Lesson 8 The Underwater Photo Course
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Just like all the other great consumer goods, there are loads of opportunities for after-market accessories for your camera system. Custom paint jobs and leather steering wheels don't necessarily feature highly, but there is plenty of scope otherwise, and the chance of finding someone else with a complete system identical to yours is .... well it just doesn't bear thinking about does it?

The wonderful thing about camera accessories is that for every person who will sit still while you tell them how wonderful your equipment is, you'll find two more who'll point out how you wasted your money and how much better their injection-moulded tungsten-iridium lanyard is.

The novice accessory hunter will naturally focus in on the prime piece of equipment that he is obviously missing, being some form of arm to hold his strobe away from the camera. These come in all shapes and sizes, rigid or flexible, long or short, segmented and adjustable, quick-release or bendy, metal or plastic. The choice is enormous, even if you restrict yourself to items sold through retail outlets. If you have even a rudimentary grasp of engineering, then the possibilities are endless.

One flexible arm that is starting to become very popular with UK photographers is very much a home-made affair, but remarkably effective nevertheless. The arm itself is made from small interlocking cups originally designed for use in machine shops to distribute coolants on lathes. All you need to add are the connectors at either end, which can be quite simply machined up out of aluminium by a competent engineer.

As the parts can be snapped apart and together, you can build an arm of exactly the length that you want. They are pretty stable underwater, but a heavy strobe and a sharp jerk will move them out of position. However they are ultimately flexible, allowing you to position your strobe anywhere, or even disconnect it for hand-holding. On the surface they have about as much structural strength as a liquorice bootlace, so beware of helpful people who seize your outfit by the flexible arm, as they can easily break, dropping your equipment on the floor (or even worse, in the sea)!

A sensible list of accessories might include

Other, more creative, options include

Undoubtedly there are a few shots which simply are very difficult without the necessary accessories. Available light shots in caves or wreck interiors can look stunning, yet may require exposure times measured in whole seconds rather than fractions. Under such circumstances, some sort of camera support is most definitely required, the traditional one being a monopod or tripod to hold the camera still.

There is nothing to prevent you (or preferably your buddy) carrying a tripod along for that special shot, but I would recommend that it is a planned shoot, as your buddy may object to carting a tripod around if it isn't going to get used. For wreck shots, the preponderance of odd bits of metal lying around, means that you are quite likely to find a point to attach one of the special clamp supports that come with many pocket tripods.

In other cases, despite the power of telephoto macro lenses like the 105mm, there are subjects which simply will not allow you to get close to them. Two immediate examples are Garden Eels, and the symbiotic pairs of shrimps and Gobies. For subjects such as these, you must have some method of firmly securing your equipment, and then being able to remotely trigger the shutter when the creature decides to come out of its hole.

Traditional cable releases are limited in their length and will quickly stop working after a few dives, and infra-red remote releases simply won't work underwater as all the infra-red light is quickly absorbed. One option that will work well is the air-release, with the special modification that you fill the system with water, not air, turning it into a hydraulic release, which will work better, and won't float away. Air releases are commonly available in lengths of about 5 metres, and two or more can be added together to create a longer run if required.

Whatever accessories you go for, look for something that is likely to last. Plastic objects should be rugged, and metal ones are probably best constructed from anodised aluminium, which is both light and corrosion resistant.

Do remember that each and every accessory is likely to add weight to your system, and probably increase its dimensions, restricting the size of hole you can push it through to get that special shot, which might be important to you.

One last little accessory, easily forgotten, is a wrist lanyard to help prevent your equipment plummeting to the depths when your grip on it slips! But be careful how you use it, as the little devils just love to get into your photographs!

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This page was last updated on 11 August 1998
Please address any comments to Mark Mumford