Sidemount Photo Shoot

Written By, Vikki Batten, Director Rebreather Technologies, PADI TDD

I arrived in Jacksonville, Florida after just a short delay due to thunder storms at Charlotte airport. As soon as I switched on my phone a text from Karl (Shreeves, PADI TDD exec, technical writer and photographer) popped up << delayed one hour >>. As I head to collect my baggage my phone beeps a few more times, so I grab my bags and am just about to check out the latest messages when someone asks “are you Vikki by any chance?” “Yes, you must be Tim”. Tim quickly updates me, Dawn (Azua, PADI Worldwide Media Manager and the Producer/ Director on this shoot) and Karl were delayed by one hour, then two, three and finally their flight cancelled due to the same thunderstorms that skirted by me…they had given up on getting to Jacksonville but were hoping to get on a standby flight to Orlando. So we needed to hire a small car so Dawn and Karl could hire a mini van at Orlando because they would have most of the luggage.


Tim confirmed my suspicions that he is so young that the hire cost would be a nightmare if he was the driver. No probs, I am used to driving on both sides of the road and in all kinds of vehicle. They only had one compact car, a Fiat 500, very cute but a bit of a squeeze, even for our two bags. Still it did the job and got lots of comments at the dive sites where huge trucks are de rigeur. It was getting late so we bundle into the car and drove down to cave country via a quick stop for a sub (or sandwich to my fellow Europeans) with Tim making sure I was paying attention – it was 3am UK time by this point…We rocked up at the Dive Centre at about 2200 and knocked on Wayne’s door. He sorted out the essentials and furnished us with a key to the house Dawn had booked and off we went. To get to the house we drove down a few unmade roads into the middle of nowhere, but thanks to GPS Karl and Dawn managed to find it when they arrived at 0230 and we all finally got a few hours sleep.

The next morning we were way past Plan B and improvising the day ahead, because although Dawn and Karl made it and most of the dive kit has been shipped ahead, some of the bags were still in Dallas…..Karl had a camera but no underwater housing, lighting equipment and other technical stuff I probably ought to know more about by now.

Back at the dive centre we met up with Jeff Lofflin (Hollis and PADI consultant) and Jarred Hires (Dive Rite) who have masses of sidemount experience as divers, instructors and manufacturers and have agreed to help us and be in the photos. We take stock and Karl and Dawn came up with a plan to shoot topside at Ginnie Springs.


Wayne’s kitchen is raided for bacofoil to make some improvised reflectors to help with the lighting and we were on our way! The rest of the day went smoothly as we all sweated in our dry suits and thick wetsuits in full sun at Ginnie, but we had a great group who were patient and professional and Karl was pleased (maybe even amazed) at getting such good results. The even better news was that the luggage had turned up at the dive centre so we headed back to prep for the following day and the in water stuff.

Day Two and we were joined by Kristi Bernot, who is a photographer and PADI instructor herself, but in this case we were in need of her Sidemount diving experience. We headed to Blue Grotto and shot two dives getting the majority of the training shots in the bag. In between shots we watch as a soft shelled turtle (and some open water students) investigated what we are up to.

Our last day of shooting took us back to Ginnie for some lifestyle and marketing shots. The river water is the colour of black tea and was mixing with the crystal clear cave water making for some amazing colour combinations that the photographers in the group got very excited about :-). I just enjoyed being in the water but was suitably impressed when I saw some of the results!

For our last night we headed out to The Great Outdoors in High Springs along with the divers and everyone who had helped us. It was a great chance to chat and relax and really thank the team.

The following morning we packed up and headed off. We did get to visit PADI dive centre, Cave Country, but I didn’t manage to see my long time friends (more family actually) at Dive Outpost so as I left I sent them silent hugs. Our route back to Jacksonville allowed us to pass by the Dive Rite factory and have a quick tour and lunch on the way.

Lots of goodbyes, we have had a great team on this trip and I enjoyed seeing Dawn and Karl again, it’s over a year since I last saw them although we are in touch frequently for work and I hope it won’t be as long as that before I see them again.

As they head for home, I start on a 48 hour journey to get to Egypt….

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