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In The Loop

RF4 official picture maker Jason Brown, takes us for a candid, behind the lens tour of one of the most consequential rebreather events in the last decade.

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Text and images by Jason Brown of BARDOPhotographic

🎶 Pre-dive clicklist: Enjoy The Silence by Depeche Mode 🎶

“Malta really is a photographer’s dream. A jewel in the Mediterranean sea, the island just oozes history and is magical in so many ways. There really is a photo opportunity on every street corner – I challenge any photographer not to be inspired by its stunning limestone streets and the golden hue radiated by its fortress-like buildings.”

“Rebreather Forum 4 kicked off in style with a magical reception sponsored by Visit Malta in the luxurious splendour of the Grand Excelsior Hotel. Drinks and a delicious range of canapés were consumed as delegates, speakers and vendors all rubbed shoulders to discuss the days ahead.”

“Photographing divers on a rocking boat is always fun – simply framing a shot can be challenging when you’re being pitched from side to side. You just have to go with it and move with the boat and hope your stomach remains strong! Feeling sea sick is never conducive to the creative process…”

“I’ve always had a fascination with rebreather technology and Rebreather Forum 4 offered an irresistible opportunity to geek out over some of the cool innovations on show. If I hadn’t have been shooting images, I would have jumped in for a try dive on one of a number of sidemount rebreathers available to try dive.”

“Attendees found plenty of time to visit the many vendor stands that lined the historic hallways of the University of Malta. The eclectic mix of exhibitors covered all the major rebreather manufacturers, training agencies and a good selection of companies brands showing off their latest wares. It was kit heaven!”

“Shooting images of speakers is always challenging. How do you make a procession of speakers look uniquely interesting? I try to capture their personalities and energy by watching and learning their body language. Every time I capture an image that truly encapsulates a speaker’s personality, I know that shot is in the bag.”

“Visitors were kept well fed and watered with regular breaks for refreshments and, of course, a full buffet lunch. The central courtyard proved particularly popular with attendees take the opportunity to mix and mingle in the open air. Stories were swapped, friendships built and business was done.”

“Events like Rebreather Forum 4 bring together all manner of people from across the globe, all united by a common passion – our love for diving. It’s wonderful to see how this shared passion is such a great unifier. For instant harmony, just add water!”

“What really makes working an event like Rebreather Forum 4 so much fun is the stuff you don’t see and the crazy team of people that make it all happen.”

“The final day included some brisk discussion as delegates poured over the consensus statements under the watchful, no-nonsense guidance of Professor Simon Mitchell. This truly was democracy in action as everyone was invited to contribute, regardless of background, affiliations and experience”

“Everyone loves a good party, right? Rebreather Forum 4 wasn’t just about the academic discussions – it was also a great opportunity to let your hair down and have some serious fun! Divers know how to party and we certainly didn’t let the side down.”

“The social side of Rebreather Forum 4 was a real highlight for many including myself. After so many years of lockdowns and isolation, being reunited with so many great diving friends and colleagues from across the globe was a real treat.”

Photo by Georgina Brown.

DIVE DEEPER

Other stories by Jason Brown:

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

InDEPTH: Move Over Jet Fins: There’s a New Tech Fin in Town

InDEPTH: Annotated Tekkie


An experienced trimix rebreather and cave diver certified through Global Underwater Explorers, Jason Brown is an accomplished commercial and underwater photographer whose work has graced the pages—and covers—of numerous magazines across the globe. An experienced writer, with over 30 years of experience writing engaging features for a diverse range of publications, Jason now focuses his writing and photographic talents on his life aquatic. Jason is actively involved in a number of high-profile dive industry events. He is one of the lead organisers of both the acclaimed EUROTEK Advanced Diving Conference and the award-winning TEKCamp diving masterclass event in the UK.


Art

Rainbow Caves

Spanish-born cave diver and underwater photographer Joram Mennes Pine illuminates hidden karst color.

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Text and images by Joram Mennes Pine.

Colors are my theme; I try to bring out the colors in post-production, but also white balance on camera every dive. Caves are dark, but if you bring a ton of light and use them well, you can get some amazing RAW files. Then, in post, I do like to play with color grading and use the available editing programs to bring out the best in them.

My concept is to find unique places to shoot, and try and imagine the picture before it is set up by looking at the passages and placing lights in the best possible ways for the camera to be able to capture the scene.

Sometimes it works; for others, I go back a second time and recreate it in a better way. Many of my photos are shot on the fly, but for some, if I’ve been there before and already have an idea about the place, I still decide angles and positioning of divers in the moment. It’s hard tasks to communicate and hoping the results come out.

The diver gives perspective and, as such, needs to pop out. Back light helps the camera to capture light as it is facing the lens, and the diver blocks the hotspot; combining this effect adds drama and makes the eye search for the center of attention in a photo. I try to, in post, dim that point and bring out shadows to even out the image, giving the audience a sense of mystery.

My favorite part is being down there in the caves—the whole experience of going in these amazing places and not knowing what the outcome will be. Over the years diving the Cenotes, I never stop being amazed by the natural beauty of these places, as if they’re asleep and waiting for divers to enjoy them as one swims down to these unique places. Once lit up, they seem to be alive, full of highlights, shadows, colors, and inspiring geology: They become incredibly photogenic.

Trying to capture different and unique angles in caves with no light, is a bit of a trial and error game. Having full control of the scene and being able to place light does not make it easier—it actually means more work, more back and forth, corrections, and a bit of luck to hide the lights well. The outcome can be sometimes great; other times, well … part of the learning process.

Cave diving by itself is already a challenge, and it’s not for everyone. Communication must be clear, precise, and without hesitation on a normal dive, so transmitting hand signals and positioning divers I would say is the hardest part. So prior to the dive, a long briefing must be done and, even then, nothing is obvious underwater. So mostly on a one-day photoshoot, I prefer to do two dives since, on the interval, I can advise divers about the small details to improve and try and get more creative on the second dive. The best part is every dive can be a new opportunity to create a unique image for the clients.

I think the hardest thing to understand about cave photography is how much time it takes to get to the places one wants to shoot at. In the world today, the newer generations seem to think everything can be done fast and that all is easy. Underestimating the background of diving, how many years are spent roaming these caves, learning about them, collecting data and being consistent about repeating paths to search for images.

It’s really important to realize how fragile caves are. The time to take a photo is a time ticking bomb; the more you stay in a place, the more the caves suffer. A sentence a friend told me once, “The best photo is the next photo you take,” does not apply to the caves as percolation from bubbles can mean a lost image. One must stay out of frame beforehand, set up fast, think fast, and take photos as well as you can before you must move on. The more popular caves give you more time to shoot; in the more remote caves, it’s sometimes not even worth stopping and one must shoot in the moment.

Placing the lights, I always choose the ground I will disturb the least, or if there are any marks already, use them to not make more. Approach in the most careful way, be gentle placing lights, and always see above what my bubbles can damage. Conservation of the caves is the priority when going to capture images. I was offered to go shoot in Cenote Doggy once, and declined; for me, this cave is too nice to even attempt taking photos there. I have not been there for years now, as already when swimming there all I remember is how delicate the formations were and how fast they broke with bubbles. Too delicate for me to go and disturb the peace down there.

DIVE DEEPER

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Born in Formentera, Spain in the Balearic Islands, Joram Mennes has been diving since 1998. He became an open water scuba instructor (OWSI) in 2001 and worked in Ibiza for a few years as a summer job. He moved to Tulum Mexico in 2006 where he was introduced to the cenotes, and then spent several years traveling and working in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago. In 2010 Joram decided to return to Playa del Carmen, Mexico and began his cave training. He picked up a DSLR camera in 2015 and began his photographic journey learning how to take photos in the cave environment and perfecting his technique. In the process he learned how to shoot amazing vistas in huge chambers and find unique places to stop and take a photo, capturing natural light, hydrogen sulfide clouds and haloclines amongst the huge speleothems. His gear includes Sony A1 with Nauticam Housing and an 8.5 Acrylic Dome, a Sony 16-35mm F2.8 Canon, and a 8-15mm Sigma 12-24mm F2.8.


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