Underwater Shooting Tips
These are the most recent photos added to my website. This portfolio may contain a mixture of wide and macro. My most recent trip was a six day trip to the southern Channel Islands off of Southern California. We visited Santa Barbara Island, San Clemente Island, and Catalina. The highlight of the trip was the shark encounter...more

  All of the images are available for sale. I use
the services of Pictopia to make prints. I send

  There is an enormous amount of written material
on how to shoot underwater pictures. I know, because...more

View this photo (IMP_046.jpg) in the Indo Pacific Macro Gallery...click here
What Kind of Camera is that?

My introduction to Underwater Photography was purely accidental. I had taken a group of ex-students on a live-aboard dive trip to Truk Lagoon in the early nineties. At the time, my interest in the underwater world outside of teaching diving was mostly spear fishing and abalone diving. The divemaster on the boat asked if I wanted to take a camera on a dive. I told him I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and he said it didn’t matter, just go have some fun and see what you come back with. Unfortunately, I got lucky and came back with a couple of nice wide angle shots and quickly became consumed by underwater photography. It was the proverbial “the first one’s free”. I came home and found a used Nikonos 5 with the coveted Nikonos 15mm lens and a couple of Nikonos strobes for sale in the newspaper and went and purchased it on the spot.

The first couple of years weren’t terribly fruitful. After awhile I did a few warm water trips with some serious photo pros and that helped get me headed in the right direction. Initially, I focused on wide angle photography because the Nikonos15mm lens is such an incredible lens. I did a little bit of macro photography but unfortunately, macro photography with the Nikonos 5 is limited to extension tubes with framers. There is an upside to the framers however; they’re easy to use and they’re practically foolproof. You set the aperture, shutter speed, and set up the strobe to light the framer opening and simply place the framer around your subject and hit the shutter release. As long as you place the framer opening around the subject, first time shooters can get really good shots. There are some issues however that limit what kind of shots you can get. If your subject is really slow or stationary, you’re fine, but most fish and other animals that rely on a speedy exit for defense, don’t really like a wire framer stuck in their face. I found the only way to get those shots (short of drugging the fish) was to invest in a camera that would give you a close-up focus on the animal from a distance.

A short time later I’m the proud owner of a Nikon SLR in an underwater housing. I’m on my fifth camera and housing now and use the Nikon digital D-300 in a Sea and Sea housing. For macro photography, I use a 60mm and a 105mm lens. I also use a diopter that attaches to the front of the lens port that gives me a 2:1 image for those really small critters. For wide angle shots I now use a 10.5 mm, a 10-17 mm zoom, a 12-24 mm zoom, or a 16mm lens under a dome port. I always set up two strobes for wide angle and macro but will occasionally use only one strobe to add shadows and depth to an image.

My first foray into digital photography was with an Olympus 3030 in a housing from Light and Motion called the Tetra. It’s an auto-focus camera with some really cool features. It takes really good pictures but is has one drawback- the dreaded shutter delay. There is an approximately one-half second shutter delay from the time you push the shutter release until the camera takes the picture. This means that you have to anticipate those magic moments. The first time I used this camera I was trying to shoot Sea Lions off of Santa Barbara Island. There were SeaLions buzzing all around me and all I ended up with were tails and butts. With a little practice, you get the hang of how to lead the animal and anticipate when to hit the shutter but you also end up with something called Tetra finger. This comes from pressing harder and harder on the shutter release trying to get the shutter to fire during the delay period. Something in your brain says push harder and it’ll work. It never does and you end up with a sore finger.

I’m afraid to add up how much I’ve spent on underwater photography equipment over the years. I don’t really want to know and I certainly don’t want my wife to know. The joke in our house has become “How was the diving and how much did you spend in Backscatter?” (an underwater photography store in Monterey, CA). It kind of becomes a self-sustaining habit. The better your photography skills become, the better camera you need to go to the next level. The saying about ‘boys and their toys’ was made for underwater photography. The cool part about good equipment is that you can concentrate on composition and making the most out of your art form and when that once in a lifetime moment comes along, you’ll know you have the equipment and hopefully the skills necessary to capture it.

The toughest part about this sport is finding the time to go diving. I try and do a couple of dive vacation trips each year, usually to some warm water locale. On those rare, free weekends you’ll find me diving off of my Boston Whaler in Monterey Bay… with a camera in my hand of course.

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