• Underwater Photography in Scotland with Ross Mclaren 

    November 4, 2021

    Ross is a 30 year old chemistry teacher from the west of Scotland with a passion for scuba diving and trying to show off some of the unbelievable marine life so many people don't realise there is in a country known more for its epic mountains and rugged landscape. Ross started diving in 2016 and in the last 3 years really begun to take his underwater photography seriously. He fully admits he's no professional photographer, marine biologist or diving expert, he's just someone with an expensive camera who often presses the button and hopes for the best.

    When you think of Scotland what comes to mind? Epic mountain ranges? Majestic lochs? Historic castles? But what about what lies beneath the waves? I think it’s fair to say Scotland’s beauty is well documented, but there’s a whole part of our wee country that I believe has been overlooked for too long… Our underwater world (and I don’t mean the elusive, mythical Nessie)! Ok, let’s be fair, Scotland isn’t exactly the diving capital of the world. When you think of places to go for scuba diving I’m not sure it would appear in many peoples top ten, but you might be surprised to find there is some spectacular diving to be found in Bonnie Scotland. Now, full disclaimer, I’m absolutely no expert in diving, marine biology or even photography. I’m literally just someone with a slightly fancier camera than the standard “go to” for diving GoPro and a real passion for showing off our unbelievable, and very much unappreciated, aquatic world.  

    Diving is something I always wanted to do from a young age, but I never really envisaged myself in the freezing cold lochs of home, and therein lies the first big challenge of diving in Scotland. Even during our summer the water temperature barely gets above 12oC and in winter… well let’s just say I’ve had to break the ice on more than one occasion to enter the world beneath. But, saying that, that’s what drysuits and thermals were designed for. 

    Ross Mclaren 

    There’s a saying in the UK about hiking by the famous Alfred Wainwright; “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” and it can be applied to diving as well. With the right kit, there’s no reason not to go exploring. The biggest issue we find, and it is a real pain for photography, is the visibility. It could be an absolutely perfect day on the surface, but put your head beneath the waves and you could be struggling to see your hand held out in front of your face. There’s no guarantee’s when diving here, but I think that’s part of the allure, part of the sense of adventure. The unpredictability can be frustrating yes, but at the same time it’s what keeps me coming back time and time again. You never know exactly what you’ll see (sometimes IF you can see), you might find the “normal” life; crabs, squat lobsters, but equally you could find the elusive octopus, nudibranch, bobtail squid, the list goes on. 

    People look out at the dreich (that’s a good Scottish word for dull and boring) steel grey waters of our coastline and lochs and often think there can’t be much in there in terms of life and colour, and I’ll hold my hands up, I did too until I started diving. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth! Ok… I’m not saying we’ll ever quite match the cacophony of colours you’ll see in more exotic locations like the Maldives, but there’s a lot more than you might expect. There have genuinely been so many highlights to my diving adventures here at home, probably too many to recount in just one blog, so I’ve tried to pick just a few. 

    Ross Mclaren 

    One of the most beautiful marine species I find photographing, are anemones. We have such an abundance of these from deadmens fingers, to fireworks; the colours of them are so varied and unbelievable. The patterns and shapes they make as they glint in the light of the torches and with the movement of the water is magical. Most of my photos are 99% luck and none can be more representative of that than my anemone that kind of looks like a face. This was actually taken before I got my “big” camera, so was just on my GoPro and I’ll be 100% honest, I didn’t even know I’d taken it until I got home.  

    Nudibranch are basically tiny sea slugs, and they come in so many varieties and colours and these wee guys are just incredible to see. If you think macro photography is difficult on land, you should try it at 20m underwater with current moving you and the nudibranch about. I’m so lucky to have a dive buddy who has got the eyes of a hawk and can spot these tiny little slugs when usually I’d overlook them. Getting them in focus can be really difficult for me, but they are just incredible to capture, especially in such poor visibility and natural lighting. You might not think it, but Scotland does actually have a shark or two… ok… they’re not Jaws, but the dogfish (or catsharks) are actually pretty common here and these guys are really docile so make for absolutely perfect subjects.  

    Ross Mclaren 

    Probably one of my top 3 shots is a testament to the statement I made about never knowing what to expect. Cuttlefish/bobtail squid aren’t completely uncommon here, but usually they’re nocturnal and I’d never actually seen one. So when we headed down to about 38m at one of our usual dive sites (at 11am) we were completely shocked to find one of these amazing creatures resting on the seabed. They are incredible and again the colours are just magical. Scuba diving in Scotland definitely isn’t “easy”, you never know exactly what to expect, what the conditions will be like and if you’ll find anything “exciting”, but it’s that unknown that keeps me coming back for more.  

    Underwater photography isn’t easy either, again especially in Scotland. For every “acceptable” image I find I’ve got at least 25/30 terrible ones (and that’s probably being generous!), but the anticipation of that one shot is what spurs me on, pushes me to keep going, keep exploring. I’m no expert photographer (in fact I genuinely don’t even consider myself a photographer full stop), this isn’t a job for me (though I would love to be able to do it as a career), I’m just a guy with a semi-expensive camera (I haven’t told my wife exactly how much it all cost!) who loves to take photos of a side of Scotland that is unseen by so many. 

    Ross Mclaren 

    With our first child on the way my diving adventures will have to be curtailed for the time being; I don’t want to be 20m underwater taking my 17th photo of the same crab from a slightly different angle when baby arrives, somehow I’m not sure my wife would appreciate that. But there is still so much of Scotland’s underwater world I want to explore and hopefully one day I can share my passion with my children. 

    Scotland isn’t the diving capital of the world, we’re not going to suddenly become a top dive destination on many divers bucket lists. BUT we do have some incredible marine life, with such unbelievable colours! Although it’s not the easiest diving you’ll ever do, when you do get that moment it makes it feel all the more special! 

    You can find Ross's work on his Instagram and Facebook.

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