Sharm el-Sheikh Winter Getaway
Updated: Oct 12
Living in the UK means cold winters and even colder winter diving. Having to opportunity to chase the sun is a necessity for my well being and sanity and combining sun seeking with a dive holiday is a perfect combo. Egypt is the go to area for dive holidays from the UK but I was surprised at how quiet is was. The winter temperatures in Egypt are still very forgiving in a standard wetsuit and the clarity makes photography set to easy-mode.
Sharm el-Sheikh is the most popular dive destination in the Red sea due to its proximity to europe and its incredible marine life juxtaposed against the arid deserts above. The marine life found around Sharm is incredibly diverse and the Ras Mohammed Marine Park and the Tiran islands are some of the best examples of what the region has to offer. Additionally the regions is also a wreck divers dream, particularly due to the SS Thistlegorm, known by many as the best ship wreck to dive on in the world.
Under the Surface
The first thing that hit me when I hit the water was the clarity. On the good days I have seldom had experienced such great vis in warmer regions. I immediate thought that this trip is a great chance to get some fantastic photos. The colours of the soft corals on or first site was breathtaking, and seeing such a great coral coverage put a huge smile on my face. The second thing I noticed was the water temp, because it really was quite pleasant. Our dive guide Omar was sporting a dry suit which made me wince in anticipation of the foreboding cold shock plus, the uncrowded boat was a testament to people shying away from the 'colder winter waters'. However, when I looked at my dive computer I saw a very comfy 21 degrees C displayed across my screen. Apart from one solid thermocline which has 18C green waters rush over us at Ras Mohammed, the water temps experienced were very agreeable, with the only annoyance was to quickly get out of the wetty and into the sun after each dive.
Quick selfie to check strobe coverage and saw the clarity on screen. I knew this was going to be a fun trip.
At each site we had excellent briefings by the crew on the site specifics, any history in the areas and pointers to both get the best out of the dive as well as to be eco-contious underwater. Groups were very small which were typically buddy pairs and four divers to an instructor at most and often less. The sites are usually very calm, with some sites available with stronger currents, meaning there are sites suited for everyone. Coupled with the incredible vis, this made every dive the epitome of relaxing diving.
Afternoon diving on a very low current drift along a wall of coral coverage.
Corals, fish, turtles, nudies and anemones. Rinse and repeat
There isn't much novel to cover about the wildlife that hasn't been written about before, so all I can say is that I was blown away by the plethora of life on our dives. Macro aficionados, fish fans, turtle lovers, coral connoisseurs, if you love this stuff then you are in for a treat.
Coral diversity and coverage left me dumbfounded as the coverage seems out of step with other recent experiences in highly tourism sought after areas. Massive gorgonians dominated some sites for the entirety of our time underwater, while other where vast fields of gorgeous soft corals or walls of complex hard coral communities. The biggest take away for me was the colours.
Onto the bigger stuff and Sharm is a great place for spotting rays, turtles and larger fish varieties. Although the Anthias are absolutely stunning in regards to their dancing and jigging amongst the corals, the larger varieties are also quite photogenic.
Turtles were quite common on the dives and were typically in their feeding mode, happily munching away which meant the very careful, slow approaches left them without a care in the world for their admiring onlookers. However, one such turtle did snap out of its binary feeding mode as it caught a glimpse of itself in the dome port, queuing up its curiosity program as it started to swim over to me as see if my port was either edible or some other turtle peering back at it. After shooting a few shots I quickly left it and watched as it started to resume munching on some nearby goodies.
This curious turtle took a break from feeding to come inspect my dome port
Similarly, rays were plentiful on the dive sites. Particularly blue spotted and feathertail rays. As noted above, getting low (Avoiding corals) and a calm and slow approach should allow you to not disturb the subjects and capture a great moment.
Feathertail ray feeding in a sandy patch
Fish are everywhere and the diversity is off the charts. Schools of barracuda, portrait shots, close focus wide angle. Everything is available for photographers and fish lovers alike.
Nudies and macro life was teaming. However, I came on this trip with a mission to use my Tokina fisheye, so although there were plenty of missed opportunities, others such as this ribbon of eggs was a welcome addition.
Pink ribbon from a Spanish dancer
All these photos were from a week onboard the Camel Dive club's day trip vessels. They are a Green Fins dive center. Green Fins is a UN Environment Programme initiative which provides internationally recognised standards for diving and snorkeling. The initiatives mission goal is ‘To protect and conserve coral reefs by establishing and implementing environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkeling tourism industry’. I would recommend to anyone to chose a Green Fins certified center on their travels and Camel Dive Club was a very professional, knowledgeable and Eco-contious center.
Tips and Techniques for Sharm
Please be aware of your buoyancy and surroundings. Protecting the corals should take precedence over any photo or experience.
Underwater, the biggest tip is to be PATIENCE. Just take some time to see what is happening on the reef, think about the currents and plan your approach to each subject.
Get low and shoot up. don't bury yourself or damage the corals again, but take advantage of that clear water by using the light to your advantage
Use whatever glass you want, seriously, macro, wide angle, its all here. I stuck to a fisheye behind a 100mm dome for the entire trip as I wanted to get more experience with the setup.
I usually pick a theme I want to shoot early in the dive when I get a feel for the habitat, then think about what and how it will work. Snapping away willy-nilly will make you miss out on quality over quantity