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Underwater Photography?

A very good friend of mine took up diving in the UK for a variety of complicated reasons, and I watched in amazement from a distance as she cheerfully manhandled wetsuits and cylinders around on cold wet weekends. Not for me, I thought, but the spark of interest was there, and emerged quite a few years later when I was on vacation in the Caribbean.

I clearly remember the PADI Resort Course, the clarity of the water, and how I wanted to record that for my friends at home. I even opted for a second dive on that day, and hired a basic camera. The results were spectacular, even though I will now only show them to especially trusted friends as a humorous interlude. I enrolled in a proper training course as soon as I got home.

I started diving in my mid-thirties, having undertaken very little physical sport in the previous 10 years, and it took over all my leisure time. The first year or so was taken up with learning novice and advanced diving skills and mastering the variety of equipment needed to sustain me safely and comfortably underwater. Eventually however, at a rate of some 100 dives per year, many of the sites and wrecks started to look all the same, and I started to talk to the other divers in my club to see what maintained their interest over the years.

Many divers succumb to 'Brass Fever', cheerfully spending entire dives hammering vainly at fixtures and fittings which were clearly intended by their shipwrights (and 50 years of immersion in a corrosive environment) to remain where they were. This held little thrall for me, (I use enough air on a dive already without puffing at the end of a lump-hammer!) and I had to search for other reasons to keep my diving interests going.

I eventually bullied a fellow diver into lending me his camera for a few dives in the Red Sea, got some slightly better results this time, and, having stumbled across a new endless pit for my time and money, saw no need to look back.

Others may turn to Nautical Archaeology (a variation on 'Brass Fever' - perhaps 'Wood Fever'!), or find a niche for themselves instructing other divers (as I have also), but this course probably isn't for them.

Diving and photographing

The attractions for me of Underwater Photography included

In addition, later, there were the attractions of pure photography

In all, this represented a new set of skills, which, when added to my diving ones, would produce results that could not be obtained by either set alone, and involved routine, but precise physical activities, such as those involved with equipment preparation, operation, and maintenance, and also the mental activities, necessary to produce photographs I could be proud of.

What to expect from this course

I have attempted to put down in writing some of the many facts, opinions, and approaches that a beginning to intermediate underwater stills photographer might find valuable and of practical use. While this course may be studies from start to finish, and is organised accordingly, it can equally be dipped into, as a sort of reference when you need reminding about one aspect of a particular subject.

I have made no general assumptions about the readers of this course, save that they are interested in underwater photography at whatever level. I do not assume expertise either in diving or photography, and for this reason you will find sections covering some of the basics of each as they relate to underwater photography. For essential safety reasons though, as diving is the more important skill to master first before you go underwater, you will see a bias towards divers starting as photographers, rather than vice-versa.

I have tried to avoid being too enthusiastic about too many things, and while divers like nothing more than to talk about diving (with a drink in hand), I have promised to stick to the subject and not write about my travels or experiences where they are not relevant.

Instead I have attempted to collect information and advice from many sources, and put it all together in a way that both acts as a general reference, and which, in doing so, says something that other books previously haven't. My aim has been to permit the reader to understand better the adverse conditions he will need to work under, and the various options available to him to help master his hobby.

No course can fully cover a subject as wide as this, and so I would refer you to a number of excellent books and manuals that have already been written by and suggest that you review any that you already have, particularly the instruction manuals that came with your photographic equipment. References and other resources can be found in each lesson.

I hope that you find this course as interesting to follow as I have found it to write. I can be contacted at mmumford@cix.compulink.co.uk.

This page was last updated on 09 August 1998
Please address any comments to Mark Mumford