With the floods that we are having right now, there is probably more than
one camera that has gone underwater, and is now (hopefully) the subject of
an insurance claim. However, there is truly another world beneath the
One of the regular readers, who humorously signed himself as “Joe Fishman”
wrote in to say, “You can take underwater images which are such great images
of marine life unmatched with anything above the surface. And your
photographic techniques are almost unlimited. … I’ve been an underwater
photographer almost two years - an absolute amateur - and snorkel or dive
(Thailand’s) coral reefs on a weekly basis during the dry season. I’m quite
sure that a number of people are also interested in learning more about the
techniques of underwater photography…”
Unfortunately Joe, many years ago I struck a bargain with sharks, those
denizens of the deep with the amazing dentition. The deal was that I would
not swim in their bath water, if they would refrain from swimming in mine. I
have been true to my word, and they have also, with no dorsal fins seen
anywhere near my Jacuzzi. Hence my knowledge of underwater photography is
restricted to shooting through the portholes of swimming pools!
However, with the advent of cheap underwater cameras these days (even
disposable ones), you do not have to invest in a Nikonos to try getting a
few shots beneath the surface.
What has to be remembered is that water (especially sea water), is 700 times
more dense and 2000 times less transparent than air. Even though it may look
crystal clear down there with the dugongs, it is not. It has been suggested
to me that if you are using natural light (that is from the sun above the
waves) then do not go lower than seven meters below the surface.
For these reasons, underwater photographers will use wide angle lenses, so
that they have to be close to the subject, so there is then less water
between the camera and the item being photographed. If it is a large fish
with sharp teeth, you need to be a knee tremblingly three meters from it, to
get a good shot. Far too close for me! Those that claim to know (and I do
know a couple of underwater photographers who have neither been eaten or
drowned) say that a focal length lens of between 28 mm and 15 mm (almost a
‘fish eye’) would be appropriate for 35 mm cameras.
Another tip given to me by the wet-suit and water-wings brigade is to take
the meter reading on the surface and open up the aperture one f stop for
every three meters depth.
Again when using sunlight, the best time of day is the exact opposite from
the above the surface shooter. Forget early morning and late afternoon, as
the sun’s rays get reflected away from the surface of the water. The best
time is when the sun is directly overhead and the light penetrates the water
You may have also noticed that underwater shots can have strange colors.
This is because the light becomes diffused as it travels through the water,
and the different colors, which have different wavelengths, become absorbed
at different rates (or depths). Red is the first to go and yellow is the
last. The predominant color is then usually bluish or greenish, which
explains why underwater shots have that color cast. You can counteract this
by manipulation in the computer with your electronic paint brush.
However, whatever the technicalities, if you just want to try something
different one weekend, buy one of the inexpensive throw-away waterproof
cameras, stay just under the surface and see what you get. You will probably
be delighted with the results. But if you are considering SCUBA diving with
a spear gun in one hand and a camera in the other, you will need much more