Eleanor Hodgson

WAUPS Secretary 2013/14

Where, when, how did you learn to dive?
I learnt to dive in Bunbury through my local dive store, Coastal Water Dive (CWD).  I just walked in and signed up for an open water course. Two evening sessions at the shop, two in the pool, and my first open water dive off a rib called Jaffa in Quindalup Bay. My PADI open water course 50 question test was conducted in the beer garden of The Three Bears, over a post dive pint of beer. The following day, the weather was not looking great so I had to wait a whole week to get back in the water. My final open water qualification dives were done on the Lena, a purpose sunk wreck in 18 m of water off Bunbury’s back beach. What a day! I will always be eternally grateful to my instructor Rigga for getting me into the ocean.

How did you get into diving, UW photography, mentors, and inspirations
In 2004 in Bunbury I was looking around for something new. A friend of mine had quietly got herself certified to dive as she and her husband had just got themselves a boat that was all the encouragement I needed. After diving regularly off Bunbury and Busselton with my mate Rick, who had a boat and was a qualified dive master, I wanted to be able to identify the fish I was seeing. A camera was needed. CWD was running an underwater photography competition and so I bought one of those not quite disposable film cameras for about $30. The plastic housing could be opened, film removed for processing and another film inserted into the camera. I knew the rule, get close, get closer but unfortunately for me, the camera wasn’t up to it and all my shots were blurry blobs. In the process of removing the film I broke off one of the plastic latches. Second dive with the camera I flooded it. It was time for some proper gear. I was guided by Torry at CWD who sold me my first digital camera, an Olympus C7070 and Olympus housing. I joined the website forum WA Divers and discovered other underwater photographers, Gudge (Ross Gudgeon) whose images were inspiring and Tammy Gibbs. Dive magazines provided the incentive to pursue the dream of taking cover shot quality images. Gudge also introduced me to Alex Mustard, whose images are amazing. A holiday in Fiji on board the Nai’a with many divers with cameras finally got me shooting in manual mode. That year Tammy recommended I do a one-day course with a local photographer called Shannon Conway and he sorted out a few of my problems and set me on the path.

Your camera, equipment and toys
One item of dive gear that made such a difference to my underwater photography was the purchase of my Dive Rite Transpac and travel wing. After fighting with buoyancy control for years, and trying different combinations of weighting systems I tried a rear inflation BCD. What a difference it made.  I took it brand new, undived to Fiji and it was amazing.

As for camera stuff… For a number of years I shot with the Olympus C7070 in the Olympus housing, adding Inon wet lenses macro and wide angle and one Inon strobe followed by a second. Finally, after a year of two trips; Ambon and Banda (Indonesia) and then Christmas Island, I felt that I was ready for something more advanced with no shutter lag. Christmas 2009 saw me buy my very first SLR camera, a Nikon D300. I researched housings and was ready to place an order for a Seatool housing, however it seems I’d bought the last D300 in Australia and it was faulty. So I ended up with the newer model the D300s, which meant no housings available. No Seatool for the D300s, but wanting to stick with fibre optics for my strobes I had to wait a while. Nauticam were the new kids on the block at the time, but a few people were getting on board. There was an Aussie rep and the reviews seemed good. I held off for five months and took the Olympus to Bali for one last hurrah. My Nauticam housing, dubbed “Big Kev” arrived on my birthday in 2010. I’d borrowed back off my mortgage and got the housing, two macro ports, a glass dome and various bits and bobs. I now have two Inon Z240 strobes and hold the lot together with Ultralight arms and clamps and Stix floats. A sola 600 light completes the deal for night diving, the red light doesn’t scare away the shrimps.

Favourite dive site, WA, interstate/overseas location, dive buddies and accessories
Busselton Jetty was a favourite when I lived in Bunbury, although I haven’t dived it since it was rebuilt. I have had some great dives off Rottnest and am fond of the seahorses at the Rockingham Wreck Trail. Further afield, Fish Rock Cave off South West Rocks in NSW is an awesome dive site for grey nurse sharks and other creatures including a variety of nudis, HUGE wobbegongs, turtles, eels, eagle rays and I saw my first and only blue ringed octopus. Overseas, anyone who knows me will know I do go on about diving the Solomon Islands off the MV Bilikiki, with its fabulous variety of warm water diving including walls, WWII wrecks, caves, shallows, mantas and it’s easy to get to with a direct flight to Honiara from Brisbane. One day I hope to share the Solomon Islands with my favourite dive buddy Tammy. I love to dive with Tammy, she and I dive in a similar way, not moving very far or very fast.

Most memorable underwater moment
The first time I saw a shark in the ocean was so very exciting, but not the most memorable. In fact the two most memorable underwater moments both happened off Rottnest Island diving off Image Dive’s Southern Image, both were weekender trips. Sunday morning and we’re diving a site called the Opera House, Luke had said that grey nurse sharks are seen here. Well, disappointingly there were no sharks, although it was a lovely site. Doing a safety stop I spotted something white in the distance. I moved a bit closer and realised it was a minke whale. It circled us, just a little too far away for a decent photograph. We spent ages in the water enjoying the whale. My second most memorable moment was on the same trip a year later. I’d just returned from Christmas Island and headed out for a weekend on the Southern Image – it was July. I went in for a twilight dive only because my friend wanted to test out a dry suit. I was cold in my wet suit and it was really surgy. After half and hour I was fed up, but I couldn’t get my friend’s attention, he was nice and warm and dry. I was heading back towards the anchor when weedy sea dragon swam through my torch beam and then another and then a leafy sea dragon. I spent thirty minutes being washed around in that surge with the sea dragons trying desperately to get a decent shot. I didn’t get any magazine covers but I did get a shot of both types of sea dragons in one shot. It was the longest dive of the weekend. I returned to the boat the happiest ice block in the ocean and glad of the hot shower.