IN THE SPRING OF 2013 I bought my first underwater camera, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve had great fun using it, but admit to slow progress and varied levels of success.
While I am a huge fan of the temperate kelp forests and other habitats in our British seas, the lack of diving caused by the storms of late winter 2014 meant that I didn’t get quite as much practice as I’d have liked.
So when my husband suggested a family trip to Lemnos, I was more than happy to oblige. Lemnos is a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea. The seas around Greece have a reputation of their own; a beautiful azure but perhaps not quite as teeming with life as we marine biologists and divers might like.
I admit that my diving expectations weren’t high, but I was looking forward to clear and warm waters in which to focus my attention on learning new camera skills.
The plan was to snorkel and freedive at the beginning of the week, dive in the middle and return to the snorkel at the end. I find it more beneficial to stick to one site to practise photography, because then I know where to find the residents and can learn some of their habits, which always helps when taking their pictures.
So we were to focus our underwater exploration around the outcrop called Avalonas Rock neighbouring the Portomyrina beachclub.
Entering the warm waters in no more than a bikini was the first and obvious pleasure, but what I hadn't expected was the richness and diversity of life.
We entered the water from the shore and passed over an initially boulder-laden seabed, softened by submerged islands of seagrass, before swimming to the rocks. As we duck-dived on the rocky cliff I was pleased to see the expected ornate wrasse, which appear quite shy and evasive compared to our own cuckoo wrasse, but a touch more photogenic. If you can catch them.
A red star was slowly making its way over the peacock’s-tail-covered rock and a surprising array of fish. My favourite on my initial snorkel had to be the damselfish or chromis. Over the seagrass the water was thick with the adult black fish, but the iridescent blue of the juveniles was really quite beautiful in their tiny form.
It seems that I’m gaining a reputation for my love of the little things. A dive-buddy from my local club recently messaged me to say: “Good to dive with you again. I love the way you always spot the small stuff that we usually miss.”
True to form, I grew particularly fond of the (new to me) bearded fireworm, which is an incredibly dramatic name for what is an attractive and tufted but lowly worm.
In the shallows I could get a sense of where they liked to hang out, and discover the best backdrop to highlight the worm’s textures and colours.
I was pleased when I discovered one of these fluffy worms crawling on a bright orange sponge with some skeletal coralline algae farming it rather well.
The beauty of snorkelling here was that I was able to snap away, pop to the surface in a leisurely fashion to look at the pics, adjust settings and pop back down again.

DURING OUR SNORKELLING I was beginning to wonder if diving was really necessary, as I felt that I was seeing so much through a big intake of breath.
There were rockfish, blennies, a variety of bream species feeding and swimming in shoals and even garfish, which were swimming close to the surface above smelts (otherwise referred to in the tavernas as anchovies) and many others that I couldn’t even name.
I also got to know the habits of some of the “locals”. There was one pack of fish that always seemed to feed and work together. A flounder, a duo of red mullet and a common two-banded sea bream worked impressively and consistently as a team. The red mullet would use their “whiskers” to furrow the sand for choice nibbles while the flounder, wrasse and sea bream enjoyed any tidbits that were shifted into the water above or behind.
It’s these stories that I find exciting to see and to try to capture in photographs.
When we went diving we were guided by Black Rock Dive Centre’s Howard, who knew the site extremely well and hoped we might see barracuda feeding over the deeper seagrass beds as well as octopuses, nudibranchs and moray eels.
I started to appreciate all over again why we need local knowledge and compressed air to locate some of the other creatures we love to see.
We were less than 20m from shore in no more than 5m of water when Howard pointed to a pile of rocks, and I saw the tell-tale sign of an octopus lair – an empty abalone shell.
I soon saw the warty, stalked eyes of the well-concealed octopus. Not an hour before on the beach I’d been reading an old 1957 book, Kingdom of the Octopus by Frank Lane, so I was delighted to see this highly evolved mollusc.
I made a mental note of THE spot, because I intended to come back with my snorkel and camera later in the day.
As we went on, Howard pointed out a huge nudibranch (as nudibranchs go – it was finger-length). I was able to hang for a while and test the patience of my buddies while I adjusted my camera’s focal length for a better shot of this colourful sea-slug.
Who can fail to be impressed by a creature that essentially breathes through its bum Well, at least through the flower-like gills standing tall from the back of the mollusc.
We swam deeper into the seagrass beds, and I saw Howard again point to something. I decided to make the most of the clarity to take a landscape shot of him hovering over the seagrass holding a pose a little like Bananaman – only to discover after the dive that he had been pointing out barracuda.
We started to swim slowly back towards the rocky island, and here at greater depth we were able to see a lot more of the nocturnal fish hiding under rocks, parrot sea-perch among them.
Then Howard hit the money when he pointed to a rocky crevice, and I was greeted by the gape of a moray eel.
I was so excited that I got only one shot before I flicked something on my camera that caused all my photos to become completely over-exposed.
I was happy to discover that one shot wasn’t completely unacceptable.

THE COMBINATION OF SNORKELLING AND DIVING to improve my camera skills worked for me, because I find a certain element of pressure in terms of dive-time and dive-buddy patience.
Having the chance to return to the site again on snorkel and breath-hold meant that I could play a little longer without constraints on my cylinder and kit.
Now that I had the eye for the octopus and the nudibranch I went back to my snorkel to find them in the shallows, and enjoyed some success.
I also discovered fan mussels, the strong, golden threads of which were once used to make Grecian robes.
That whole week I found only one solitary crab, in a crevice. There were well-barbed and prehistoric-looking sea cucumbers among the usual suspects such as Black Sea urchins and bright-red sea-potato tunicates.
I should also add that the sea sponges (those simple, multi-cellular animals that are the oldest living animal phylum, and so deserve huge respect) were also numerous, colourful and resplendent in the clear waters.
I even went on to find a different moray eel in a shallower crevice. The challenge of photographing a dark creature in a shaded crevice was not lost on me.
Admittedly we didn’t see any sharks, turtles or larger marine creature, but I did see the movement of a sizeable ray one early morning when gazing out to sea. So they are there!
The octopus was incredibly obliging.
I had read that octopuses are attracted to white objects, and accordingly flashed a clam-shell enticingly and, lo and behold, the octopus swam out of its lair.
Somehow, I managed to capture this beautiful creature, with its delicious tentacles coiled like a spring as it darted off backwards.
Lemnos is a jewel in the Aegean Sea, with many marine treasures to be found. While the fishmonger counters on the island may tell a story of the decline of commercial fisheries, I hope that my photographs demonstrate that there is still a wealth of life to be found in these gorgeous seas.
If more people appreciated this wealth it might even help the island’s economy.
I’m rapidly learning just how many steps need to be taken in learning underwater photography – and Lemnos helped me with some of those baby steps. Like most new skills and hobbies it really is about practice, patience and finding those perfect locations.

LEMNOS WORKED WELL for us because we seldom find diving holidays suited for parents of younger children.
We were able to take my nine-year-old daughter snorkelling in the sea and even show her the octopus in the shallows, and she was hugely impressed by that.
Not only could I have time out while she went sailing with her Sharkster childrens group, but she was also able to try-dive in the pool.
Perhaps the biggest success of the holiday was my daughter fresh from a snorkel excitedly proclaiming: “I can’t wait until I can go diving with you, Mummy!”

GETTING THERE Maya Plass flew with Thomas Cook Airlines from London Gatwick.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Neilson Holidays Resort, Lemnos, Black Rock Diving is situated within the resort,
WHEN TO GO 2 May - 26 October are the first and last departure dates with Neilson.
MONEY Euros.
HEALTH Only the death-by-pudding buffet.
PRICES Brochure prices range from £775-£1555 per adult and £456-£1089 per child (2-14) per week from low to high season.  These include return flights, resort transfers, accommodation on a club-board basis and all the inclusive sports activities with tuition, but do not include diving.