Maybe I should start scuba diving?

August 15, 2012  •  1 Comment

The holiday

This year's summer holiday abroad was carefully chosen. I wanted to take the kids somewhere hot, but still in a country I would feel relatively safe alone with two teenagers. And of course - a pretty marine environment wouldn't go amiss, even though this was a holiday.

The Greek island of Alonissos was chosen for it's (according to the brochure) unspoilt charm, with low-key tourism, and because it was the only inhabited island in the National Marine Park of Alonissos. We went to Greece last year, and I really like the country. My hope was that as it's a marine protected area, the water would be clean and that snorkelling would be better than for example in Athitos in Chalkidiki, where we were last year. I was right.

We stayed at the Paradise Hotel - a term with a dubious meaning to Norwegians, but the hotel was in fact very nice. It was chosen for the proximity to the sea and the pool, but after reading both good and bad reviews on TripAdvisor, I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. It was a simple hotel, small rooms and simply furnished, but clean, a clean and very nice pool and a pool bar that served nice snacks and cheap drinks. And yes, as some reviews on TA said, the furniture was old, but hey - if you go to Alonissos to stay at the hotel room all day... Why not go to a five star hotel in Dubai in stead? The owners were very nice and the service was friendly, and the village of Patitiri was very pleasant.

The best snorkelling on the island is apparently on Kokkinokastro beach - where I never got round to going to. But also just off the ladder into the sea at the hotel, north of the harbour. We arrived during a heat wave, and it was hot enough to stay in the water for two hours without a wet suit and without getting cold...


A word on equipment

The equipment I used is an Olympus PEN E-PL 3 with an Olympus underwater housing PT-05L, I've added an Olympus UFL-1 strobe (flash) even though I only snorkel and don't dive (yet...) as the colour red is gone below 1 meter. I'm glad I did, because there were some really nice things growing in dark places! To get distance between the flash and the lens, I use a FantaSea tray with a flexible arm (not too happy with those), with a Sea&Sea optic cable between the flash on the camera and the UFL-1. The optic cable solution works perfectly, and lets you have full controll of the flash in remote mode (Olympus RC mode) or just fired directly. The thing is, I need to practise using it under water as well! One of the things I really like about Olympus E and PEN systems both is the control features for one or several flashes, called RC mode. They've even put it on the XZ-1! I'm not a huge fan of the E-PL3 out of water, as I personally prefer optical viewfinders (for the time being) and the lenses I have are kit lenses. Also, it's smaller than I'm used to which makes it fiddly and slower than I need for other types of photography. However, it's important to remember that cameras are made for different uses. I use cameras for different things, so I need several. Besides, I'll gladly admit to being a gadget freak! On the other hand, I don't care about shoes... To be fair to the E-PL3, I did buy it to use under water and for that, it's really nice. I would prefer a faster 14-42 mm lens (wide open is f/3.5) but it needs to fit into the underwater housing. If Olympus make an upgraded fast version I'd be interested it it fits the housing, or if Nauticam would provide a solution. I'm a bit of a fusspot when it comes to lenses and light...

Anyway, back to lighting. The water is beautifully clear in this part of Greece, and the camera focuses nicely, if I can only stay still! But there were quite a few dark places, and I definately need another strobe. The UFL-1 also seems to have a little limited angle, so I think the best option is to use a couple of UFL-2s which are stronger, have a wider angle, and shoot them like I do with my remote-control FL-50 flashes in my "studio".

Wet lenses are lenses that you add to the under water housing and that can be put on or taken off under water. The second and third images of the fireworms were taken with a macro wet lens (PTMC-01), which allows focusing closer to the subject.  This gives a lower depth of field, and therefore focusing is even more difficult! The problem isn't the focusing speed of the camera and lens, which is much faster than the XZ-1 I used in the Galapagos, but the fact that once I'd focused, my distance to the subject would of course have changed. The "fun" part of snorkelling when taking photographs, as I've mentioned in a previous blogpost - is the bobbing around like a cork. It was no better in the Aegean sea, which must be more saline than in Norway. Either that or I have added more body fat to my bum throughout the holidays and I float even better than two weeks ago. So please believe the saline theory. Anyway - focusing was a challenge, to say the least. Although it was relatively calm, there is always some wave activity, and I kept floating backwards and forwards, making it very difficult to focus. Or should I say - to keep focus! For every image that was a keeper - there were ten to delete. I think this is a bigger problem when snorkelling than when diving, as I spend most of the time on the surface, whereas I'd get deeper down and out of the waves if I could only stay down below... So maybe I should try scuba diving...

I also have a wide angle wet lens (PTWC-01) - a beautiful piece of glass. I tied a belt around my waist, and put them both in neoprene bags. This worked really well, allowing me to change lenses under water. The location didn't always lend itself to using the wide angle wet lens, and I forgot it in the hotel room when we went on a location where there were little caves... (typical), so I'll just have to try that one out again, as I didn't make any shots with it. What a shame.


The critters!

Now to the lovely creatures! On the first day it was remarkably clear, and these guys (fireworms, marine polychaetes) were out, grazing on something on the algae beds. These photos were taken just off the ladder at the hotel. I also saw a tail half of a moray eel partly under a rock in this bay, but the photo of it is too bad to publish as it was at 2-3 meters, and I didn't want to frighten it. A word of caution about the fireworms: The bristles apparently deliver a very painful sting that will last for days!





I never saw the fireworms again, but the area had plenty of other creatures you don't want to touch. The sea urchins are a well-known menace on the rocky bottoms of these waters, so it's a good idea to use bathing shoes! Or simply snorkel! Use a mask and you will see where they are, and wear flippers that protect your feet. If you look into the hole where this sea urchin is sitting, you'll see a small sea anemone, hiding. I wonder it it ever manages to get its tentacles out without being poked by the urchin. What a bad deal for the anemone!


The area used to be known for sponge fishing, and there are lots of different sponges, often fighting for space and growing on top of each other with the algae, creating a veritable mosiac of colour:


There were also plenty of fish species, such as this wrasse:


And these little guys, who stayed in the same place all the time. I visited them on several days, they were always guarding their little territories.


This little thing provided a particular focusing challenge, as it was also waving around in the waves! I am seriously thinking it would be nice to be able to scuba dive, it must be much calmer further down!


One of the days, we took the boat Gorgona for a whole-day trip to two other islands in the Marine Park, with captain and knowledgeable guide Capt. Pakis. The beautiful island of Kyra Panagia is only inhabited by one monk. We went snorkelling in a bay there that had a couple of nice small caves.


These were probably my favourites on Kyra Panagia. Would you believe it is a worm? These are called Peacock worms.

Peacock worm


If it's frightened, it will hide.

Peacock worm

Peacock worm


I first thought they were sea anemones. but they're not. This, however - is a sea anemone. It was hiding in a small crack between a couple of stones in a cave on Kyra Panagia. I had to fire the flash quite heavily to get the image:


All the marine life gives the rocks such colour!


After Kyra Panagia, we visited the monk (images from land to come in another post...) and then travelled on to Peristera, where there is a wreck. The afternoon light was lovely, falling directly on the wreck, which was already overgrown with all sorts of species.


So, jump in there, and don't be afraid to get your feet wet!

All 56 underwater images from Alonissos are located in the gallery: National Marine Park of Alonissos.

Thank you for looking!



Very Nice - both the description and the pictures.
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