Photography News Issue 31

Photography News | Issue 31 | absolutephoto.com

31

Technique

on the bank and submerge the camera. If you have a friend with a swimming pool, try some model photography. Just sink a black piece of material as a backdrop, to hide those ugly tiles and then dress the model in flowing clothes. Even simple portraits become interesting when submerged. Just let your imagination go anddreamupwacky concepts.” Put your housing on it What you really need, then, is to get in the water, and give it a try – but that’s going to mean protecting your camera, because as Alex says “electronic cameras and water are not the best of friends.” When it comes to what kit to buy, there’s a huge array of options, from fully waterproof models to bespoke housings for CSCs and DSLRs. “If you just want to give it a try though,” Alex advises, “I’d strongly recommend a system based around a compact camera. That way you can get started for less and, in underwater photography, it’s actually the waterproof accessories that you attach – wide-angle lenses, underwater strobes –which really transform the capabilities of a system. In

many ways these are actually more important than the camera in the middle of it all.” In fact, an underwater housing for a compact, such as a Canon G1 X, might only set you back £150-200. CSC cases start at around double that, but for a large DSLR you will be looking at the wrong side of £1000 and probably a lot more. Ever ingenious, Alex also suggests a bargain option: “a cheaper way into underwater photography is to look for second- hand gear. Current-generation gear holds a good value, but older cameras and housings (the underwater housings are always bespoke for each camera model) can be had for amazing money. The good news is that you don’t need to buy everything at once and you can build up the kit over time.” There are also flexible cases and waterproof bags available, and while Alex advises these can work well in the shallows, they don’t function as you descend. Being soft by design, water pressure takes its toll on these versions, so while they’ll likely remain watertight, the physics means that “as soon as you are away from the surface they actually turn rock solid

and stop you using the camera.” Flexible cases also lack the ability to attach accessories, and according to Alex, “the optics are limited for wide-angle shooting, which requires a dome- shaped optical port. So their use is limited – but they can still be the ideal tool for some jobs in shallowwater”. Lighting your way So why the need for those underwater flash accessoriesmentionedbefore?Essentially, light intensity drops fast underwater, even just a few feet from the surface, so artificial light is vital. Alex describes the change as dramatic and also that the strength of the light depends hugely on the angle of the sun – more so than on land. As it lowers, more of the sun’s energy is reflected off the surface and how far it penetrates also depends on the clarity of the water. What’s more, colours are quickly affected: “water absorbs different colours of light at different speeds,” clarifies Alex, “so warm colours, particularly reds, vanish very quickly. In fact, 70% of the red light at the surface is gone by the time you reach the bottom of the

Water absorbs different colours of light at different speeds,” clarifies Alex, “so warm colours, particularly reds, vanish very quickly”

We tried it! Underwater on a budget

mop up any water that crested the sides. The towel also allowedme to wedge the body forwards with the lens up to the glass, minimising reflections. I then carefully started to submerge the tank, getting used to its weight in the water andmaking sure it was indeed watertight. It had a tendency to float and roll so some pressure needed to be applied to keep it in the right spot. Fairly pleased with this, I removed the set-up to dry land, and worked out the exposure and focusing required. I knew that manual focusing would be needed to avoid the AF hunting in the water, and, at f/14 and shooting at the 17mm end of the lens, I calculated that focusing the lens at about 1mwould give me plenty of sharpness to play with – the depth- of-field extending from about 40cm to about 4m. I used some electrical tape to prevent the focus ring frommoving from that spot. The exposure I also set manually to avoid the systemgetting fooled by the reflective surface; a setting of 1/250sec at f/14, ISO 1600. Finally, I put the camera into its Continuous drive mode, and it was time to shoot. I managed to get a few good shots of Bunk as he swam close to retrieve the ball, positioning the tank with one hand and shooting with the other, though it’s fair to say there were more misses than hits. One thing I did find to be a problemwas water droplets on the tank, so it needed to be wiped between takes, and even that didn’t totally get rid of them.

Can you get a feel for aquatic photography with nomore than a fish tank, a DSLR and a stunning disregard for your own comfort? Inspired by Alex’s work, I decided to give it a try...* It quickly became apparent that underwater shots can be amazing, but they take a lot of skill, practice, the right equipment and a suitable location to get them right. I decided that one way I could get an underwater taster without shelling out toomuch cash or traveling too far, was to try a half-submerged or ‘split-level’ shot, where the regular scene is mixed with the water line. And best of all, it’s possible to do it with nothingmore advanced than a small fish tank. I gave it a try, assisted by Bunk the spaniel, his aunty Sarah and a tennis ball. I’d been looking forward to trying a shot like this for a while; but when the need arose, of course it was a freezing day in March. Not that water in a Lincolnshire river was ever going to be as warm as the Caribbean. And nor did I expect it to be clear, given that the river was high and so close to churned up farmland. So really the best I could hope for was to get that meniscus look across the frame, giving the right kind of aquatic feel. Using a small, cheap fish tank – a 20l version should only set you back around £20 – I first ‘dry- fitted’ a DSLR and lens, using a splash proof Pentax K-3 II and 10-17mm fisheye. The combination fitted fine, and I placed a towel under it for stability and to

The fish tank route is certainly no substitute for shooting with a waterproof housing, which would make composition a lot easier for one thing. I was fortunate enough to have a submerged gate to lean on for stability, too. On the plus side, the water actually seemed warmer than I expected, although that could have something to do with adrenaline. What would I do differently next time, apart from get a wetsuit and a plane ticket to the Bahamas? The weather didn’t play ball so I’ll be looking at trying it again inmore sun, or employing some flash to add sparkle. I’d plan on finding a location with clearer water, too, so I can try firing a flash through the bottomof the tank, in the hope of illuminating some paddling legs. The process of holding the tank with one hand and shooting with the other wasn’t ideal

either – I’m already sketching out plans to improve it with some flotation aids, ballast and a cable release attached to the top to avoid reaching in to fire the shutter. Oh, and I’ll be getting some waders to save a soggy trip home. The best thing though is I’m certainly inspired to domore. *Remember, water is evil and thinks it’s hilarious to kill your camera and you, so if you fancy giving this a go yourself we accept no responsibility for loss of kit, life or dignity.

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