Being underwater, and particularly SCUBA diving can be a zen-like experience. No longer limited to two-dimensional movement the weightlessness of SCUBA provides that third dimension of travel. Peacefully moving over the sand, through the corals and gliding through the reef like a fish is a wonderful feeling as one feels part of another world, a privileged vantage point…
The intention of taking a month of diving was to help improve my photography. So I headed back to Wicked Diving and the Similan / Surin (/ Richelieu Rock) islands for the nth time. I love it here as the Mariner is cozy, the staff are amazing (and friends), as well as feeling safe and looked after. The diving there is amazing too, so happy to get the practice I was hoping for somewhere I know I enjoy (one less thought on my mind).
I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to gear and, of course, there’s always something else that could be had in order to improve the photos. I hear this from a lot of people with some gear – “My photos aren’t as good as I’d like because I don’t have [X or Y]…”. I’m only partly convinced by this (with the exception of a fit for purpose light.
I don’t have an ideal set up and it’s only because I bodged my way into this a little. If you like lists, here we go:
- Sony A7R II
- Nauticam Housing (for said camera)
- 128GB Lexar 1000x (150MB/s) SD card
- Sea & Sea YS-DT2
- Light & Motion’s Sola 2500 (Fill and focus lights – performs well with a 90-degree spread) and can be used for close-up video – discontinued line.
- Suitable replacement would be Light & Motion’s Sola 3800 for video (90-degree spread)
- Better for a focus light (as the 2500 is too powerful) would be Sola Photo 1200 (a red light as not to disturb critters) and powerful enough to light subject slightly further away.
- Currently, I use one light on the port for focus (one-third power), and the other on the right arm of the housing at full power for fill. I’m not convinced this is actually working well.
- Nauticam carbon float arms (x2) – to provide a more manageable unit in the water
- All the arms and cables required…
In hindsight, I would have bought Inon strobes, two of, but it all gets very expensive. I was thinking of buying a second strobe for this trip but the expense was a bit hectic this time.
Set up is something I’m no expert in. It’s mainly trial and error for me and a lot of help from http://www.uwphotographyguide.com, which is a goldmine of advice). However, it doesn’t stop people asking, and the questions are almost always about set up and gear. If I’m feeling fictitious I might tell them I just randomly point the camera and hope for the best…
However, this trip I realized how important mental preparation is. Feeling calm and focused (on a few shots that you want) really improved my shots and composition. I’ve noticed that many of the photos of people in the early attempts (including my own) are hectic and much of the air consumed for the dive goes when they/I focus on setting up the gear as well as getting into position. It’s frantic and messy and results in a short dive (having guzzled all one’s air).
A few things I now add to my suggestions to those starting out are:
- Think about a few creatures you want to photo (don’t retake images again, unless they are in a picture perfect setting).
- Relax, and be prepared before getting into the water. I don’t change my settings much during a dive so make sure the camera is set up the way you want to.
- Be familiar with your gear. If it’s new, know that your air consumption will increase with a new piece of kit.
- Buoyancy – if you’re not able to hover a few centimeters above or away from the reef without your camera you’re not really going to get very good macro shots (perhaps wide angle shots but certainly not macro).
- Do a peak performance buoyancy course or, without using the camera, practice getting close (but not touching obviously) the reef.
- Do this with the camera out in front of you whilst staying at the same (ish) depth. It’s harder than you’d think.
- Don’t hold your breath when you’re taking the shot… it’s not the same shooting technique as on land. Keep breathing steadily as you would without the gear.
- Without your gear, can you point your finger steadily at whatever critter you’d like to photo, without steadying yourself on a rock? If you can’t you’re not likely to be able to be able to point a camera at it! Careful if it’s something that bites or stings… don’t point too close!
- Relax again… It was only on this trip (one year of taking photos and about 100 plus dives with a fairly big camera to realize how much of a difference it makes if you take a couple of minutes at the beginning of a dive to just relax. That feeling of being at ease in the water, not distracted by gear, not kicking like crazy to get where you want to be (or flailing arms around). There were a few points where I was startled back into the reality of being underwater and that I was using SCUBA gear.
- Gently approach critters. Some hide quickly but will return if you wait.
- Be aware of where your buddies are (diving with groups that aren’t interested in taking photos means that they’ll move along faster than you… and you’ll have to decide that if you can’t take the shot in 3-5 attempts you’ll have to give up and move along).
- Don’t be too ambitious at the beginning! Try for moray eels, sea stars, anemones (not the fish as they are super difficult to get in the shot, never mind in focus!), corals. Basically, anything that doesn’t move much or at all.
- Remember that photography composition rules don’t change underwater… the top of a person’s head isn’t a good shot. Same for the top of a fish (generally speaking, unless it’s an ID shot or something cool like a Two-Spot Lionfish).
- It’s unlikely you’re going to be amazing for the first [quite a] few dives. Give yourself a break and concern yourself with one aspect at a time (buoyancy, composition, settings, light) and you might get the odd great shot in the process.
- Have fun! 🙂 Life and every aspect of it is a journey and don’t forget to enjoy the view as you go!
As choice few can be found (and prints bought) here… a work in progress 🙂