The Closer You Get

No matter whether you are using a state-of-the art Nikon or a humble, entry-level camera, the secret of successful underwater pictures is to work as closely as possible to the subject and, ideally, to have your main subject about one metre from the lens – and certainly no more than twice that distance. If your subject is in shallow, well-lit water, so much the better.

Wide-angle lenses are popular because they enable you to include a greater area of the subject in your picture while still being extremely close to it and one of the reasons for the biting clarity of macro shots is that the lens is only millimetres from the tiny cleaner shrimp or coral polyp.

By filling the frame with your subject and working as close to it as possible you will always achieve the best possible technical result, even with a modest camera. Jim Cole, of Manor Park in East London proves the point. The first piece of kit he bought after he learned to dive was ... a camera. His mission was to convert all the non-divers in the world to diving and he needed pictures to show them how good it was.

But, sensibly, he bought a modestly priced camera, an Epoque ET-100 which retails for £150 to £200 depending on which accessories you buy. The camera is the fixed-focus type and you have to estimate the correct aperture setting. It has a weak flashgun incorporated in the body.

Armed with it he set off for the clear, well-lit waters of New Providence Island in the Bahamas which offered not only shark feeding but also overnight processing of E6 slide film, so he could quickly check his results. Use of slide film in a camera such as the ET-100 is against all accepted advice. The camera is best suited to colour print film because print film emulsion is more tolerant of small errors in exposure. But it worked for Jim, as is shown by the shot of the angelfish, left.

However, the result of working as closely as possible to the subject is demonstrated even more effectively by the portrait of Jim, which was taken by his wife. I hope I don't cause any maritial disharmony, but I thought this photograph was even better than the fish portrait. No doubt she was carefully coached by her husband!

The important thing about these two pictures is that they prove that extremely pleasing results can be obtained with a modestly priced camera if you work within its limitations. Robert Capa, a legendary war photographer, is remembered for the advice that if your pictures weren’t any good, you weren’t close enough to the subject. That is also true of underwater photography.

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