Photography News Issue 31

Photography News | Issue 31 | absolutephoto.com

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Technique

Safe as housings

There’s no denying that gearing up for underwater photography will put a strain on your wallet; but howmuch of a strain really depends on what route you want to go down. For instance, because the housings required are bespoke you can spend far less waterproofing a compact than a DSLR. Housings are specifically engineered to camera bodies, so you must pick exactly the right one for your model, and although many manufacturers like Canon produce their own housings, some of the most trusted casings come from brands like Subal (which Alex used for most of the shots in his book), Nauticam, and Ikelite. You can find a great range of these products at camerasunderwater.co.uk (and they also have a rental service so you don’t need to commit lots of cash straight away).

Above There’s great scope for shooting wide in underwater photography, for wildlife and the submerged wrecks, ‘split-level’ shots or flooded interiors here. Alex uses special domed ports with wide-angle lenses and supplementary ‘wet lenses’ on compacts that can be swapped underwater.

For some idea of the costs involved, a compact housing like the Canon WP-DC44 for the Canon G1 X costs around £200 and is good for depths down to approximately 40m. Contrast that with an Ikelite case for the same camera and you’re looking at just under £600, but it will go deeper, has a mounting tray and grip, and offers greater expansion in terms of adapters, wet lenses and flashguns.

Asyoureadthis, somewhere just onthewet side of the Philippine coastline, Dr Alex Mustard is likely surfacing from a day’s submerged shooting. It’s there that the multi-award winning photographer is conducting classes in advancedmacro photography underwater. Yes, ‘advancedmacro photography underwater’. Now, consideringmacro shooting is complex enough to master on dry land, doing it in tens of metres of water is quite a skill indeed. “This dive in the fabulous Philippines is all about photographing the amazing and bizarre macro

life here,” he beams, “we’ve been shooting everything from seahorses, including tiny pygmy seahorses, to octopuses, such as the deadly blue-ring octopus and the entertaining mimic octopus.” This macro approach and every other aspect of underwater shooting are discussed in Alex’s new book, Underwater Photography Masterclass , and while it might seem like a subject as alien as the environments he shoots in, there’s plenty to intrigue alongside insightful parallels with regular photography. That said, with the temperature at PN ’s Cambridgeshire HQ yet to trouble double figures and the water fearfully frigid, it’s hard not to be at least a little jealous. Dive into underwater shooting On speaking to Alex, any hint of that jealousy disappears and you’re immediately taken with a man who’s as in love with what he does as he is aware of the hard work it takes – and the privileges it brings. “For me,” he says, “there are many, many more reasons to photograph underwater than above it! For starters water covers 70%of our planet and underwater life is morediverse andbizarre thanon land.Animals live their lives in ways that seem totally alien to us. Furthermore, most underwater species are just as curious about us as we are of them.” In ways animals on land have learnt not to be? “Yes, and thatmeansmanyphotos are taken within touching distance – and as encounters feel very interactive, so are the pictures”. It’s not just about the wildlife either, he continues, “We can photograph historic shipwrecks, frame spooky caves… underwater photography really is a diverse discipline.” Alex enjoys other types of photography, but only shoots professionally underwater; “I guess I am a hobbyist in the other genres, but I think that it’s a big mistake to close yourself totally within one discipline.” In

that vein, he draws inspiration from many branches of photography and likes to learn by reading about regular landscape, portrait or wildlife photography; “many of my favourite underwater images have been directly inspired by examples from these disciplines.” Rise from the depths Of course Alex’s success didn’t happen overnight and his fascination began with a youthfulinterestinmarinelife;thephotography came as a way of sharing his experiences with his family. “Now I find the underwater world a fascinating muse in itself. The way that light is filtered through the surface of the sea, the mystery of a shipwreck or the excitement of meeting sharks. Also, underwater I can move freely in three dimensions. This means I can approach my subjects from whatever angle I choose, selecting the best viewpoint for a photograph. Imagine how photography on land would be so different if everyone had the manoeuvrability of a drone.” It’s a captivating thought, and while good piloting is a prerequisite of shooting from the air, underwater photography – at least that which happens at significant depths – is reliant on good diving skills. “You certainly need to be comfortable and competent underwater before you can start taking pictures there. It is an alien world; one in which we cannot see and survive without the right gear. This can be as simple as a mask and snorkel or it can be full diving gear. Knowing how to use this gear like it’s second nature and how to control your position precisely underwater is essential.” That said, underwater shooting is very much open to beginners and non-divers, too – you just need the right kind of locations, shallow waters like rivers, lakes and the seashore. “There is easy access to underwater subjects in rock pools, ponds and rivers,” Alex explains, “and often you can just lie

Move onto housings for DSLRs and for a typical APS-C body like a Nikon D7100, the Subal ND7100 will set you back around £2500, but it does go down to 80m. To that you’ll need to fit a separate lens port, so budget at least another £200 for a flat port and £500 for a domed port for wide-angle and fisheye lenses. It’s an expensive business, but you need to know kit is secure in the water. On top of any housing and grip you can then start building your rig, including flexible arms and sync cables for flashes, buoyancy aids and more...

Above Taking time with composition pays off below the waves as much as it does above them.

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