My Gear: An ever evolving battle

 

 It seems like all photographers and in particular those involved in UW photography have almost a visceral opinion of the correct camera, housing, strobes, lenses and ports. I am not particularly a gear freak but try to do a lot of research before I decide. The absolutely most important is how all the miscellaneous components work together to make UW shooting a fun hobby rather than fighting the gear. I first started  ‘taking taking UW photos back in the mid-70s’ with a Nikonos, S&S lens and a Nokon close up outfit. The strobe was a Mark 5 the size of a football with monster jel batteries. This was later replaced with an Ikelite strobe. Altogether I have about 100 keeper slides to show for thousands of shots. That’s the way things were those days. As I always took slides, one also had to send the Khotochrome off to a remote lab for processing (in my case, Australia) so by the time you get everything back in the mail you had forgotten you even took the shot. After my last Nikonos flooded on a trip to Sipadan in 2005 I finally just gave up and lost interest.

 

 

Everything changed in 2011. I took my aging Nikon D80 SLR and fitted it with an Ikelite housing and a few domes. A year later I purchased a second Inon Z-280 for more consistent lighting. Ikelite is a good system but does not offer full UW functionality. I would recommend to purchase the 8" rather than the 6" dome for wide angle. There is way too much edge distortion in the former.  

 

Overall, this earlier set-up worked well but two years later I had outgrown the camera/housing and started shopping around. I settled on the Nikon D7100 with a Nauticam housing. The camera offered much higher resolution and the housing is capable of full camera manipulation underwater. Subsequent add-on equipment such as a snoot and bioflourescence excitation filtration is also a lot of fun to use. A video/focus light has really helped in low light and night focus lock. UW photo equipment these days is well designed but very expensive. Careful cleaning and handling/transport habits will ensure years of satisfaction. It is worth the money for the satisfaction.

My Pointers: For good pictures

  • Obtain skill with buoyancy, breathing and fin control to minimize backscatter

  • Respect your dive buddy and other UW photographers-don’t wander off taking pictures

  • Respect your surroundings and photo subjects. Don’t let your guide relocate critters

  • Be comfortable taking shots in all positions (including inverted)

  • Understand the objective of your shot before you take it

  • Get low-shoot upward or head on for best contrast and reduced clutter

  • Position strobe/s to control backscatter and obtain correct shadowing for that 3D affect

  • Shoot manual exposure and check each shot underwater for setting adjustments

  • Learn what critters reside in/on particular corals, grasses, sponges, crinoids and sea fans

  • Respect nature-don’t allow guides to harass critters just for a good shot-practice patience

  • Good composure UW includes negative space

  • Learn when to turn the strobes off and shoot ambient light. Understand the tricks to shoot good silhouettes.

  • On the descent-set up the general strobe positions and camera shutter speed for background

  • Involve your dive partners in your interest. Teach them how to model

  • Practice good etiquette (last but not least)

     

My Final Word

The current field of UW photography is crowded with excellent photos.  Don’t try to keep up with what is out there but rather follow your own instincts. Keep an eye out for unusual marine behavior, strange conditions (spawning) or application of new techniques. This may include local light conditions, an unusual diving environment, critters in season or a bypassing pelagic.  A few years ago, we took a short weekend outing to the Thousand Islands (north of Jakarta, Indonesia). Near the end of the last dive I transgressed upon two adult cuttlefish. One scampered off while the other stayed in position for some close in photography. What I didn’t realize and fully comprehended at the time was in fact this female cuttlefish was in the process of placing eggs with her outreached arms and tentacle. The lesson learned is to study up on your subject matter so to observe and recognize. Patience is paramount. There is a very short distance between just a nice photo (like most of mine) and those which are truly impact.

 

Diving is not a solo sport. What do you do with your dive buddy while you are off awaiting a lion fish to yawn or a cleaner shrimp to crawl into a mouth? The best recourse is to involve a diving soul mate who appreciates the same and is willing to help spot or model shots.

                                                 HAVE FUN!!!!!

 

 

Ikelite housing and domes