When asked what underwater activity they would most like to learn a large number of divers nominate underwater photography. It’s easy to understand why.
An intense experience filled with colour, light and movement, diving is an adventure that’s best captured by images rather than words. Sadly – for those unable to invest the time and money in acquiring the expertise – the most exciting and memorable moments remain nothing more than memories that dull with passing time.
Achieving success in underwater photography isn’t easy. Quite apart from the need to master essential technical skills, amphibious photographers have to contend with malicious claims by detractors that they:-
* Are conceited and insensitive.
* Have an inflated opinion of their diving abilities.
* Have no understanding of the buddy system or its purpose.
* Resent the underwater presence of other divers.
* Think nothing of crawling across fragile coral architecture in an attempt to capture on film a rare creature that’s in danger of extinction because of environmental damage to its habitat.
* Remove creatures from their natural haunts in order to photograph them in more attractive surroundings.
* And that they are only motivated by the desire for reward and recognition.
(It’s a reputation that, to my way of thinking, is ill-deserved – almost all the underwater photographers of my acquaintance are modest, friendly and fun to dive with. The sort of people, in fact, who usually remember to say, “Thank you”, when a fellow live-aboard passenger is obliged to give up their bunk and sleep on the deck in order to make room for excess camera equipment.)
But with allegations like these constantly being levelled against them underwater photographers have become their own worst enemies. Focused only on what appears in the view-finder of a camera – a preoccupation that is sometimes mistaken for rudeness. – they often neglect the social niceties and fail to make the general diving public aware of the personal cost of being bitten by the shutter-bug or what it entails.
In this regard, I have been more fortunate than most by managing to glean some useful tips on getting started from a friend of mine who once shared a taxi with a person who knew a respected underwater photographer.
The first requirement is, of course, a camera. It doesn’t matter what brand of camera that you buy providing that it costs lots of money and comes with a full range of matching accessories. Apart from the fact that a really, really expensive underwater camera marks you as a professional, the amount of money outlaid is proportional to the perception that others will have of your creative ability. After all, why would anyone spend so much on costly equipment unless they had the artistic talent to use it all properly?
Once you’ve become familiar with the knobs and buttons, mastered the art of removing the lens cover and taken several thousand images, it’s time to give thought to a portfolio.
It sounds easy enough to put together a selection of your best work when you have thousands of images from which to choose, but if you want to stay in the race for a competition prize or Award then the portfolio must include pictures of:-
1) A young and attractive female model – with heavy eye make-up – peering through a single-lens face mask at a small and inoffensive marine animal. (Do not include pictures of ageing, ugly, or overweight divers; people with old or uncoordinated diving equipment; or divers who are not smiling.)
2) A shark, with jaws wide open, swimming straight towards the camera. (Wherever possible the photographer should try and convey the impression that each image entails extreme personal risk.)
3) A clown fish emerging from the tentacles of a sea-anemone. (This shot demonstrates a preparedness to spend weeks at a time – the generosity of liveaboard operators permitting. – diving the world’s hot spots in search of this rare creature.)
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any of these pointers but they were obviously sufficient to impress the membership committee of the local Underwater Photographic Society when I submitted my application. Only yesterday they invited me to assist on a deep water shoot by modelling the prototype of a pair of solid lead-lined fins intended for use by divers working in nuclear power plants.
The above article first appeared in Asian Diver Magazine in January 1999