Underwater Photo Fun
Fab Tips For Photos Of Fish Watchers And Fish

I like my picture of the sea horse, photographed in Bonaire. In Adobe Photoshop, however, I enhanced the picture by taking out some of the coral branch in the scene. (Nikonos RS, 60mm macro lens, dual Sea & Sea YS120 flashes for shadowless lighting, Kodak E100SW film.)
Photos © 2001, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

There has never been a more exciting time to take underwater pictures. That's because underwater cameras and camera systems have never been easier to use. Plus, new supersaturated films provide the most colorful photos ever! What's more, easy to use computer imaging programs make fixing up underwater pictures a snap. And finally, a new service from Kodak, Kodak Sea Processing, gives underwater photographers who shoot color print film more colorful images.

Underwater Tips
Ready to dive into the fascinating and rewarding world of underwater photography? If so, here are a few basic tips.

Practice in a pool. The old saying, "Practice makes perfect," applies to all wannabe underwater photographers. It doesn't matter which camera or camera system you choose, you'll benefit greatly by practicing in a pool€to the point where you can take pictures in the dark, which you may actually want to do someday on a night dive.

When I get a new underwater toy, I take it to the pool along with an underwater writing slate. I shoot my pictures and note my exposures and other settings. Then, when I get my pictures back, I compare them to my notes--seeing what went right or wrong.

Think negative. I'm a positive person, that means I shoot positive (chrome) film most of the time. But if you are just starting out in underwater photography, think negative--and by that I mean think about using negative film. If you do, you'll get a high percentage of good pictures, because your exposures don't have to be "right on" as they do with slide film.

This angelfish was speeding by me when I took the photo. However, my flash units "froze" its motion. I added back the motion in Adobe Photoshop. (Nikonos RS, 60mm macro lens, dual Sea & Sea YS120 flashes for shadowless lighting, Kodak E100SW film.)

Where To Go
There are great places to take great pictures, such as the Red Sea, Bonaire, Palau, Galapagos, and so on. And there are not so great places to shoot, such as Long Island Sound in New York--although I have seen some pretty good pictures from the murky bottom.

That said, it's a good idea to check out a site--thoroughly--before you leave home. Skin Diver magazine and Rodale's Scuba Diving, available on newsstands, run monthly features on where to go for great pictures. You can also get diving information on the web by using search engines such as www.google.com and www.yahoo.com and typing in the name of your destination. The more you know, the more you'll be prepared for your underwater photo experience.

Get a good guide. Most wildlife photographers--underwater and terrestrial--take all the credit for their pictures. However, in many cases some of the credit is due to the guide who helped the shooter find the critter. Get a good guide who is familiar with a reef and its critters and you'll have a much better chance of getting good pictures. I've found this to be true all over the world.

Be Patient
Patience pays. Underwater, it's not that easy to get close to fish if, that is, you try to swim up to them as fast as possible and try to get a shot. If, however, you settle down on the sand and let the fish come to you or get accustomed to you, you will be able to get good close-ups. So, patience pays when it comes to underwater photography.

Diving with two flashes on her underwater camera, this scuba diver will get shadowless lighting in her pictures. I worked hard with Susan to get the sun directly behind her, which helped produce this dramatic photograph. (Nikonos RS, 13mm lens, dual Sea & Sea YS120 flashes for shadowless lighting, Kodak E100SW film.)

Tools Of The Trade
Go wide for divers, macro for fish. Water is about 800 times denser than air. Therefore, for sharp pictures, you need to be close to your subject. For diver photos, I recommend using a 12mm, 13mm, 15mm, or 20mm lens. These lenses offer good depth of field and let you fill the frame with the diver from not too far away.

For great fish photos, I recommend using an SLR/macro lens system in an underwater housing. Close-up frame finders are available for fish photos, but it's often difficult to get the fish to swim right between the wires.

Use a flash. Simply put, you need a flash underwater to bring out the true colors and detail of your subject. A flash also throws light into a diver's face mask, so you can see who the heck is in a diver photo! Better yet, use two flash units for shadowless and ratio lighting.

Of course, you can snorkel and dive shallow and take natural light photos--dive between the hours of 10am and 2pm on sunny days, when it's brightest underwater. Even at shallow depths, however, a flash can improve pictures.

Sure, there are exceptions to the use a flash rule, as when you want to take a silhouette of a huge fish or a diver.

Housekeeping€Underwater
Keep it clean. I don't want to scare you, but even a grain of sand stuck in O-rings can cause a camera to flood. Therefore, it's essential that you soak your camera after each dive. Then clean and grease all the O-rings. Give your camera some tender-loving-care and you should have flood-free dives.

Think safety first. No fish or diver photo is worth damaging the fragile reef. So, please be careful when taking underwater photos. If you touch the reef, you can actually cause that section of the reef to die. If you break off a piece of coral with a careless kick of a fin, it may take years for the coral to grow back, if at all.

When diving with a camera, please remember this adage: Take only pictures, leave only bubbles. Safe diving!

Want to get great close-ups of fish, like this portrait of a fairy basslett? Then have patience underwater. Let the fish come to you or let it get accustomed to your presence. (Nikonos RS, 60mm macro lens, dual Sea & Sea YS120 flashes for shadowless lighting, Kodak E100SW film.)

Kodak Sea Processing Makes Your Pictures Better
It's a fact: Coral reefs are the most colorful habitats on earth. So it's a shame that most pictures taken by novice underwater photographers fail to capture that beauty--the pictures lack color and detail.

Hey, don't feel bad if that sounds familiar! When I first started taking underwater pictures, that was my story, too.

Enter Kodak Sea Processing. This process--for color print film only--can turn dull, drab pictures into bright, vibrant shots. Here's how it works, in non-technical terms.

You drop off your color print film (technically called color negative film) at a dive-photo retailer shop that offers Kodak Sea Processing. (A complete list of shops can be found at www.kodak.com/go/seaprocessing) The shop sends your film to a special Kodak lab. Next, your negatives are scanned by a trained Kodak technician who basically boosts the reds (lost underwater) and subtracts some of the blues and greens (increased underwater). Contrast is also increased during the process. The result of this relatively new service is that your pictures, printed on Kodak Royal paper, have more color and detail€and look more professional.

"As shucks," you say. "Too bad Kodak Sea Processing was not available a few years ago when I took lots of blue/green pictures on my dive trip to Jamaica." Well, as they say in Jamaica, "No problem, mon." Kodak Sea Processing can enhance your previously-processed negatives, too. "Ya mon," as we scuba divers say.

Underwater Gear
Want to learn more about the latest and greatest underwater photography gear? Check out the following companies and their web sites.

Adorama (more underwater stuff than even Jacques Cousteau could use): www.adorama.com
B&H Photo (lots of gear for underwater shooters): www.bhphotovideo.com
Kodak (Kodak film and Kodak Sea Processing): www.kodak.com
Sea & Sea Underwater Photography (cameras, housings and flash units): www.seaandsea.com
Ikelite (underwater housings, flash units, accessories): www.ikelite.com
Nikon (Nikonos amphibious cameras and flash units): www.nikonusa.com
Helix (just about everything you need to take underwater pictures): www.helixcamera.com
Pioneer Research (SeaLife amphibious cameras and accessories): www.pioneer-research.com
R.T.S. Inc. (Epoque Underwater cameras and EWA Marine flexible housings): www.rtsphoto.com

Rick Sammon is the author of five books on the underwater environment, including "Seven Underwater Wonders of the World" and "The Complete Guide to Photographing Underwater Wonders." He is also the president of the marine conservation organization CEDAM International.

You can join Rick on a "Skin Diver" magazine tour. Contact him at: www.ricksammon.com Rick will be teaching at the "Shutterbug" and "eDigitalPhoto.com" Imaging Odyssey 2001 in Baltimore, May 17-19, 2001.

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COMMENTS
merdeka04's picture

Under water cameras and tools and not that easy to use, it requires practice and patience and skills. You've got to learn it the hard way if you want to become professional. - Carmack Moving and Storage

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