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Tuesday
Sep062011

The Trials and Tribulations of Underwater Photography

The Trials and Tribulations of Underwater Photography
Part One, by Gene Page

At some point after the wide-eyed fascination and amazement of our first dives underwater, we usually want to learn and experience more as well as pass on our excitement of what we see to others.
Not too long ago, (BD – before digital), that meant taking film cameras underwater either in (hopefully) water-proof housings or using a camera like Nikon’s Nikonos.  (Which are still around.)
While this obviously worked and worked well for those that took the time, effort, and money to “make it happen,” it was a bit of a struggle to light things easily.  But the biggest difference was that the photographer usually had 36 frames, maybe 37, to shoot  before coming back up to the surface and reloading with another roll of film.  (The exception to that was Ilford’s somewhat experimental 72 exposure roll with a thin base and in black and white only.)
So imagine going from that to today’s digital cameras where not only are they more light sensitive (easier at times to light and works better in low light) but they also have the dual ability to shoot hundreds of great quality JPGs or RAW images all on one card as well as seeing what you shoot right after tripping the shutter.   That is surely something unthinkable to the underwater film shooters of decades ago.
It seems there are more people willing to give photography a try, whether underwater or above, now that the computer has replaced the darkroom.
This brings us to today’s photographic world where practically anyone with the time and some extra funds can buy a camera and software and start shooting away.  Sound too easy?  Well, perhaps so.  But more people are enjoying the benefits of shooting for themselves, friends or family, and posting their images online.  The real fun is actually going out with an idea of something you want to create and doing it.
We will have occasional installments about the joys, trials and tribulations of underwater photography.  I encourage anyone feeling the desire to shoot underwater to give it a try.  Either with a point-and-shoot camera, which often does a great job itself depending on what you photograph and how you do it, or a housed SLR.  We’ll talk more about using strobes underwater later but know that light is one of the biggest concerns of underwater shooters – the dreaded backscatter, which is caused by the intense, bright flash being too close to the lens and reflecting off any and all small particles in the water between the lens and your subject matter or background.
Try using daylight as much as possible out in the basin or cavern area, like nice, soft window light.  Case in point is this image I took years ago from the inside of Catfish Hotel looking out into the basin area.  This was shot with a point-and-shoot camera in an underwater housing and no flash was used.  The diver is obviously the subject matter, framed by the cavern mouth, and lit by the sun filtering down through the duckweed.  This photo has been my laptop computer’s background image for years and I still enjoy looking at things on the basin’s floor.
Because your camera can be a dangerous distraction, PADI offers an underwater photography and videography specialty and how to do it safely.  So, get out there and further enjoy diving by adding photography to your underwater adventures – and thus bring what you see back to others.