Terry’s explanation of the equipment, techniques and working methods of underwater photography confirms that shooting through water requires more than a radical rethink of priorities. It also requires a thorough knowledge of how light behaves in this extraordinary medium as well as the obvious need to protect all equipment from the inhospitable element in which it is immersed.
The first question that most people ask is how do your prevent the cameras and film from being damaged by the water? Well, the cameras are contained in underwater housings made by Huge Fot in Switzerland. Within these I have a Hasselblad Super Wide with 38mm lens, fitted with a dome corrector on the front. The dome corrector is a very substantial correction lens which restores a landbased perspective to shots made underwater. This is especially important for close-up work.
I have a second Huge Fot housing a standard 500CM and a special customized unit is used for an old Yashimacat 124G. For 35mm work I use the custom-built Nikonos with a 28mm lens. Most Nikonos lenses are corrected for underwater use. When used underwater, lenses attain effectively longer focal lengths, causing objects to appear closer that they actually are.
I like to utilize ambient light in the background, but you have to use electronic flash as well, to bring out some colour. I have wet plugs on the housing, which means I can use the flash units underwater without problems. Underwater, you will find their effective guide numbers reduce to just one quarter of their on-land value. To counteract this restriction of their range I am experimenting with extension cables and slave units.
The underwater predominance of blue means that reds and yellows are absorbed very quickly so I often restore these by using theatrical coloured filter gels over the lights. Filters can also be attached to the camera lenses within the camera housing, or with the exposed lens of the Nikonos, I stick piece of filter gel over the rear lens element.
Exposure must be very tightly controlled. I don’t bracket because I don’t like to be guessing at the exposure, and because it makes any clip test so hard to evaluate. If you interpret the meter reading as f/5.6, then stick to that. If it doesn’t work out, because there was something you forgot to take into account, then learn from your mistakes and try to get it right next time. If you bracket, and get something that is acceptable, it’s difficult to recall exactly what you’ve done.
And the models? Unlike the constantly moving fish who won’t do as they are told, models can pose to order and these posescan be discussed and practised in a pool before the shot. I prefer to use synchronised swimmers as they are already versatile in the water. But, the models have a problem that the fish don’t – they can’t breathe underwater without apparatus. I always shoot, therefore, with at least one other diver to ensure the model is safe, leaving me free to take the photographs.
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