October 3, 2023

The Scot who photographs underwater life

When Lawson Wood was a boy growing up in the Borders, he was in constant trouble with his mother.

Born in Duns, he moved into a house “between the school and the sea” in Eyemouth – and that’s where a lifelong fascination began.

His mother would tell him “first home, then the beach,” but his school uniform inevitably got soaked.

Neither could have imagined that this would lead to a career as an underwater photographer.

He now has more than 50 books to his credit – and many awards – with two new editions of his works An underwater guide to the Red Sea And The World’s Best Tropical Dive Destinations just came out.

“I was born and raised in the Scottish Borders and lived just next to the sea, actually, in Eyemouth – as far south as possible in south-east Scotland,” he said.

“So I spent my childhood scratching around the rock pools, going to the sea.

“I just had a total fascination with what I could see in the rock pools or washed up on the beach and started exploring more and trying to learn a bit more about things as well.”

It soon led to more serious underwater adventures.

“I got a mask and snorkel and then I could see further,” he said.

“I had my first dive when I was 11 – that’s in August 1965 – and I was only 12 in October.

“From that point on, I think, a passion has become a profession.”

Lawson’s work has taken him “virtually all over the UK” and then on to Europe, the Red Sea and the Caribbean – meaning it’s not easy to answer which location he likes best.

“It’s very hard, to be honest, because you can’t really compare,” he explained.

“I can’t compare Eyemouth to the Red Sea, for example, because they are completely different types of water.”

He describes the latter as “bright blue” with tropical fish and coral reefs, even though there are “equally brilliant colors in the waters around the UK and Scotland in particular”.

But when pressed, he admits his favorite place must probably be off the southeast coast of Scotland.

“I helped set up the Berwickshire Marine Reserve, so this is clearly very close to my heart,” he said.

And how does underwater photography differ from the dry land variant?

“I could try to paint you a picture,” Lawson said.

“Apart from being in the sea of ​​course, you know it’s salt water, so it’s extremely corrosive, you’re under physical stress because of the environment.

“You’re in reduced light, you’re moving and the element around you is probably moving too and the creature or animal or whatever it is you’re trying to photograph is moving too.”

He said you also have to get used to having a limited amount of time to get your shot, with factors like air supply and equipment coming into play.

There have also been occasions when he got into trouble.

“I’ve been in areas with very strong currents,” he said.

“You have to try and swim out or go with them and if there’s a support boat over your head then you’re just going to put a little marker where the boat can see where you are.

“When you eventually get back up, you know, you might be half a mile from where you started, but at least the boat will be there to see your marker and pick you up.”

Lawson has also encountered creatures that most of us prefer to keep at a much greater distance.

“Obviously I’ve been in the water with sharks many times,” he said.

“There’s only been a few times where I’ve thought, ‘I’m not so sure I’m enjoying this experience.’

“But again, you know, they’re just wild animals and you’re in their domain and they’re much more comfortable in their space than we are.”

He laughs at any suggestion that he might want a quiet retirement away from the sea.

“I’m 69 now, I’ll be 70 in October – I don’t really have any plans to retire,” he said.

“I’m currently working on a few projects that will allow me to get into the water both here and abroad.”

He is currently editing a book on the Mediterranean and is about to write a book on the North Sea and the English Channel.

So the next time you see a figure emerging from the water with a camera in hand, it might just be that boy who started scrambling around in the rock pools of the Scottish Borders.

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