Yasser Metwally

My life…and the world

Hurghada and underwater photography

The author: Professor Yasser Metwally

http://yassermetwally.com


Over the last ten years the citizens of Hurghada have seen an amazing development. From desert sand has risen a town with more than 200 hotels, booming shopping promenades and vibrant nightlife. With ever growing number of tourist and perfect climate, this Red Sea Riviera has no off season. Hurghada has a special community where local habits and culture is presented next to resort lifestyle and behavior.

But the biggest beauty of Hurghada starts where coast ends – blue Red Sea is the reason why your dreams will stay with us. If it takes place in or on the water you can do it here: windsurfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing, swimming, but above all, snorkeling and diving. The unique underwater gardens offshore are some of the finest in the world, justifiably famous amongst divers. The warm waters here are ideal for many varieties of rare fish and coral reefs, which may also be observed through glass bottom boats.

Slide show 1. Underwater photography at Hurghada

Tourism in Hurghada

The first hotel built in the region was Sheraton hotel on Felfela road. The main development period in tourism industry started in the 1990s and is still under process. The total number of hotels has reached today 200, including modest 2 stars accommodations and huge luxury properties on the other side. The number of tourist arrived to Red Sea in year 2008 reaches almost 2 million. More what busiest season is considered to be from September till November and March till May. Hurghada is the biggest resort in Red Sea and cheaper than the main competitor Sharm el Sheikh on Sinai.

People of Hurghada

Today the official population of Hurghada is more than 180 000, with mainly hiring in tourism sector, but also in industries like mining, fishing, construction. Many foreigners who have visited Hurghada over past years never left. Mostly working in diving, guiding, real estate and nightlife business remarkable communities of Russians, Germans, Eastern Europeans, British have developed. A part of the population growth also comes from women who have married local men and now raising the new multicultural generations of the city. The city of Hurghada is divided into three areas- Sheraton Road, El Dahar and the Promenade.

Sheraton Road (El Sakala)

Sheraton road or El Sakala center is the main tourist street in town. It is the busiest street in town with numerous bazaars, coffee shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, restaurants and night clubs. You will find many hotels on the sea side of Sakala. Across the street are situated apartments for locals and foreigners living here (especially Hadaba). Sakala square is located in the one end of the main street. Here you will find many fish restaurants and local eateries. From the beginning of Sakala in a walking distance you will find an El Arousa square – a bride or mermaid standing in the middle of the road. The street to the sea side will lead you to Hurghada Marina – the new city promenade by the marina with luxury yachts and apartments surrounded by old fisherman households. Opened in 2008, one will find in Marina many shops (incl. some high street brands), fabulous bars, fine dining restaurants, nightclubs or just nice walking area for warm summer nights.

The Promenade (Village Road)

The second famous touristic area is called Village road (El Memsha in Arabic). More than 5 km long promenade with wide and clean walking area, mainly 4 stars hotels, famous nightclubs, restaurants with international cuisine, some mall-type shopping centers and uncountable number of shops. For a first acquaintance with Hurghada, Village road is more peaceful and less harassment for tourist than one will experience in Sakala area, but therfore as well reflects much less local culture and lifestyle than any other parts of the town. Famous spots in Village road include Esplanada Mall, Kottas mall, Duty free shop, Little Buddha nightclub and Hard Rock café.

And then there is left El Dahar. Dahar is home for most of the locals living in the area, but as well for number of hotels, city council, aquarium, library, biggest mosques and food market. In Dahar one will find touristic and not so touristic areas, although until now, most of the areas are safe enough to sneak around and discover the other face of Hurghada. If interested in shopping, Dahar offers you streets full of bazaars and good bargains.

Hurghada was founded in the early 20th century, and until a few years ago, remained a small fishing village. But today, it has gone on to become the foremost tourist resort of the Red Sea coast and an international center for aquatic sports. If it takes place in or on the water you can do it here: windsurfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing, swimming, but, above all, snorkeling and diving. The unique underwater gardens offshore are some of the finest in the world, justifiably famous amongst divers. The warm waters here are ideal for many varieties of rare fish and coral reefs, which may also be observed through glass bottom boats. This area has many fine accommodations, usually offering warm and efficient service. Restaurants are mostly along the main road. While in Hurghada, don’t miss the museum and aquarium, with their complete collections of flora and fauna of the Red Sea. 

Today, Hurghada is known as a party town, particularly among Europeans.  Locals and others will tell you that life begins at night in Hurghada, with the many, many clubs. They are particularly frequented by the young, but certainly many others of all ages. One may often find a rousing party centered around the visitors from a tour group taking over the action of a particular bar.  They are easy to find along the main street, along with loads of inexpensive and expensive hotels.

It is also a beach resort, where thousands of older Europeans and others come with their families to enjoy the sun and fun of private resort beaches, some all inclusive.  Many of these hotels offer so many activities and facilities that one may never need to leave the resort.  Often, the larger resorts have zoos, playgrounds, discos, bars, a number of pools and even small theaters.

Hurghada is also a city under development.  Many new hotels and construction are taking place, and we can expect to see some great new hotels, restaurants and other facilities in the near future.  Actually this is a busy section of the Red Sea in general.  Safaga is just south of Hurghada, and Soma Bay with its beautiful Sheraton is even closer to the South.  To the North is El Gouna, a highly organized resort community.  Together, these communities and resort areas offer just about everything a visitor might wish for, from raucous parties to isolated scuba diving, with golf, bowling and fishing in between.

Islands near Hurghada offer all kinds of fun and excitement. Take a day trip to Giftun Island for snorkeling and a fish barbecue, or view the Red Sea from a submarine! When you’re not in the sea you can shop in the boutiques, relax in the luxury holiday villages or visit the Roman Mons Porphyrites (mountain of porphyry) remains at nearby Gebel Abu Dukhan (Father of Smoke). Day-trips or safaris to explore the Red Sea Mountains by camel or jeep are also available. Other nearby islands and destinations include the Shadwan Island (Diving, snorkeling, fishing but no swimming), Shaab Abu Shiban (Diving, snorkeling and swimming), Shaab el-Erg (Diving, fishing and snorkeling), Umm Gammar Island (Diving and snorkeling), Shasb Saghir Umm Gammae (Diving), Careless Reef (Diving), Abu Ramada Island (Diving), Shaab Abu Ramada (Fishing), Dishet el-Dhaba (Beaches and swimming), Shaab Abu Hashish (Beaches, diving, snorkeling, swimming and fishing), Sharm el-Arab (Diving, swimming and fishing and Abu Minqar Island (Beaches and swimming).

Underwater photography

Overview

Underwater imaging is considered an especially challenging area of photography, since it requires very specialized equipment and techniques to be successful. Despite these challenges, it offers the possibility of many exciting and rare photographic opportunities. Animals such as fish and marine mammals are the most common subjects, but photographers also pursue shipwrecks, submerged cave systems, underwater "landscapes", and portraits of fellow divers.

Slide show 2. Underwater photography at Hurghada

The primary obstacle faced by underwater photographers is the extreme loss of color and contrast when submerged to any significant depth. The longer wavelengths of sunlight (such as red or orange) are absorbed quickly by the surrounding water, so even to the naked eye everything appears blue-green in color. The loss of color not only increases vertically through the water column, but also horizontally, so subjects further away from the camera will also appear colorless and indistinct. This effect is true even in apparently clear water, such as that found around tropical coral reefs.

Underwater photographers solve this problem by combining two techniques. The first is to get the camera as close to the photographic subject as possible, minimizing the horizontal loss of color. This is best achieved by using wide-angle lenses, which allow very close focus, or macro lenses, where the subject is often only inches away from the camera. In practical terms, serious underwater photographers consider any more than about 3 ft/1 m of water between camera and subject to be unacceptable. The second technique is the use of flash to restore any color lost vertically through the water column. Fill-flash, used effectively, will "paint" in any missing colors by providing full-spectrum visible light to the overall exposure.

Since underwater photography is often performed while scuba diving, it is important that the diver-photographer be sufficiently skilled so that it remains a reasonably safe activity. Good scuba technique also has an impact on the quality of images, since marine life is less likely to be scared away by a calm diver, and the environment is less likely to be damaged or disturbed. There is the possibility of encountering poor conditions, such as heavy currents, tidal flow, or poor visibility. Generally, underwater photographers try to avoid these situations whenever possible.

Equipment

Underwater photographers have several basic options for equipment.  There exists several usable alternatives for underwater photography, like digital point and shoot cameras, compact digital cameras with full exposure controls, and SLRs (single lens reflex cameras). Unlike the earlier amphibious or waterproof camera, the first was the Calypso, reintroduced as the Nikonos in 1963, which is designed specifically for use underwater, these cameras now require a housing for underwater use. Nikon discontinued the Nikonos series in 2001 and, as it is a 35mm film system, it is somewhat obsolete, but some photographers still choose this approach. Sea and Sea continues to manufacture an amphibious range finder camera that utilizes 35mm film, the Motor Marine III.

Housings are specific to the camera and are made of several things from inexpensive plastic to high-priced aluminum cases. Housings allow many options, since the user can choose a housing specific to their everyday "land" camera, as well as utilize any lens in their collection. In practice, underwater photographers generally use either wide-angle lenses or macro lenses, both of which allow close focus, thereby eliminating the need to have excessive water between the camera and subject. Digital media can hold many more shots than standard photographic film (which rarely holds more than 36 frames). This is one of the primary advantages of using digital camera underwater, since it is impossible to change photographic film underwater. The instant feedback provides faster learning and improved creativity, which is why virtually all underwater photographers now use digital cameras.

All underwater housings are outfitted with controls knobs that access the camera inside, giving the photographer use of most of its normal functions. These housings may also have connectors to attach external flash units. Some basic housings allow the use of the flash on the camera, but the on-board flash may not be sufficiently powerful and are improperly placed for underwater applications. More advanced housings either redirect the on-board strobe to fire a slave strobe via a fiber optic cable, or physically prevent the use of the on-board strobe. Housings are made waterproof through a system of silicone o-rings at all the crucial joints.

There are optical issues with using cameras inside a watertight housing. Because of refraction, the image coming through the glass port will be distorted, in particular when using wide-angle lenses. The solution is to use a dome-shaped or fish-eye port, which corrects this distortion. Most manufacturers make these dome ports for their housings, often designing them to be used with specific lenses to maximize their effectiveness. The Nikonos series allowed the use of water contact optics: ie, lenses designed to be used whilst submerged, without the ability to focus correctly when used in air. There is also a problem with some digital cameras which do not have sufficiently wide lenses built into the camera. To solve this, there are housings made with supplementary optics in addition to the dome port, making the apparent angle of view wider. Some housings also allow for the use of wet-coupled lenses, which thread on to the exterior of the lens port and increase the field of view. These wet-coupled lenses may be added or removed underwater, allowing for both macro and wide angle photography on the same dive.

With macro lenses, the distortion caused by refraction is not an issue, so normally a simple flat glass port is used. In fact, refraction increases the magnification of a macro lens, so this is considered a benefit to the photographer, who may be trying to capture very small subjects.

Underwater flash

The use of a flash or strobe is often regarded as the most difficult aspect of  underwater photography. Some common misconceptions exist about the proClick to enlargeper use of flash underwater, especially as it relates to wide-angle photography. Generally, the flash should be used to supplement the overall exposure and restore lost color, not as the primary light source. In situations such as the interior of caves or shipwrecks, wide-angle images can be 100% strobe light, but such situations are fairly rare. Usually, the photographer tries to create an aesthetic balance between the available sunlight and the strobe. Deep, dark or low visibility environments can make this balance more difficult, but the concept remains the same. Many modern cameras have simplified this process through various automatic exposure modes and the use of through-the-lens (TTL) metering. The increasing use of digital cameras has reduced the learning curve of underwater flash significantly, since the user can instantly review photos and make adjustments.

Color is absorbed as it travels through water, so that the deeper you are, the less reds, oranges and yellow colors remain. The strobe replaces that color. It also helps to provide shadow and texture, and is a valuable tool for creativitiy.

An added complication is the phenomenon of backscatter, where the flash reflects off particles or plankton in the water. Even seemingly clear water contains enormous amounts of this particulate, even if it is not readily seen by the naked eye. The best technique for avoiding backscatter is positioning the strobe away from the axis of the camera lens. Ideally, this means the flash will not light up the water directly in front of the lens, but will still strike the subject. Various systems of jointed arms and attachments are used to make off-camera strobes easier to manipulate.

Click to enlarge

When using macro lenses, photographers are much more likely to use 100% strobe light for the exposure. The subject is normally very close to the lens, and the available sunlight is usually not sufficient.

There have been some attempts to avoid the use of flash entirely, but these have mostly failed. In shallow water, the use of custom white-balance provides excellent color without the use of strobe. In theory one could use color filters to overcome the blue-green shift, but this can be problematic. The amount of shift would vary with depth and turbidity, and there would still be a significant loss of contrast. Many digital cameras have settings that will provide color correction, but this can cause other problems. For example, an image shifted toward the "warm" part of the spectrum can create background water which appears gray, purple or pink, and looks very unnatural. There have been some successful experiments using filters combined with the RAW image format function on some high-end digital cameras, allowing much more detailed manipulation in the digital darkroom. This approach will probably always be restricted to shallow to moderate depths, where the loss of color is less extreme. In spite of that, it can be very effective for large subjects such as shipwrecks which could not be lit effectively with any strobe.

Natural light photography underwater can be beautiful when done properly with subjects such as upward silhouettes, light beams, and large subjects such as whales and dolphins.

Although digital cameras have revolutionized many aspects of underwater imaging, it is unlikely that flash will ever be eliminated completely. From an aesthetic standpoint, the flash often adds "pop" and helps to highlight the subject. Ultimately the loss of color and contrast is a pervasive optical problem that cannot always be adjusted in software such as Photoshop.

see also

Underwater photography slides 1

Underwater photography  slides 2

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November 24, 2009 - Posted by | Underwater photography

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