AT THE DIVE 2014 SHOW in Birmingham, underwater photographer and post-processing guru Saeed Rashid and I presented our “Top 10 Subjects to Photograph in the Red Sea”.
As we counted down our favoured subjects to capture on digital sensors, the Centre Stage area was packed with onlookers keen to find out our number one choice.
Almost all the spectators seemed to agree with our lists, but after the presentation a member of the audience asked me if all 10 subjects could be found and photographed in a single week’s diving.
This was a question I couldn’t answer at the time, but rather than shy away from the issue I decided to challenge myself and see if I could indeed capture striking images of all 10 subjects during five days of day-boat diving from the Sinai’s holiday capital.
Invited to join British-owned and family-operated Elite Diving in Egypt’s Sharm el Sheikh, I tested the subject-finding skills of founder Alun Evans and his family crew as I endeavoured to put together a portfolio of images.
I could have captured three or four of the subjects together in one shot, but that would be dishonest, and I’m no cheater. So here’s the list, in no particular order…

1. Schools
“I can show you where they are, and we can try to herd them for you to photograph,” said Alun as we prepared to enter the water.
Five minutes later my jaw dropped at the sight of thousands of bohar snapper, hanging motionless in the clear water.
They were here for one reason, to release eggs and sperm during their annual mating aggregation. The shoal was spread over a large swathe of the reef wall.
Alun and his son Gwyn (aka G) set to work as only the Welsh know how, slowly but skilfully shepherding the shoal as if they were sheep on a rain-soaked meadow on the banks of the Taff.
By gently coaxing them from the sides the fish tightened their formation, looking pretty nonplussed at the Welshmen’s efforts.
Click, click, click and I had the images I needed, but it wasn’t over yet. There were schools of batfish, barracuda and unicorn surgeonfish left to shoot as we continued to hunt the prolific walls of Yolanda and Shark reefs.
Batfish are among my favourite species. They look so awkward as their profile cuts through the water with those beautiful black-edged dorsal and tail fins, their silvery flanks sporting subtle broad-banded stripes at the shoulder and head, with bright yellow pectoral fins adding a flash of colour.
They can be found in numbers during the mating aggregation, and again Alun delivered the goods as he spread his arms, signalling “ta-dah” at the back of Yolanda reef. I gazed past him to see the batfish busy clouding the water with their mating antics. Preoccupied and oblivious to our presence, they were easy targets.
A few days later and Team Elite came up with more schooling goodies in the form of an oval shoal of barracuda right on the tip of Yolanda.
The streamlined predators stayed motionless in a current strong enough to make us all rip through the contents of our nitrox tanks, as we finned like maniacs just to stay in touch. I swear I could see them smile, showing off some scary dentistry at our clumsy efforts.
Exhausted but elated, we finished the dive early. I matched the smiling assassins’ grin as we climbed the ladder, knowing I had the shots in the bag.
Next on the list were the odd-looking unicorn surgeonfish, their protruding forehead appendages and long trailing tail edges giving them an unmistakable silhouette. We found a shoal nestled comfortably above the famous remains of cargo from the wrecked Cypriot ship the Yolanda.
It’s wise not to get too close to these fish. The set of modified spines at their tail root is permanently erect and scalpel-sharp (hence “surgeonfish”) and these formidable blades have been known to inflict injury as the fish defend themselves from predators.

2. Moray Eels
These long, slithering predators are a common sight on Sharm’s numerous reefs, but are not that easy to photograph because they spend the daytime tucked away in nooks and crannies, sometimes enjoying the attention of meticulous cleaner wrasse and shrimps as they pick parasites and detritus from the eels.
Egyptian morays are usually large specimens and easy to spot. Alun located one on the wall at Shark Reef and decided to pose with his find.
It was like two worlds colliding, as the big former rugby flanker went head to head with this intimidating colossus.

3. Glassfish
Glassfish can be found in and around a reef’s coral structures. The tiny fish shoal tightly together for protection from predators such as grouper and coral trout.
The shimmering mass is challenging to photograph, but not to find, as Alun proved when he gave me another “ta-dah” moment just offshore at Temple.
A solid coral pinnacle rose from the sandy seabed to within a few metres of the surface. It was swathed in a silver cloud, ever-moving and changing shape as the tiny fish went about their daily business.
Their flanks reflected the bright sunlight, causing them to flash like sparklers as they turned in unison before retreating to the protection of the coral when threatened.

4. Gorgonians
These large living structures grow and thrive where the current delivers morsels for them to harvest. The seafans filter plankton and particulate matter from the water with their tiny polyp tentacles, and provide a safe haven for smaller species of fish and crustaceans as they make their home among the branching structures.
Heavy diver traffic can have a detrimental effect on these delicate colonies, stray fin-kicks leaving them damaged and split.
Alun and his team told me about a group of pristine fans at Ras Nasrani, and it was here that we found the large orange structures as the boyos delivered the goods once again. These undamaged gorgonians swayed in the current and were enveloped by multi-coloured little fish, benefitting from the fans’ prominent location as they fed on the nutrient stream washing over the reef wall.

5. Hard Coral
Hard corals are not difficult to find. Every reef in Sharm has them in abundance, so
I challenged the Elite sea-gypsies with finding me some big yellow lettuce-leaf corals to photograph.
“Oh, that’s too easy” G told me. “We’ll find some absolute crackers at Jackson reef.” So after a short boat-ride north-east from Sharks Bay we dropped through the water above masses of the stuff.
The lettuce coral was more abundant near the reef top, growing in circular domes and glowing almost fluorescent green in the sunlight.
Swarms of the ever-present anthias gave an orange contrast to this excellent photographic opportunity, set against the dancing sunbeams formed from the surface ripples.
Another challenge successfully met.

6. Soft Coral
If it’s colour you’re after, the soft corals of the Red Sea will always provide. Vibrant reds, purples, oranges, yellows and pinks create a striking contrast to the azure blue that seems to be peculiar to this part of the world.
Photo opps abound, especially where the reefs are subjected to strong currents. Ras Mohamed National Marine Park is the place to find the best of these corals as they grow in small communities.
A relaxed boat-ride south-west from the harbour at Sharks Bay takes about an hour but it’s worth the journey. Ras Mo is without doubt the jewel in the crown of Red Sea reefs.
The colourful soft corals can be found virtually anywhere, so I challenged the guys to find some for G to pose behind.
Ten minutes on the reef slope at Shark Observatory and we found the perfect spot, with deep purple and red corals sharing space on the wall with enough room for G to get behind the delicate fronds without touching them.
Click, click, job done.

7. Anemonefish
The sweethearts of the underwater realm – anemonefish, clownfish, Nemos, call them what you like, everybody loves them. I can’t seem to swim past the little cuties when I’m toting my camera; they have some sort of tractor beam that draws me in, and I’m not alone in that.
Dozens can be found on most of the reefs, mainly tucked away in little coral or rock alcoves that make for an impossible shot, but on Anemone City at the intersection of the mainland slope and the satellite reefs of Shark and Yolanda the anemones are big and accessible.
They are also filled with other small life – two-spot damselfish, chromis, anthias and checkerboard wrasse share the anemonefishes’ domain and take advantage of the protection of the host’s stinging tentacles.
The anemone skirts are bright crimson and always photograph well when exposed by the current.
It was easy-peasy to get shots of a young Welshman next to one particularly large specimen, but dealing with photo-bombing fish proved less so.

8: Wrecks
Diving in Sharm, wrecks are always high on the agenda. There are the remains of the cargo from the Yolanda at Ras Mo but I’m not into capturing images of porcelain toilet cisterns, especially those that have been moved by uncaring divers into a false line-up.
Instead, I asked the Elite boys to take me to the wreck of the Dunraven. It’s well within day-boat range, making it a true Sharm wreck-site, and it’s a whole ship, sunk and turned turtle, split in two with easy and safe access to its interior.
Dunraven is full of life with abundant, rich coral growth, marine creatures and fish-life, and has an amazingly intact and accessible rudder and prop at the stern.
Alun and I timed our dive after all the other divers had passed through, giving us the chance to explore the entire wreck and capture images of the exterior and interior without getting in anyone’s way.
Returning to port, we stopped off at a site where a multitude of Bren-gun carriers had been bulldozed off the shore and lie in a tangled heap down the rocky slope below the waters’ surface.
This wreckage is fantastic to dive but tough to photograph because of the size of the carriers and their configuration. Nevertheless, with the Dunraven shots in the bag, wrecks could be ticked off the list.

9. Anthias
These abundant and charismatic fish are found everywhere on the Sharm reefs. Nicknamed Red Sea goldfish, the iridescent orange females and purple and gold males form an ever-expanding and contracting halo around the reef structures, darting into the reef when threatened, and rising as one when the coast is clear.
The humble anthias were number one on our list of favourite Red Sea subjects, and rightly so. They’re hardly challenging to find – it’s harder to get a shot without them in the frame to be honest – but getting good shots is sometimes difficult.
The trick is to catch them when they rise in unison from the reef, resembling fireworks exploding from a central point.
The Welsh fish-herders had a trick up their wetsuit sleeves to make this happen. Both Alun and G struck their hands together to create a loud clap above the shoals. The small fish dived for cover and, as they rose together a few seconds later – click, gotcha!

10. Turtles
“It’s all gone according to plan, hasn’t it Nige”? the quietly spoken man from the valleys asked over a beer at Elite’s exclusive evening hangout, the Stella Bar.
“Not quite, Alun,” was my answer. There was something missing from the list and it was everyone’s dream encounter – turtles.
These enigmatic wanderers of the reefs have been the mainstay of Egyptian diving for me on past trips; I can’t remember a visit on which I haven’t enjoyed an encounter or two.
On this occasion, however, they had decided to give us all a wide berth and were conspicuous by their absence.
Oh well, you can’t win them all, but I’m now in a position to answer the guy who asked the question at Birmingham’s NEC: “No I didn’t but, with a tiny bit more luck, yes, you can”.
Of course you could make your own list a lot more challenging by adding mantas, whale sharks, eagle rays or hammerheads, but even then it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility for the amazing team at Elite Diving to deliver all the goods.