Colin Doeg looks at Your Shot

Send in your slides or prints for an expert appraisal and learn how to get the best results. Essential tips for all underwater photographers

If you want to start a lively discussion among a group of underwater photographers, just ask them whether they dive prepared to photograph any subject that arises, or whether they always go down to shoot something specific. Of course, professionals such as David Doubilet, for example, must make every dive as productive as possible and often dive with an assortment of equipment to give them a choice of lenses and film stock, but this is not practical for most underwater photographers.

Many photographers insist that you should enter the water with a specific shot or subject in mind, and that your camera should be set up accordingly. This is all very well in tropical waters, especially when diving on reefs where many fish are territorial and there are areas which are good for everything from macro photographs of nudibranchs, to close-focus wide-angle photographs with soft corals in the foreground and sunbursts in the background. There is also, usually, good visibility, so you can find your subject more easily.

In British waters visibility is more limited. Consequently, many subjects can take you by surprise, suddenly appearing out of the green gloom. So much so, in fact, that I prefer to dive with two cameras, one for macro and the other for wide-angle shots. Today, however, the advent of good quality yet comparatively modestly-priced zoom lenses greatly increases the variety of subjects which can be photographed during a dive if you have a housed camera. A growing number of photographers are choosing focal lengths such as 24–50mm, 24–70mm and 28–70mm as the first lens which they purchase. Such zooms enable them to shoot everything from portraits of larger fish to close-focus wide-angle on the same dive.

Hand-held: divers on a try-dive, Red Sea, by Tom Newton

Tom Newton, a 34-year-old PADI Divemaster who lives in Guildford, Surrey, makes effective use of his 28–80mm zoom on a Canon EOS50 in a Subal housing. It enabled him to quickly take this shot (above) of a friend on a try-dive which, for me, captures the enchantment experienced by someone enjoying their first glimpse of the underwater world.

As a picture of divers, the photograph does have faults – dangling gauges, prominent hoses, inelegant body positions in the water and ugly fin shapes. But that was not the purpose of the shot, and for me, those features add to the charm of this particular occasion and capture the essence of a try-dive.

In other circumstances it is essential that the divers are immaculate, with gauges neatly tucked away out of sight, no obtrusive hoses and no ugly fin-straps sticking out. Such things distract the viewer. It is also important that the models have such good buoyancy control that they can hold attractive poses – they have to stay quite still while maintaining a purposeful look. It’s helpful to use a housed camera for such shots because the model can see the reflection of the image in the dome port and so help compose the photograph.

Tom started diving only 18 months ago but since then has packed in some 270 dives in the Red Sea, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, the Coral Sea, and New Zealand. He has also made extensive use of his other lens, a 100mm macro, and produced an interesting range of work. He uses two Sea & Sea strobes, a YS120 and a YS30.

Much of his diving has been on liveaboards with on-board film-processing, which has enabled him to check his results quickly and learn from them. Tom was a land photographer before he dived into underwater photography, and says ‘I took mainly portraits. I am not into landscapes. My buoyancy control is much better since I began to use a camera underwater. You have to be much smoother and more gentle in your technique. You also have to learn what the creatures you want to photograph are going to do, and be patient until the picture you want takes shape’.

Tube Extension
When you use extension tubes on a Nikonos camera, where should you set the focus on the lens? This discussion has been raging on an underwater-photo news group on the Internet. The instructions for the majority of extension tubes have always said the lens should be set at its closest distance (I believe there is only one brand which is designed to be used with the lens on infinity). Then the subject will be in focus when the framer is virtually touching it. But is this the best way to use extension tubes? A few photographers have begun to recommend that the lens be set on infinity so that the framer does not have to be held quite as close to subject. It makes sense, doesn’t it? There’s less likelihood of damaging the reef, or spooking the fish. If you work with extension tubes, why not try it? The point of sharp focus will be about a quarter of an inch or so beyond the framer – you will have to experiment to find it.
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