How to improve your underwater photographs
by J Floor Anthoni (2005)
Already many of your opportunities and required
skills have been dealt with in the introductory chapter, including the
influence of weather and waves. In this chapter we explore the opportunities
offered by the nature of your subject, the shape of the environment and
the way you (should) behave. We also touch on your model who can be an
asset or a liability. These are the finer points of successful underwater
photography, that nonetheless have an unexpectedly large influence on the
quality of your photos and the number of successful ones you take home.
Subjects Very few underwater photographers have only one type of underwater
photography in mind, but they do exist:
scientists: many scientists take photos just to document what they
are doing or to register the environment for measuring later in the laboratory.
Photography is also used to explore the deep sea with remotely operated
fish-scientists: some scientists specialise in the knowledge of
fishes (ichthyologists). What they need are 'frying pan' shots of fish
side-on with all their fins erect and scales visible. Many of these photos
are also provided by amateurs, and this makes it a sought-after category
which is amazingly difficult to take, however boring its result.
fashion: some fashion photographers take their models underwater
and come up with some amazing ideas, realised on medium-format cameras
technology: many structures (and boats) need to be inspected and
photography or video is often used.
movies: many movies have underwater scenes and this brings the camera
However, for most people who just enjoy their diving, underwater photography
enables them to take back 'snappies' to show others and to paste into their
photo albums. Only for a very few, does underwater photography become an
obsession and a passion. They compare their skills by competing in underwater
photographic competitions, and suddenly the continuity of their underwater
experiences is carved up into arbitrary categories that live separate existences
while requiring different standards of judgment:
format: colour prints, black&white prints, digital prints, slides,
digital slides, video, movie. Why would all these require different criteria
of judgment? Understandably, video and movie introduce new qualities like
story line, sound and cutting but why are the still picture formats so
incomparable? Most competitions accept only slides, the original slides.
macro: the miniature world enlarged and the race is on for the most
enlargement of the smallest subjects.
medium angle/ standard: a rectangle cut from the real world that
is somehow different from macro and wide angle.
wide angle: the wide world reduced to a small picture, with its
accompanying distortions. There was a time that only few could afford the
very expensive Nikonos wide angle lens, and they tended to clean out the
panorama: probably identical to wide angle.
natural light: strobe lighting is forbidden, however subtle.
creative: a category that allows you to fiddle with the image, such
that a distortion of reality becomes pleasing in a new way.
novice: encouragement category for eternal losers against an army
of experienced semi-professionals.
freshwater: to give close-to home shots of poor environments a chance
against those from far away blue seas with abundant life.
temperate seas: as fresh water. Taking photos in cold, dirty water
adds to challenges while detracting from quality.
cold water and blue water: as above
conservation: a politically correct category
wrecks: photos of ship and aircraft wrecks have for a time been
cleaning out competitions.
togetherness: one of many possible groupings like wallpaper
(a repetitive pattern),
animal life: the life that moves and does not co-operate much. Fish
photos, dolphins and so on.
static & plant life: the life that sits still and is therefore
like a beginners' category
topside: photos above or by the sea.
portfolio: a mix-n-match of some of the above categories, showing
that the photographer is versatile and understands what he does. It also
gives a chance to the systematically good photographers who would otherwise
have been disqualified by the one lucky shot of others.
The above categories have been gleaned from the conditions of entry of
a number of underwater photographic competitions. Most of these competitions
still won't accept the Digital Darkroom as a
valid technique, inseparable from photography. The main question I want
to raise is: why do you take underwater photos? If you want to win competitions,
you must study how this is done, by observing the winning photographs of
many competitions. The Internet provides excellent opportunities for this,
but perhaps these are the qualities the judges fall for:
perfection: your photo must be sharp where it matters and invite
no criticism on minor matters like composition and obvious imperfections
such as models with loose bits on them, cropping, scatter and so on. Photos
that do not pass this criterion should normally end up in the bin. Then
again, a scruffy diver with totally imperfect gear imparts a sense of reality.
political correctness: your photo, no matter how exciting and perfect,
should not show a diver touching any object. It saddens me how this requirement
has pervaded the world of adventure and photography. (sigh)
contrast: contrast-rich and deeply saturated photos invoke the wow
reflex. We do not seem worried that they do not look like the real thing.
large, dangerous, cuddly: the wow animals of the sea always
bring your photos to the top.
confluence: the confluence (flowing together) of situations brings
a sense of exceptionality, which we strangely accept as the ideal state
of normalness (oops): a dolphin + setting sun + bird in sky + baby dolphin
+ poor kid watching + .. + .. and so on. In many cases you can make two
situations happen together like nice plant + passing fish, even if you
have to wait a while for that fish to pass. For three you usually need
to be very lucky or begin arranging matters: nice plant + passing fish
+ diver in the background. The important message is to seek confluences
and not rest before you have given it a thought and a try. In my opinion,
should weigh high with the judges but it doesn't because it is so close
to being common and boring. Yet for showing the public what the underwater
world looks like, this should be the highest requirement.
rareness: the rare situations are prize winners, but only if the
judges realise that they are rare. Something rarely photographed may not
at all be rare in nature. It is the wow reflex that matters. When
deciding which of your photos to enter into a competition, look at its
past history and choose from your photos preferably those that have not
been seen before, those most likely to wow the judges.
colour: colour photos win over monotone ones. The message is: don't
spend your money on cameras but on travelling to blue waters with richly
coloured creatures:) The ability of the photographer is often confused
with the look of the subject. Underwater photography is all about colour
for where on land do we see so much colour and so brilliant? Recognise
the most colourful subjects and spend more film on these for entering into
As you can see, it is not necessary to win competitions in order to enjoy
underwater photography. It is perhaps better to develop your own style,
even though this may not be appreciated by self-appointed judges. You will
most likely develop all possibilities from super macro to super wide angle
if you can afford so. But here are a number of tips as far as opportunities
relate to subject matter:
common creatures: you visit a kelp forest and your mind immediately
focuses on the exceptions, not the kelp. The more exceptional, the more
our minds are drawn to it. Therefore you miss your most important opportunity,
to take very good shots of the kelp. The kelps are everywhere and can be
found in every lighting situation and state of perfection. Spend time
to seek and take the best shots of the common creatures, because next
dive may be different. Your next holiday or expedition certainly will.
Use different lenses for different effects. Make what is common your priority.
the stupid fish: you've tried to take photos of this species of
fish but everytime it failed because it is so shy. But now you come across
a stupid one, who doesn't seem to mind. Recognise it as a unique opportunity
and spend time and film on it. Call your model to interact. Realise that
perhaps no underwater photographer (and yourself) will ever meet this individual
night dives: divers who have never dived by night have seen only
half the underwater world. For the photographer the night dive is one of
the most productive ones. True, you won't have natural lighting, and your
wide anlge lens is useless but plenty of opportunities present themselves
for macro and standard lenses. You'll find the day shift sleeping and shy
fish approachable, and you'll meet the night shift of a different world
of species, many of which are very colourful and/or exceptional.
Tip: don't burn out on day dives. Eat only half your dinner. Dive alone
if nobody joins. Have someone on alert till you return. Several times I
have found the whole dive company asleep upon returning from a night dive
and found climbing back on board a major performance in the dark with all
the photographic gear.
Tip: during most night dives you will be plagued by fast swimming zooplankton
intent on destroying every photo with the very prominent scatter they produce.
So what can you do?
buddy light: normally your strobe has a modelling light attached,
which gives you a preview of the photo to be taken, but it attracts the
little bugs too close. Ask your buddy to light your subject from further
re-aim the modelling light: point it slightly sideways but leaving
enough light for autofocussing.
move strobe back: place the strobe further back, or at least its
timing: wave movement moves the bugs in and out of the light. Time
your shot when the bugs are out of the picture.
swift action: prepare your settings, then move in swiftly so that
the bugs just stay behind, and take your photo decisively.
turn light off: turn the modelling light off for a while before
moving in on the subject with the light switched on again.
current: seek the current which may move the bugs out of sight if
repeat dives: on chartered dive trips you will find yourself diving
in a variety of places over which you normally have little control. You
rely on experienced operators keen to show you the best, so why repeat
your dive on the same spot? Here are a number of good reasons:
familiarity: not just you are more familiar with the spot, but so
are the fishes with you and your model. On your repeat dive you will be
more effective with your time.
lens change: you can visit the same subjects with different lens
light change: the incident angle of the light changes as the sun
moves across the sky, creating new opportunities and perhaps the perfect
lighting you need.
night dive: as you are already familiar with the dive spot, this
will make your night dive more effective.
Topography The form or topography of the seascape is often decisive on what works
and what doesn't. To enhance your chances, it would be a good thing to
at least know about these rather fine nuances (shades) in underwater photography.
The image above shows some of the most important opportunities given
by the form of the seascape (from left to right):
a= rockpool: rockpools have their own assemblages of living organisms,
including fishes that are found only or mostly there. A rockpool usually
has a very tranquil surface that reflects the bottom, inviting for images
where reflection is the theme. Make sure to wear sun-protective clothing
and protect your knees too. Your camera should be light and also your strobe.
Wide angle, standard and macro lenses.
b= shallow water: an area of shallow water invites for studies of
reflection, with or without model. Use a wide angle lens. You can play
with Snell's window which shows very clearly when the water is calm.
c= wall near a sandy patch: you can weigh yourself down and steady
yourself on the sandy patch without damage to the environment. From here
you can reach the creatures on the wall. All lens types.
d= sandy patch: the sandy patch reflects the sunlight, which gives
bottom lighting, soft-toned images and nearly twice the amount of light.
Light will more readily enter the mask of your model. Shiny fishes are
more easily photographed without strobe. Light penetrates more easily the
sheen on fish, revealing their deeper colours. Make the sandy patch your
light studio. All lens types.
e= the ledge: a ledge gives you the chance for low-aspect photographs,
and where unobstructed, a deep blue sea in the background. Standard and
f= the cave: looking out from inside a cave gives you a natural
frame and hides scatter and dust. Exploit its possibilities with and without
model using ambient light. Standard lens and wide angle lens. Note that
the overhang at the entrance to the cave will have an extraordinary collection
of fragile life which is protected from sedimentation.
g= the shade: the shaded side of a cliff accommodates different
assemblages of creatures that are usually found deeper down, because they
don't need to compete with sun-loving creatures that grow much faster.
Here you find the most colourful rock dwellers. Because rock dwellers grow
outward from the rock face rather than upward, you can take low-aspect
shots here. All lenses.
Important note! The wide angle lens gives a pleasing balanced
result when the subject is nearby in the shade (no colour dilution) and
the model in the ambient sunlight further away. It is the preferred method
of mixed-light photography without filters. See the mixed-light
h= the edge: the edge of the shade caused by a high cliff is where
you'll find the cathedral light. Exploit its possibilities, particularly
with a model. Wide angle lens. You also need calm water and a blue sky.
f039315: necklace seaweeds in a shallow estuary. The blue
sky penetrates through Snell's window with some of the shore as well. Strobe
light was used to balance the scene. 13mm lens. Viz 3m. You need to hold
your breath for this.
f042432: tree stem and weeds in a freshwater lake, with a
model behind. Notice the ledge in the foreground. The wide anlge lens was
aimed horizontally, revealing only the reflections. 13mm lens. Viz 10m.
f038305: under a ledge, often at the entrance to caves, abundantly
rich life can be found. 28mm lens. Viz 8m.
f038723: on a shaded wall, one finds sea life which is normally
found much deeper down. 35mm lens. Viz 20m.
f042314: a blue sky and calm water in the early morning give
the right conditions for wide angle photography in a lake. 13mm lens. Viz
6m. No strobe.
f042636: peeping out from a small natural cave with two entrances.
The image was overexposed and colour-corrected in the digital darkroom.
13mm lens. Viz 8m. No strobe.
f042911: elegant wrasse (Anampses elegans) is rare
in NZ, and very skittish. A repeat dive was made to cash in on the progress
made in the previous one, resulting in several good shots. 50mm lens. Viz
f029214: a snorkeldiver follows a longtailed stingray (Dasyatis
thetidis) during its departure from the sand. Taken by natural light,
the belly of the stingray is lit up by reflection from the sand. 16mm lens.
f012813: cathedral light radiating from a stalked kelp hiding
the sun. Because this plant is the most common, this kind of opportunity
can easily be found. 16mm lens, 7m viz. No strobe.
f021031: a school of jack mackerels (Trachurus novaezelandiae)
resting above a sandy spot. Notice their bellies glowing from the reflected
light. Natural lighting. 35mm lens. 10m viz.
f044829: a diver explores a cave system under a coral flat.
For best cave photos choose shallow caves and an overcast day. Use fast
film and a tripod and let the model move slowly. 13mm lens. 25m viz. No
Behaviour In the introductory chapter we mentioned some of the skills you need
to have, including dust-avoiding behaviour. In this chapter we'll look
at your behaviour towards the living things and how you can improve your
success. I am writing from over 40 years of diving experience, clocking
over 2000 dives. And what did I learn at the very end of it?
I've underestimated the intelligence of the longer-lived fishes. Understandably,
because aren't these just cold-blooded, primitive creatures? Yes, but I
noticed that many species make chimpanzee-like decisions towards their
partners and rivals and towards divers and one can meaningfully interact
with many. But aren't they stupid enough to bite the bait and get caught?
Yes, just as stupid as people who crash their cars on an icy road. It has
to do with unfamiliarity with a new kind of situation. Likewise, we are
equally stupid underestimating them.
The moment you splash into the sea, your arrival is announced in very
loud terms to a large community who immediately confirm their observation
to one another by a fright reaction (often very slight). And then they
continue as if nothing happened. In the meantime your presence is carefully
followed by some, and their reactions by others further away. If fish were
really stupid, they would all take off immediately. Some large fish have
indeed learnt to distrust people and they slide away unnoticeably.
I like to suggest to you not to underestimate the fishes you are going
to take photos of, but rather, learn their body language to your advantage.
Consider these elements of behaviour which may take years to acquire:
patience: fish do not live in the hustle of a 21st century city.
Their time has essentially stood still but even so they are busy with their
own needs. It is up to you to adapt and ease up and be patient, even though
you cannot match theirs ever. Take time. Sit still. Move slowly. Read the
signs. We know that your dive time is limited and that time is money, but
this does not weigh underwater. You want co-operative subjects, don't you?
stress signals: recognise typical signals of stress:
erect fins, especially the dorsal fins are a clear warning
skittishness, sudden deviations from course, overreacting to your
to and fro movement as if uncertain whether to flee or to stay (ambivalence)
turning their backs to you, ready to flee.
split schools where one half wants something different from the
size and posturing: you are a big animal and in the fish world,
anything bigger than oneself is a danger. So you are by their experience,
a very dangerous animal. You can reduce this perception by reducing your
size, turning your front towards them (your back works better though),
hiding partly behind a stone or plant and not showing your full size. Your
bubbles are also part of your size as they ascend to the surface. Thus
your size increases with depth.
being alone: two divers together form a doubled threat, so you will
have more kudos with fish when you're alone. Fish and other animals get
confused by more than one predator, and they can't count well. So two divers
is interpreted as MANY divers.
arm movement: we mentioned this as a definite no-no before but repeat
it again because it is very distressing to fish. Fish are used to streamlined
shapes and predators that can attack only in one direction: forward. They
do so by a sudden sprint, or a jump, but always forward. Therefore a predator
presenting its side is of no concern. But people have these strange arms
that do strike sideways! It scares the hell out of fish. Does this mean
you cannot use your hands? Yes, you can use them slowly, for holding. But
you can not beat your arms for swimming or stabilising or stayin at the
same depth or for going up. Make sure you are perfectly trimmed and that
your lungs can do the fine-trimming.
frontal attack: when you look straight at an animal, this is interpreted
as a frontal attack, a sign of aggression. Fish look straight at your eyes
and your face. To minimise aggression, turn your body slightly away and
don't face them head-on, but rather through the corners of your eyes. A
very good way to get closer to fish is to turn your back to them and to
approach them sideways. An even better way is to ignore them altogether.
If I see a desirable shot coming up, I know that going straight for it
is a loss situation. I turn my back to what I want most, and work on some
other things, such as adjusting the strobe. Then I cautiously creep nearer.
Once the fish shows signs of ease, I approach a little more. This is the
only way to get really good shots, even though it eats into your dive time.
retreat: your most powerful move forward is retreat! When you retreat
at the first symptoms of distress, even symbolically by looking away or
so, your body gives a very strong and important message that is interpreted
talking: fish don't talk do they? So why should we talk? Well, every
diver DOES TALK, very loud in fact and very irregularly by the bubbles
with every breath. It is a very disturbing sound for the fishes, as it
contains low frequency noises and seems to continue as bubbles break while
ascending, and it is so discontinuous. Fish need continuity as reassurance,
and you can help this by humming a bit and making low frequency reassuring
noises. Even though such noises are strange to them, their continuity becomes
reassuring. They also know where you are even when they turn their backs
to you. In this manner you continuously reveal your position to them, without
to touch or not? the modern diver has been imbued with the idea
that touching the environment is akin to destroying it. What is so confusing
is that this idea is both true and absolute nonsense. What should we do?
The confusion comes from dense commercial diving in rich, sensitive environments.
In such places the mere touching of things by thousands of divers in succession,
can indeed leave a mark even though life repairs. But when you dive in
a wave-torn environment not hammered by thousands of divers each year,
your touching or even killing, won't leave a distinguishable mark. Everything
is relative to the amount of natural damage done by storms (and other organisms)
and how quickly nature repairs. A photographer is easily fingered at for
causing damage because he needs to steady himself. Yes, it happens, even
when being careful. But fortunately not everyone is a photographer. I have
had many incredible experiences playing with and touching fish, but unfortunately
a photographer cannot take photos of himself. My advice to photographers
is: don't dive in busy places; take a live-aboard that travels around and
make your own rules.
your most powerful move forward is
retreat - Floor Anthoni (2005)
f031026: on a single breath, the model gently herds a school
of grey knife fish (Bathystethus cultratus) towards the photographer.
A model who also has a way with animals is a gem to keep. Natural light.
28mm lens. 30m viz.
f035011: diver and young seals in a protected corner of the
reef. Repeating one's dives on the same spot will eventually familiarise
the pups for real play. 16mm lens + strobe. 10m viz.
f045028: a black-spotted puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)
is comfortable being handled by the photographer. Notice that the strobe
comes from the wrong angle and should have come from above-right. We changed
the strobe bracket to do this quickly. 28mm lens.
f029625: an inquisitive sharpnosed pufferfish (Canthigaster
callisterna) inspects an outstretched finger. We are not the only observers
and explorers. The strobe light should have come from top right. 35mm lens.
model As mentioned earlier, the model can be an asset or a liability. We
showed that her skills should match those of the photographer in
air consumption, fitness, confidence and breath-holding, but there is more.
She may need to read this course in order to understand how the photographer
thinks. A good partner and model, she can excel by mostly being a step
We've talked about avoiding dust, not beating one's arms and being perfectly
trimmed for buoyancy and so on, but here are a few new considerations:
purpose: when diving with a photographer you must agree on the main
purpose of the dive: taking photos and not just any photos. Good photos.
Perfect photos. THE BEST photos. So it is not just co-operation that is
wanted from you but a full commitment.
lens: be aware what a lens means and what it expects of you.
macro & super macro: When a macro lens is fitted, you won't
be acting as a model. So take a more convenient mask and be more relaxed.
You will most likely be needed to scout for new subjects as the photographer
is still busy with the previous subject. It will be a slow dive on a rich
tapestry of life.
medium angle: the medium angle lens 35-28mm is a general workhorse
the photographer uses when unfamiliar with a new dive spot. It enables
some model photography, particularly in close proximity of a subject like
a fish. Only your head and hands will feature in these shots.
wide angle zoom: often the wide angle zoom lens 35-20mm is used,
and this allows for very nice modelling shots, as well as fish closeups.
A large part of your body may feature in these shots.
wide angle and fisheye: the 12-16mm wide angle lenses invite for
habitat shots where the model is a welcome addition. Your entire body will
feature in these shots. But remember that the photographer may also wish
to have photos without a model in it. Be aware that your position in a
wide angle photo is very difficult to determine, so many of these require
you to slowly swim in on an angle. See comments below.
gear: your gear must not only be perfect. It must also look
perfect. So you must make sure more than anyone else that loose straps
are tucked away, spare regulators invisible and so on.
mask: experienced divers wear black masks because these block reflections
in the glass. A photographer without black mask is a beginner. But the
model needs a mask that lets light in from the sides, through the rubber.
Its reflections can be a nuisance, but there is no other way. Your mask
also has a large glass because light reflects outside the 90 degrees Snell's
window, making your face invisible most of the time.
mask angle: if your face is to be seen, your mask must face the
photographer to within 30 degrees (Snell's window is 45 degrees of tilt),
which is almost head-on. But your eyes can still be turned away to the
subject. The photographer must solve the dilemma between firing the light
into your mask but also in the right direction on the subject. It is a
juggling act that you should be aware of. Your position in the frame will
usually be on the opposite side of the strobe. If the strobe is placed
left over the camera, you will most likely be to the right in the frame.
make-up: some photographers wish their models to use make-up, which
adds to their preparation time. It also means that you must have a very
good mask that does not leak or fog up, because you can't take it off under
water. This mask must be treated beforehand with an anti-fog agent.
self-help: the photographer has his hands full and his mind set
on other matters. So you must become entirely self-reliant in putting the
gear on and landing on board or through surf or on rocks.
signals: underwater signals are not as important as staying in visual
contact with the photographer. Every ten seconds or so, cast a glance in
his direction because he may need you. Time underwater is so short.
shade: a model cannot be seen in the shade. So this is not an area
for you during a shoot.
sun angle: the sunlight appears to come from straight overhead,
but it has an angle, depending on how low the sun stands in the sky. Be
aware that most shoots you will be required to face the light and not away
from the light. So this determines your position relative to the photographer
but exceptions are many. You may need to orientate yourself relative
to the strobe.
camera angle: particularly in wide angle photography where your
entire body is often seen, the angle of your body relative to the camera,
the strobe and the sunlight is important. The photographer can be in a
terrible dilemma here, as everything has to tie in with foreground and
background as well. This is what makes wide angle photography so creative
swimming in: because your position relative to the camera is very
critical, many wide angle photos need the model to slowly swim in while
the photographer takes one to three photos while waiting for the strobe
in between. Be aware that your angle relative to the camera and thus from
which angle in the picture you are swimming in, is very critical. Just
imagine you are doing this while breath-hold diving!
doing again: Particularly in wide angle photography, you may need
to do it over and over again, as each time new insight is gained and new
opportunities created. It is a learning process well worth the inconvenience,
but it may eat into dive time.
shading the camera: on many an occasion you will be required to
place your body or head in the way of the sunlight to create radiating
sunrays (cathedral light). The photographer can't move much because foreground
and background don't. So you need to look at your shadow and place your
shadow over the camera lens. Always be aware of your shadow, because often
it must not be seen in the photo.
strobe recharge: after each flash, the strobe needs to recharge
before the next photo is taken and the photographer waits for this before
taking the next photo. Be aware of this and expect another photo after
timing: in underwater photography timing is very critical. It begins
with your planning of depth and dive time, choosing the right opportunities
for the type of situation, but also of timing the photo with the water
movement. Productivity can drop steeply if you breathe out at the wrong
time. Watch the photographer for a clue. He must often hold his breath
to steady the camera, and so do you.
herding: in the build-up to a photo, the model can often quite successfully
herd a fish or a school of fish in the direction of the photographer. The
least she can achieve is to reduce the distance between fish and photographer.
This is where you are the creator of the opportunity and the photo, and
it is not easy. You have to learn to read signals of unease and back off
temporarily. You must have the patience to at the same time create the
moment, but also be in the right place to be in it. You must observe how
the photographer changes position for the ever changing composition. Most
of these attempts go wrong somewhere but when it all goes right, adrenaline
A photographer's lament Why is she always in the
shade? Why is she always on the sun side? Why does she always look away?
Why does she make the fish point away? Why is she always moving further
away? Why does she never look at my signal? Why is she always breathing
out at the wrong moment? Why is her strap undone? Why can't she keep her
depth and position? Why is her mask so often fogged up? Why is her nose
bleeding? Why is she always fiddling with her gear? Why do I need to remind
her to trim her buoyancy?
I have told her so many
times. Why can't she learn? Why can't she remember? (sigh)
equipment Being an underwater photographer is just being a diver and taking an
underwater camera with you, isn't it? Wrong. A true underwater photographer
is continually improving his luck, and this includes adapting his equipment.
Think about the following:
left or right?: does PADI dictate where you should hang your snorkel
or gauges? Not for you. You must rearrange all your dive gear to suit your
photography best. If you hold the camera with your right hand, then your
gauges, snorkel and regulator must be on the left, and visa-versa. Try
it out and then stick with what is best for you.
side-exhaust regulator: only a small side-exhaust regulator gives
you unobstructed access to your camera and eyepiece. For a steady photo
it is necessary that the camera be steadied by your head, the most stable
platform on your body. So getting real close is important. But few regulator
brands come with a side-exhaust. Oceanic is perhaps your smallest option
and even then you may wish to replace its mouthpiece for a smaller one.
Only a side-exhaust regulator allows you to choose between left and right
handed use. A side exhaust regulator is also excellent for scouting by
manta board (a hydroplane pulled by the boat on a long leash) as other
regulators then begin free-flowing.
breath-holding: there's no device to help you here, but if you can't
hold your breath easily for at least 20 seconds, you are at a disadvantage.
When breathing out, the forming bubbles shake the camera which is to be
avoided. Moviemakers often do not hold their breath long enough. You must
be at ease breathing at full lung capacity (top of breath) as well as on
low lung capacity (bottom of breath) in order to regulate your effective
buoyancy without the need for inflating and deflating the BCD. Breath-controlled
buoyancy is quick, sure, easily reversible and easy on air and accurate.
inflator: inflating your BCD (Buoyancy Compensating Device or trimvest)
should go smoothly without clicks and puffs which are a sure way to scare
fish. Even so, you will try to do all buoyancy fine-control with your lungs.
weights: the right weight on your belt is critical and the weight
of the camera underwater must be taken into account. When you work in slight
wave action or currents, you may take an extra 1-2kg. Particularly movie
makers will need that extra weight.
weight belt: normally the weight belt sits securely in the waist,
but photographers will benefit from a looser arrangement such that the
belt slips down onto one's hips for extra stability when kneeling, and
can be pulled to almost across the chest for even keel when swimming. The
belt may need to be turned backward with weights in front when snorkelling
or rotated with weights in the back to compensate for the weight of the
camera in front. In any case make sure that you are not continually fighting
an imbalance that can be corrected so easily.
tripod: under water it is very difficult to take photos that exploit
the full sharpness of lens and film. Many shots require relatively long
exposure times (1/60 - 1/10s) for which hand-holding is inadequate. I have
been using tripods for as long as I have been taking movies and stills
and cannot imagine how good shots can be taken otherwise. In almost all
cases a small tripod suffices, and even then extending only one of its
legs is all that is needed. What photographers don't realise is that even
for strobe-lit macro photography, some form of stabilisation is needed
to achieve ultimate sharpness!
mask: your mask has black rubber to avoid reflection from bright
objects behind you. Otherwise you will have difficulty peering into the
viewfinder. Think about placing two +1 or +2 Diopter closeup lenses in
the bottom of your mask in order to be able to read the camera's fine-print
dials and to look at very small organisms during macro photography.
See also the tips and tricks section for clever
adaptations of camera gear.