Shooting underwater is a very different kettle of chordata, molluscs and/or crustaceans than shooting on dry land. Aside from the obvious challenges of underwater casings, the need to breathe, and the difficulty of stabilizing ones self in order to frame up a shot, light behaves very differently through water than it does through air. Water is not only far denser and far more absorbant of light (why everything has a blue cast and gets progressively darker at depth), but it is also full of lots of floaty things like plankton, silt, and other unsightly blobs that mar a perfectly nice scene.
I default to being a landscape photographer. That means, when I’m being lazy, that’s what comes to me without really trying that hard. Underwater, this doesn’t work so well. Unless water is remarkably clear and the sun suitably bright, scenery drops off in just metres- a bit like trying to capture a scenic countryside vista in thick soupy fog. My friend and underwater photographer extraordinaire Jan gave me the tip during my first few forays into the acquatic photographic environment: Get as close as you possibly can to the subject.
More challenging than it sounds. It’s hard to see the viewfinder through a snorkel mask and a plastic underwater case, especially if the light’s wrong. Fish life has an awkward habit of moving. Pressing the big oversized buttons to fine-tune your focus is a bit like trying to play a Brahms piano concerto with leather workmens’ gloves on. And then there’s the stability issue. If you’re not plopping down in a great cloud of obfuscating silt, you’re corking up to the surface flailing desperately for an anchor to keep you on the bottom.
*ahem* At least that’s how I’m diving at the moment…
Bouancy challenges aside, I do definitely want to build on my skills photographing up-close the beautiful, the unusual, and the downright spectacular that lives in the world beneath the waves. However I’d also like to think that as a photographer with some experience shooting landscapes, I can also bring something of that eye to the subaquatic arena.
Today’s photo is not a particularly stellar image. In fact it illustrates many of the challenges of underwater landscape photography- particularly, the murk and darkness that needs to be overcome. However it also captures the otherworldly beauty that scenery below the surface often offers. Here, beams of light filter through water just off Tab Island, in Madang Harbour, and play on an outcrop of bubbly coral formations.
The doctor gave me the all clear for my baggarap ear today. For the last four weeks its been keeping me out of the water. No longer! I’ve already hired my BCD and regulator for the coming weekend, and plan to get back into that most obtuse but serene of environments as much as I can while my time in PNG remains. I’ll be looking for pretty little critters to work my macro skills on, for sure. And all the same, I’ll be keeping my eye out for any acquatic landscapes I might be able to capture as well.
Watch this space…