Sunday, May 19, 2013

So You Wanna Be An Underwater Photographer?


Underwater photography has become such an affordable hobby now. From the old days of big expensive housing (my Ikelite housing for the G10 is almost twice the volume of the camera itself), the size of the housing (and the price tag) has reduced significantly in the last couple of years. The digital age has also made photography in general far more accessible to the masses.

Photos are an excellent way to remember the wonderful marine life that you saw underwater. One of the most annoying thing about fish identification is.. well, identifying them! Hands up if this has happened to you before:

Diver 1: "Did you see that beautiful fish?" 
Diver 2: "Which one?" 
Diver 1: "The one that was colourful, beautiful and had fins" 
Diver 2: "..."

Being able to take a picture of the marine life that you enjoyed so much, allows you to permanently capture it and then trying to identify it during surface interval. And of course, there's the favourite saying of "if you haven't got a picture or video of you, you really didn't see it". That's my favourite saying to divers who tell me about the whale shark or manta ray that they say and I didn't. 

With the increasing number of divers jumping in with cameras of all sorts, a scrimmage of sorts have formed underwater, to the extent of divers becoming upset with one another because of poor etiquette. This could be about dropping in on another photographer's shot (that's right, photo bombing), silting up due to bad buoyancy, hogging the shot, etc. There's a whole range of things you could do to be a responsible underwater photographer.

Buoyancy control: A "smoke out" effect might be cool for a photo of a wedding march in, but it just isn't the same thing with fishes emerging from a cloud of silt that you stirred up. I've seen a great number of divers who would hold their cameras with one hand, and use the other hand to hold on to the bottom or part of the coral (and perhaps damaging the coral in the process). Holding the camera with just hand just doesn't give you the stability to get an excellent shot. My friend Vie takes the most beautiful pictures (to me at least) with his old Canon G9 with no strobe. When I asked him how he does it, his reply was simply "Just hold the camera with two hands. It's just more stable that way". If you have a setup with strobe/s, there's no way that you'd be able to use just one hand because of the weight, plus you'd need your hands to adjust the position of the strobe/s. Ok, so you might kneel down for stability, but what there are corals or other marine life in the way? Well, there are divers who don't can't be bothered as long as they get their shot. The value of good buoyancy simply cannot be overstated. It offers you a stable platform without damaging the marine life or the bottom. Approach and leave the scene as the same way you saw it. 

Your Fins Aren't Wings: Only winged animals flutter, so when you're finning around the subject where the bottom is particularly delicate (eg. silty), do use the frog kick. When you frog kick, the water is propelled backwards, as compared to the downward propulsion of the flutter kick. Once the water is silted up, it was would some time before it settles, and you should know that silt absolutely ruins pictures because they get illuminated by the strobe or camera's flash. Be considerate to other photographers. 

Part of the fun and challenge of taking photos, is trying to take the best shot in spite of the conditions. Years ago when Kat and I were diving in Manado, I was trying to take a shot of a crab in a really difficult position. It was clinging on to the soft coral and was naturally trying to hide. Maybe our guide felt sorry for me (or just got impatient with my incompetence), he proceeded to uproot the coral so that he could present it to me at a better angle. Kat and I were shocked. We appreciated his enthusiasm but it was overzealous though. The marine environment doesn't exist for our pleasure. We are simply guests of their environment, and as responsible divers, we ought to leave them as they are. It's not just about your enjoyment alone, other divers should the chance to appreciate them. 

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Keep in mind that you're not the only person that feels that your subject is beautiful. There may be other photographers who have yet to get a good shot of the subject, so do be considerate not to disturb the subject. A friend of mine told me this story about how they were trying to get a picture of the mola mola or sunfish in Bali. As they didn't want to frighten it away, they kept their distance while continuing to get a good shot. Then another diver swam right up to the fish, shoved the camera in its face, snapped the photo and the firing strobe frightened the fish away. When they were topside, she was going around showing off her picture of the mola's eye. Suffice to say, nobody was terribly interested even to speak to her after the incident, much less look at the picture. 

Don't Be A Hog: Especially with macro stuff, chances are that you would have to take turns within the group of photographers to get a shot. Keep in mind that everyone is on the clock, so make full use of your turn to get the best of what the opportunity offers you. You may not get your "money shot", but there are others who are waiting for their turn. You're not the only one who wants pictures.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's the basic that you should observe. And because everyone might have their peculiarities, do discuss with the other photographers about the plan underwater, and I'm sure that everyone would be happily sharing their photos as even tips during surface interval.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends, and stay in touch with the blog by clicking "Like" on my Facebook page. Dive safe!

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