New challenges in photography - underwater photography


Dear blog reader, it has been a while – to say the least. I have been on my way to write about the new challenges I discovered in my work – underwater photography! You might have seen the one and one underwater image either on the website or on my Instagram account. For long time I was reluctant to take a camera below the surface since I thought there is such an abundance of under water images around. Looking at it a bit more closely though I figured that most images are from marine life and there are not so many from people engaging in scuba activities – and that is what I want to focus on. That being said – I will still take pictures of marine life. It would be silly not to take a picture of a whale shark or a manta ray as they swim by.

 So far we did 2 extensive dive trips with the aim for shooting underwater. In March we went to Tubbataha in the Philippines and in September we did a trip to the Maldives. For both trips we choose to go on a live-a-board (Tubbataha won’t be possible if not on a live-a-board). Live-a-board simply means you live on the dive boat for the duration of the trip and if you have diving in mind this is the best option. The day starts at 7am with the first dive – followed by breakfast. In total you can expect up to 4 dives per day – that is at least 1 more dive as when you are land based.  One of the reasons is that the boat will manoeuvre to the first dive-spot while you are asleep. The 2 trips we did though couldn’t be more different when it comes to the boat itself. While we used MS Scubaspa in the Maldives, which is pure luxury, we used the MS Palausport in the Philippines – which is more like a research vessel and capable to navigate over long stretches of open ocean. Unfortunately for my waistline  the food is amazing and plenty on both boats and obviously the crew on the boats were fantastic.

Let me tell you a bit about the challenge with under water photography: you can be an amazing photographer above the surface – but that won’t make you an instant amazing photographer below the waterline. First of all the technic is very different under water and you have to learn to use lights in a very different way. There will always be plankton and other micro organism in the water which won’t get you a clear image as you will get above water. Using a flash and pointing it directly at your subject will only bring this plankton into the light and mess up your shot. This is called backscatter. The way to minimise this is to point the flashes away outwards so that just the outer beam reaches your subject. Above water you can change lenses as you go along with your shoot – that is obviously not possible under water. You have to make up your mind if you want to shoot wide angle or macro (don’t bother with tele lenses under water). There is a huge choice of underwater housings on the market. Starting at very cheap housings for the Go Pro and ending at fully professional housings from companies like Nauticam. Every camera has it’s own housing to operate all the specific functions under water. This makes it a bit of a niche product which again reflects in the price. For a Nauticam housing one should expect to pay around $2.000,- to begin with – which is in most cases more then the camera itself. There are 2 types of housings on the market: plastic housings that are good to depths of about 60 meters and the full metal ones like Nauticam that are good to go down to 100 meters. Now hardly anybody will go down to 60m let alone go down to 100m. Recreational diving has a limit of 40m depth. So why spend all that extra cash for a metal housing? The answer is in the temperature difference above and below the surface and the chance of getting condensation in the housing. All housings will protect you camera from the sea but it is still a bummer if your lens fogs up on the inside. For me I choose a plastic housing for now – but I am certain I will upgrade to Nauticam in the future. The second reason would be that the controls of the Nauticam housings are much easier to operate. Talking about the controls – for me I am using the camera on program for now. Something I never do above the surface. Usually I shoot manual at any given time but there are so many new factors I have to think about under water that it makes it easier to let the camera do some of the thinking. One is the positions and the output of the flashes – I still control those manually. Another reason is that the controls on my Sea Frog housing are not as easy to adjust and I might miss a shot. Above water I would tell my model to certain moves again and I have no limitations on time. Below I can’t talk to my model and need to rely on hand signals and I am limited to about 50 minutes of air in my tank.

 So far to the technical side of underwater photography. But there is another big factor to take good pictures under water – how confident and how good of a diver are you? For myself – when I started diving I was all over the place. A bit like a drunk octopus looking for his car keys. I am sure I have been worse then other newbies and to be honest I am still not good. I am a bit confident now and I can see the images I want to take and know how to get there – that doesn’t mean I am getting there in an elegant way or a way that would conserve my air in the tank. The other big factor is obviously the buoyancy. Each time you breath in you start to float up and when you release the air from your lungs you go down again. If you see experienced divers they hardly move vertically – looking at me and it looks more like I am trying to climb the Empire State tower. I will get better in time but for now – look out for the drunk octopus in search oh his car keys....

 Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment or ask questions.