Taking a camera underwater adds an underestimated level of complexity to diving and shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are safety aspects to consider as well as areas of general etiquette and common sense which are often overlooked. Don’t fall foul; read our ten tips for safe and happy underwater photography dives.
- What’s it worth?
Whatever you choose to spend on underwater photography equipment, you should not spend any more that you are comfortable losing. Accepting its loss as a possibility now will adjust your thinking of its value which has a direct impact on your safety. It will make you less likely to risk decompression sickness speeding your way to the surface in the event of a leak. It will also reduce your reluctance to let it go in an emergency. No camera is worth your life or someone else’s; your camera should not be a factor in a life or death choice. It might sound dramatic, but divers have lost their lives going to retrieve a dropped knife! Accept the loss of your camera now, and you will be unlikely to take unnecessary risks.
With that said, make sure you have a good quality lanyard that attaches your camera to your BCD – not around your wrist. This device is invaluable for freeing your hands to inflate an SMB or fiddle with a leaking mask. It will also save you from dropping it in never-to-be-seen-again depths.
- Dry Run, checks and care
Getting new gear and trying it out is very exciting but don’t be tempted to skip the test dive. That’s the dive you do with the housing only. In the majority of cases, this dive goes without a hitch, but you’d feel very foolish if you skipped this step and flooded your new gear on its very first dive.
Before each dive, make a dunk test. This action will show you any major leaks but remember this is not foolproof as the housing is not under any pressure.
Rinse after a dive and remove from the tank or bucket, dry and store securely. Cameras left in rinse tanks have resulted in scratched housings and gentle, but constant knocking from boat motion can cause your housing to leak.
I can’t stress this enough. If your buoyancy is anything less than perfect, you have no business taking a camera underwater. Not only are you likely to damage yourself you are likely to cause harm to the reef.
Once you have a camera, it’s difficult to imagine diving without it yet you should always evaluate the conditions. In strong current, it can be tough to hold your position and therefore correctly frame and focus your shot. You will waste air doing so, and the results are unlikely to be worth it. Aren’t you better to enjoy a fun drift dive? Choppy surface conditions make entry and exit problematic, but with a camera, it can be more so. Leaving it behind will give you far less to worry about and make certain of you seeing something amazing.
Sounds obvious right? You took extra training to dive with nitrox, additional training to dive deeper or at night so why not photography? For sure you can jump in with a camera, but even some basic instruction will improve your results beyond what you will achieve otherwise. Choose your course wisely, and you will get a lot out of it. Look for a great photographer who is also a patient teacher and a qualified dive instructor too. In this way, you are going to get the benefit of improving your dive-with-a-camera skills as well as your photography skills.
Diving is mesmerizing, and diving with a camera is intoxicating to the point that the image you are capturing is the only thing in your universe. It’s very easy to get so distracted that you forget to monitor your air pressure, depth, and even direction. Get into the habit of looking around, orientating yourself and checking your gauges more frequently. Even the most experienced photographers will tell you that when they dive without their camera, they use far less air, so keep a close watch on the dial.
Much the same as your gauges you do need to be aware of your buddy. The buddy system is a two-way street, and no one likes to feel ignored. Get them onboard with your photography missions by telling them what kind of subjects that you are looking for and you’ve instantly got an extra set of eyes. Looking for subjects gets them invested in your image too and who doesn’t love the kudos of being the one to spot the ghost pipefish? Asking them to do some modeling gets them squarely in the frame; brief them clearly, don’t get frustrated and review for the next dive. If they’ve spent time posing or hanging around waiting for you to get that shot then sharing your photos and a thank-you drink will go a long way to making sure you have a willing buddy for the next time.
- Private shoot
In some locations, diving is in groups, and this might not give you the time that you need to get the shot that you want. A typical guided tour would move on too fast for most photographers. In this instance, you should consider if you are happy to keep up or if you would be better to pay the extra for a private guide.
- Subject Matter
Consider the life of a pygmy seahorse at a popular dive site. How many photographers does it endure daily? Now I have no real idea of the impact, but something tells me life was better before divers and their cameras descended. I’m not saying don’t take a photo, but don’t take fifty. Similarly, you’re not the only one with a camera, so don’t hog the subject either.
Underwater photography should be fun. Don’t take it too seriously and don’t pressure yourself. Know that the pros will surface with just a few shots they’re happy with. That magazine cover shot most likely took a whole dive to get; so don’t compare, have fun and return home with good memories not a bundle of frustration.
For more information read our guide on what to do if you camera floods and our tips for better photographs and how to safely start and end your dive with a camera.