July 2016 report Underwater Photography Internship

Here is my July report back from the Underwater Photography Internship run in conjunction with Blue Wilderness Shark Adventures and Africa Media. by Ari Robinson

This month is a little bit more quiet than our June program. We have one lucky intern on our Underwater Photography Internship after a few last minute cancellations. Meet Emily Keohane, she is from the UK and is studying photo-journalism at college. Emily is very knowledgeable, creative, and loves to travel.

Emily on her trip to Nepal

I have a very good feeling about Emily. I can see that she wants to learn a lot from this Underwater Photography Internship and to make the most of the course. She has a lot of stories about her travels and very beautiful pictures, so I can’t wait to see her underwater photography. Emily did her open water certification two years ago in Madagascar and she hasn’t been diving since then. She has only ten logged dives and she is a little nervous about it. We always want our interns to feel comfortable before going to the ocean so I did a refresher course with her at the pool, to remind her about the basics of diving.  All her skills were comfortably performed, she had no problem at all. However, the pool was at 13 degrees. In South Africa the term to describe how this feels is ‘eish’ and yes, it was pretty icy!  After that, the ocean felt nice and warm.

I didn’t write about this in the last blog but now I really must tell you how wild it is to go diving in Africa. Let’s begin with the launch of the boat. The first impression you get is that people living in Africa must be crazy.  To begin with, we pushed the boat from the beach all the way into the ocean , then, when it is deep enough, the skipper asks us to jump in. It’s difficult to do this gracefully and also to help others, by pushing their butts or pulling arms and legs while the waves are moving the boat up and down. There’s nothing graceful about it, to be fair !

Preparing to launch

When everybody is aboard, we secure ourselves with feet straps; put lifejackets on; hold and be alert because once the skipper finds a gap between the waves, he speeds up and jump the waves as fast as he can. This is the most exciting moment, because you literally fly up in the sky for a few seconds. I love this moment, the best. After passing the waves we usually have a relaxing ride to the dive site. Emily really enjoyed her first launch, even though it was a very windy day with lots of waves.

We all jumped into the water and started to descend, on the way down Emily couldn’t equalise her ear, we tried for more that 10 minutes but it was impossible for her to go deeper than 4 meters and very painful so she  sadly but responsibly decided to get back on the boat.

Tidal pool just 2 meters deep
Emily playing hide and seek with the octopus

We took her to the doctor and he gave her the ok to go to the tidal pool as it is just two meters deep. There are many tiny creatures there and no current, so it is perfect to practice macro shots. Emily was desperate to go into the water again even though her ear wasn’t perfect because she wanted to try the camera for the first time underwater. We spent about 2 hours finding nudibranchs, moray eels, crabs, sea urchins, tons of tiny fish and even an octopus hiding and we had a lot of fun. On her first try with the camera Emily’s buoyancy was upside down, she was rolling over and didn’t have any control of her body. After getting over her frustrations and learning from her mistakes, on day two we came back to the tidal pool and she was  in control. She understood how important is to use her lungs while diving and which is the better position to take picture from. This is a learning process and we were really impressed on how much she improved from one day to the next. On day two she created this picture of an octopus hiding. It is an amazing picture and I couldn’t wait to see more of her pictures after that.

The next day on the Underwater Photography Internship we were planning to go diving but Emily’s ear wasn’t feeling good at all so we went to a different doctor to get a second opinion. The doctor said “it wasn’t a happy ear”. She had to be out of the water for a while. You can imagine how sad we all were about this but then we realised that we were in Africa and there are loads of things to do we starting looking for fun activities to do. We arranged to visit a game reserve called Lake Eland. The landscape is astonishing and we were able to see zebra, impala, wildebeest, giraffe and the awe-inspiring Oribi Gorge canyon.

Oribi Gorge canyon

Later we went for a ride on the highest swing of the world- the Oribi Gorge canyon swing. This is located on the top of Lehrs falls. The swing into the depths  of the gorge is an arc of 100 meters and it takes only one jump. The ride doesn’t last more than a minute but it gives you the most terrifying thrill. I think that this location is one of the most spectacular sights you can visit in South Africa. We would do it again in a ‘screaming’ heartbeat.



After two doctor appointments and almost two weeks out of the water, we did Emily’s first dive of the Underwater Photography Internship in the ocean. After she passed the four first meters without any pain we knew she was going to be able to go down and were all so relieved! On that dive we saw more than ten “raggies”, many species of nudibranches, a huge green turtle and we heard whales singing for the entire dive. This is what I call a perfect welcome dive.

We kept diving for the next weeks and little by little Emily became a better diver and a better underwater photographer. She decided to do her advanced course so we did a deep dive adventure, drift diving, a wreck dive, navigation skills and the most important speciality on this program, peak performance buoyancy.

After practicing some skills and putting in practice all the lectures and tips,Emily was very comfortable underwater and we could see  how much she improved just by looking at her  incredible pictures.

The time went super fast after diving two times a day on the last weeks. The ocean gave us amazing dives with very pleasant conditions and loads of biodiversity.

On the last weeks of her Underwater Photography Internship Emily learned wide angle photography and had a lot of close shark encounters, turtles, a friendly potato bass and many ragged tooth sharks posing for her camera so it was easier for her to take beautiful of willing models.

By the end of the Underwater Photography Internship, Emily left as an experienced diver and a wonderful underwater photographer. Pepe and I were so proud that she didn’t quit the first time and kept trying. Both of us view Emily as a true warrior who will be very successful in everything that she wants to do.

We said goodbye to Emily and the new friends we made this past two months in South Africa with a traditional braai, we will be forever thankful for everything they did for us and for the opportunity that Fiona Ayerst; Fiona Ayerst Underwater Photography and Africa Media are giving us to be part of this program and being in Africa.

Here are some of my favourite pictures from the program. I will miss South Africa so much!

Next adventure… Mozambique! We are all packed and ready to go. Wait for my next report from this paradise.

to join us go to this website for more information http://www.africa-media.org/internship/underwater-photography-training-program/

Ariane Robinson

Africa Media and Fiona Ayerst Underwater Photography Field Specialist