David Keep: Underwater Photography. September 2nd 2020

This evening we joined Dumfries Photographic Society for an inspiring talk given by David Keep via Zoom. David is an award-winning photographer based in Chesterfield. His talk, titled “Underwater Photography 2 – from Manatees to Crocodiles”, covered underwater adventures he undertook in 2019. His subjects included Manatees, Whale Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, Atlantic Grey Seals, Saltwater Crocodiles and Gannets.

David has been a keen diver all his life. On retirement, five years ago, he took up photography and has since combined these two hobbies. It has taken him some time to become proficient at underwater photography and this is not surprising given the difficulties associated with this and the specialist equipment needed. To say, however, that his photographs are superb is an understatement. He has won numerous awards but probably his highest achievement was a gold medal and a best in exhibition in the FIAP World Cup in November 2019 for an image of diving gannets. As well as taking still images David also takes videos underwater and these show the viewer exactly what is involved in achieving his photographs.

Of particular interest were the measures David took to photograph sharks and crocodiles. Extensive research was necessary to make arrangements to photograph these species. In the case of sharks, he used a company that specialises in taking tourists to dive with, and to photograph, them off the coast of the Northern Bahamas where they congregate in a relatively shallow area of water. The larger sharks, including Tiger Sharks and Hammerhead Sharks, are fed by hand by an employee while customers take photographs.  The video showed just how close the sharks came and one even touched David as it swam past. Despite the dangers David described sharks as his favourite creature saying “they are so photogenic”.

 

Photographing Seawater Crocodiles was an even riskier undertaking. David said that since watching Tarzan on television as a boy he had been fascinated by crocodiles. Again, he undertook extensive research and discovered that the best chance to photograph them was in the shallow water of the mangrove swamps off the coast of Cuba. It takes considerable nerve to enter the water when a crocodile is present and even David admitted to being nervous but his guide would only allow him to enter the water when a suitably sized crocodile had been found, one not too small and especially one not too large. They can grow up to five metres in length. Apart from the danger involved, photographing the crocodile was tricky. The light had to be right, not too sunny, the water not too shallow and he had to be careful not to stir up the muddy seabed as this would cloud the water. Despite the difficulties David succeeded in taking some magnificent shots. The shoot however was not without a moment of danger when David had what he described as “a far too close encounter with a crocodile” when returning to the boat. Unsurprisingly, David admits that he has no desire to get back in to the water with a crocodile again.

 

David’s other subjects were of a much less threatening nature. He described the Manatees he photographed in Florida as “very friendly creatures” and the Atlantic Grey Seals he found around the Farne Islands as “super cute and inquisitive”.  To photograph the seals David had to wait on the seabed until the seals approached but, once they arrived, he was able to have a close interaction with them.

Finally, David showed his images of diving gannets taken off the coast of Shetland. These are his own personal favourites for which he has won numerous awards. Before entering the water, David’s fear was that one of the gannets might hit him as they dive at speeds in excess 60 mph and could do considerable damage. But the birds are so skilled not one touched him. David said this was one of the most exhilarating experiences of his life.

 

This was a fascinating evening of captivating photography and David is to be admired for his skill, courage and patience in achieving the unique images on show.

Julie Walker