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Underwater Photography

Photographing things that live underwater, be they coral, fish or kelp all require a degree of dedication to your photography hobby. Not only will you be immersing your expensive camera equipment in water (fully encased and waterproofed of course) but you will be operating in an inhospitable environment where humans are not meant to exist. You will however, with some patience and skill capture some of the most stunning images you will ever take in your lifetime. Underwater photography can be an expensive pastime, but the photographs you will capture far offset that costs if you are serious about photography. If underwater photography interests you then read on.

Underwater photography is the art of photographing things underwater. It sounds deceptively simple and in some cases can be, however you must consider that not only does the human body not like being immersed in cold, dark water for long periods of time but neither does modern digital camera equipment. There are two solutions to this problem; you can either purchase a bespoke underwater camera (very expensive) or purchase an underwater housing kit for your DSLR (slightly less expensive). Unless you plan to make a living from your underwater snapshots then the latter solution is definitely the way to go. Be warned however, specialist waterproofing kits can retail for well over £1500 and that does not take into account any modifications you may need making for various lenses and attachments, so plan for this well in advance of your trip. Of course it is always possible to hire a mini-submarine, in fact in many places in the tropics you can take short trips in them which allows you to simply take your unmodified DSLR underwater and snap photographs out of the porthole to your hearts content. Of course this defeats the object of underwater photography; by being immersed in the environment one can often capture stunning images that are simply not possible in a submarine or submersible vehicle (or the ultimate cheating method... a glass bottomed boat).

For the first time underwater photographer the best way to take underwater images is while snorkelling. You can then purchase a (slightly cheaper) shallow dive kit as you will not be heading to the depths, and the joy of snorkelling is that you can drift and take pictures as and when you see something interesting, however if you are dead set on composing some ground breaking images then this may not be an option as all of your images will be taken from the same perspective (i.e. from the surface looking down at the floor). If you do opt for the snorkelling method you can even purchase a bespoke shallow water (relatively affordable, prices for non SLR models start at around £250) camera that has been waterproofed but not tested to any pressure as would be required for SCUBA diving. As an added bonus this camera will also come in handy for any other wet activities including canoeing, surfing, or even taking pictures in a torrential downpour at the height of winter.

If you do decide to go SCUBA diving please ensure you are fully qualified. There are far too many courses that allow you to go on holiday for a fortnight and gain a diving qualification at the end of it after only a few pool dives and a live dive; if you are concentrating on composing the perfect image then it is all to easy to forget about the multitude of other things that you need to consider when diving safely, you should always remember that you are in a life threatening, hostile environment at all times and never focus solely on your photography as the human brain prone to do. To do so is simply asking for case of decompression illness or even death, please consider yourself warned. If you do decide to invest in a waterproof and pressure tested housing and opt for a SCUBA diving trip then you should consider a few fundamentals about your equipment first. Obviously water magnifies so you will require a wide angle lens; and water also absorbs certain wavelengths of light differently so some colours (red and yellow) for instance will vary depending on how far away you are from your subject. A few inches can make all of the different but you will have to be careful to ensure your images do not look either washed out and lacking in colour or completely over saturated. If you feel you will require a flash then again invest in a very powerful underwater one, standard strength flashes will simply not function to any noticeable effect underwater. You will have to experiment and spend your time underwater wisely in the search for the perfect photograph, but once you begin to understand how the environment works then you will be able to develop new techniques to work under these conditions and produce stunning images.