Making Light Work

With black and white film, taking photographs underwater can be relatively simple. You can take good pictures in clear, well-lit water without needing anything more than a camera. But once you add colour, underwater photography becomes more complicated. For a start, unless you are taking moody, atmospheric pictures, it is essential to use flash to reveal the true colours of your subjects. Otherwise, so many of the reds, pinks and other eye-catching colours only record as a greyish-blue unless you are in very shallow, well lit water.

Therefore, it is refreshing to see some pictures taken with no more than a camera. Angus Rodger, 18, of Wells in Somerset, UK took his antiquated Calypsphot, which was the fore-runner of the Nikonos, to the Red Sea and spent his holiday snorkelling in the Sharm El Sheikh area.


His shot reproduced here of a reef scene complete with red anthias and rays of sunlight is a good example of the type of atmospheric picture which can be obtained in shallow, well-lit water.

He found that by snorkelling he could not only see more pelagics, but he could also get closer to them. He also managed to photograph a 4ft long milkfish, (Chanos chanos), and believes the shot to be rare. However, as a natural history illustration, it would have benefited from the use of flash to bring out more detail in the fish and so it has not been reproduced here.


The other photograph shown right, was also the outcome of a holiday in the Sharm area, however using a Nikonos V, SWL 16mm wide-angle adapter and Sea & Sea YS50 strobe. It was taken by Phil Meredith, of West Hoathly in West Sussex.

This wide-angle supplementary lens has a strong following among photographers who choose for various reasons not to have one of the prime 15mm lenses. And they produce good results. The penalty, however, is that they reduce the amount of light reaching the film and this has to be taken into consideration.

The wide--angle lens is also probably the most difficult to use effectively, even on land. You have to learn to exploit the way in which it can distort a subject that is close to the lens, so that you create a dramatic effect. At the same time, you have to try not to tilt the lens up or down unless the distortion which this creates also adds impact to your picture.

Another effect of wide-angle lenses is to reduce the size of objects in the background, even if they appear larger to your own eye.

Underwater, you not only have to learn the secrets of wide-angle close-focus pictures, as explained in Linda Dunk's Photoclinic Special in the previous issue of Dive International, but you need the buoyancy control skills to put your lens extremely close to the subject without causing any damage, while at the same time holding the flash sufficiently far from the main object to avoid over-exposing it. Try doing that with today's equipment while you're snorkelling!

Phil chose ISO 100 print film at f5.6 for this shot of yellowgoat fish with divers in the background. He has taken advantage of the opportunity that presented itself and has produced a pleasing composition. It would, however, be stronger if he ordered a print which was cropped at the top and side as indicated.

I suspect he was working with his strobe attached to the camera because of the way the light is falling on the leading fish in the shoal. If he had hand-held it 2 or 3ft above the camera and pointing down on the fish they would have been more evenly lit. Also, as he is taking prints, he should experiment with both ISO 200 and 400 film to enable him to use smaller apertures - f8 and f11 - for greater depth of field and see if these results please him more.

Photography is always a compromise. To get the best results you should use the slowest film possible - ideally ISO 50 or 100. Against that, if you use a wide-angle adapter or most of the popular zoom lenses, you have to use relatively small apertures for the best sharpness and depth of field, which force you to consider faster films. Angus Rodger wins a year's subscription to Dive International for his enthusiasm and enterprise.

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