the finished product?

Magazines have their own designers, and I make a point of never interfering with their creativity. They may be my images and my words, but it’s their magazine and you have to be prepared to let go a little.

“As a photographer, it’s all too easy to get a little too attached to your own work. Different people see different things in a photo, and my opinion is no more or less valid than theirs.”

As a photographer, it’s all too easy to get a little too attached to your own work. Different people see different things in a photo, and my opinion is no more or less valid than theirs. That said, some magazines will occasionally invite your input. Scuba Diver magazine here in the U.K., for example, is really good, and I have a great relationship with both the editor and designer who makes our work look so eye-catching. If there’s a particular image that I’m really keen to have featured, they’ll normally accommodate my wish. Again, though, I don’t push it. Unless there’s a genuine reason why the image is important to the feature, I’m happy for them to choose the images that they think work best.  

Brown featured in a story spread in Scuba Diving magazine

As a designer myself, I fully appreciate the pressures that magazine designers are under. The last thing they need is a precious photographer or writer asking them to make changes unless there’s a very, very good reason for it. Just let them do their job. Occasionally they’ll come up with something that doesn’t work for you but even then, it’s fascinating to see how others interpret your work.

Tell us about your work with EUROTEK and TEKCamp. What sort of challenges do you face with event photography and promotional designs?

Shooting EUROTEK 2016. Becky Kagan Schott discussing Great Lakes shipwrecks .

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some superb events over the years. I’m proud to be one of the organizers of the EUROTEK Advanced Diving Conference with responsibility for every aspect of the event’s branding and visuals. I’m also the regular event photographer for the Go Diving Show and TEKCamp masterclass events here in the U.K. and have also shot both TEKDiveUSA back in 2014 and the Baltictech Conference in Poland in 2017. Each event comes with its own unique set of challenges, but they all share one thing in commonthey’re utterly exhausting but a whole lot of fun!

The biggest challenge with shooting an indoor event like EUROTEK is the lighting. Using flash photography isn’t really an option, as the last thing you want to do is disturb those who have paid good money to listen to the talks. Problem is, the conference rooms tend to be very dark, so you really need to know how to capture pin-sharp photos in low light and often work with difficult mixed lighting. Using the right equipment is key here. I shoot using a Nikon D4 which offers exceptional low-light capabilities with pro-level fast lenses. You get one chance to get the shot at an eventmiss it and you’re stuck. There is no way to reproduce the shot at a later date.

The 2014 EUROTEK Poster.

What are your plans for the future? Any upcoming projects that you are working on, or personal plans that you can share with us?

Right now, I’ll just be happy to get back into the water. The pandemic that has swept the world has left us all with serious diving withdrawal symptoms! Once restrictions are fully lifted, my first port of call will be my local diving lake to spend a few hours getting comfortable on my rebreather again. I was lucky enough to recently squeeze a couple of shallow open-circuit shore dives in for a magazine feature, but that’s been it since early March. My poor CCR has a thick layer of dust on it!

After that, who knows. I’ve got a soft spot for the caves in the Lot region of France, so a trip across the channel with my camera and as many lights as I can smuggle through the border checks is definitely on the cards for later in the year. I’ve dived Mexico a few times, but there’s something about France that I just love. I suspect the stunning food and wine have something to do with it, as does the breathtaking countryside in that part of the world. If you’ve never visited France cave country, do itit’s truly beautiful.

Additional Resources 

Scuba Diver magazine’s Webinar: Wreck photography with Jason Brown and Becky Kagan Schott

Connect With Jason Brown:

www.bardophotographic.com

www.facebook.com/bardocreative

www.instagram.com/bardophotographic


Amanda White is an editor for InDepth. Her main passion in life is protecting the environment. Whether that means working to minimize her own footprint or working on a broader scale to protect wildlife, the oceans, and other bodies of water. She received her GUE Recreational Level 1 certificate in November 2016 and is ecstatic to begin her scuba diving journey. Amanda was a volunteer for Project Baseline for over a year as the communications lead during Baseline Explorer missions. Now she manages communication between Project Baseline and the public and works as the content and marketing manager for GUE. Amanda holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, with an emphasis in Strategic Communications from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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