Lesson 12 The Underwater Photo Course
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Getting it together

Shooting by the numbers?

Underwater photography cannot be reduced to a series of numbered instructions, but some actions and decisions naturally come before others, and by establishing some sort of flow based on priority, you can help yourself get those decisions right first time.


Getting it all ready

Spotting your subject underwater

What type of photo are you going to make

Doing it

Learn from your successes, and your mistakes

Photographing at night

There is no doubt that there is a wide range of subjects that only come out at night, and which you will never even be aware of during the day. Some of them, such as the translucent coral polyps, the shrimps, and the Spanish Dancers, are subjects many times more beautiful than most of the subjects you are likely to see during the day.

You will certainly need some form of light, if only to see by, and if you have an autofocus camera, then you will need a reasonable light shining straight in front of the lens to permit the camera to focus. Be aware also that certain creatures, such as feather stars and coral polyps are light sensitive, and will curl up or retract as soon as you shine your torch or spotting light on them, so keep your focusing light as dim and diffuse as possible.

Environmental awareness is as important at night as during the day, so don't bump into coral any more than you would during the day. Certain fish at night are also much easier to approach, as they are asleep, but be careful not to disturb them, as they can swim off blindly into the dark and may damage themselves and the coral they bump into.

I find that while many night creatures are welcome, every urchin in the sea comes out at night, and I have had problems in the past finding a clear patch of sand to kneel gently on without filling myself with spines. For this reason buoyancy is even more important at night than it is during the day, and your diving skills have really got to be spot on. The darkness at night provides few visual clues, and navigation becomes consequently harder. If you are not an experienced night photographer, then I would recommend that your first few sorties are accompanied by someone with more experience, who isn't taking a camera, and can guide you round, letting you take photographs without worrying about the environment.

Sustaining interest

Let's hope it never happens to you, but it's worth examining what to do if you 'burn out'.

I'd like to think that burn-out occurs when one shoots a lot of film but fails to produce anything new that you consider worth showing, effectively reproducing the same old stuff over and over again, and getting more and more frustrated doing so.

Try and examine what you are doing wrong. Usually in my case, it happens when I dive in a group, and don't get enough time to give the shot what it deserves. On other occasions I have been fooled into thinking there is more light than there really is (the human eye is enormously adaptive), and I come home with a lot of dark shots.

If it's a 'creative block', there are various ways to break out of this, including

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