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October 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 22, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Underwater Photo Tips From the Pros: Part I

Cathy Church, David Doubilet and Martin Edge give advice

from the October, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Should you use one strobe or two? What’s the best way to turn a fish into your photo subject? Famous underwater photographers Cathy Church, David Doubilet and Martin Edge give their advice and share their favorite places to dive. Next issue, we’ll feature Burt Jones, Maurine Shimlock, Brian Skerry and Norbert Wu.

Cathy Church

Church conducts photography classes at Grand Cayman’s Sunset Beach Hotel and is considered one of the best teachers on the subject. Church has authored five books on photo techniques and her latest, My Underwater Photo Journey, is for sale on our Web site.

Recommended gear: Some may prefer a point-and-shoot system, others may want manual control in a compact digital, while others may want a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. So defining the ideal camera must start with the shooter’s needs. For a manual compact digital, I prefer the Olympus SP350, and for SLR the Nikon D200 and D2x in Subal housings. For the point and shoot, there are several Olympus systems and even the SeaLife with a wide-angle lens.
How to better use your camera: Get a versatile strobe arm, such as the UltraLight, if you want to vary your lighting. This type of arm is for the diver who is comfortable in the water and wants to improve his style. For any camera, if there is a wideangle lens available, add it to your system.
A technique to perfect: Blurry photos are from too much movement or too slow a shutter speed. Master your balance and buoyancy because that is the most important part of getting great photos underwater. You can’t compose, adjust strobe angles and analyze your results if you are kicking, falling over and scaring your subject away.
Most common no-no: Shooting from too far away. You should take a photo, get closer and take another, and then get closer yet until either you can’t fit the subject into your picture area or the subject leaves. If the fish stays still, move in and shoot just the eye, but keep getting closer.
Recommended photo book: Rather than reading, come visit me in Grand Cayman, and I or my instructors will take you through the process from beginning to end. But My Underwater Photo Journey not only shows many of my favorite photos, but a link on my Web site also offers readers a free photo lesson for each image in the book.
Favorite dive sites: The Caymans continually surprise me. During a photo class with a snorkeling student, the water was rough where I usually go. We went inside the barrier reef on the south side, where it is just grass with a small wreck. There was a beautiful flying gurnard on the sand, a fabulous photo op. The shallow water around the wreck provided a new setting I didn’t know even existed in my own backyard. For liveaboards, I recommend the Bilikiki in the Solomon Islands.
Web site: www.cathychurch.com

David Doubilet

One of the world’s most renowned underwater photographers, Doubilet has shot mostly for National Geographic since 1971 and is now a Contributing Photographer-in-Residence there. He has authored seven books on the sea and is a member of the International Diving Hall of Fame.

Recommended gear: I shoot Nikon and always have. I now shoot the Nikon D2X and D200 models in SeaCam housings and Nexus Housings. But it’s a matter of preference and budget.

How to use your camera: Shoot topside to get a feel for the latitude of the camera and lens system before taking it underwater. Know the controls like you know your car.
A technique to perfect: Experiment and try everything. Digital is good because if you fail, you can delete and move on. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Shoot what you like because you will invest the most energy in that subject and get the best results.
Most common no-no: Finding yourself locked into one angle and shooting the same frame over and over. Move around and look at the situation from a different perspective.
Recommended photo book: I actually recommend others’ books. Howard Hall and Brian Skerry have a good book called Successful Underwater Photography.There’s also Michael Aw’s Essential Guide to Digital Underwater Photography.My latest work, on Raja Ampat, appears in the September issue of National Geographic.
Favorite dive sites: If you like muck creatures, go to Lembeh Strait and work with Ecodivers at Kungkungan Bay Resort. If you like remote reefs bursting with life and challenging currents, visit Max Ammer in Raja Ampat at Papua Diving. If you like weird, wonderful and temperate, get to Tasmania.
Web site: www.daviddoubilet.com

Martin Edge

A prodigy of Jim Church, Edge has taught underwater photography for 20 years. The recent third edition of his classic The Underwater Photographer Digital and Traditional Techniques is available on our Web site. Edge is based in Bournemouth, England.

Recommended gear: Ask yourself to what extent you want to do photography. Some may buy the most basic camera because they’re beginners only to find they can’t add flash or supplementary lenses. Don’t buy a low-end camera if you know you want to pursue this obsessive hobby. If you start by buying cheap and then upgrade, you’ll waste money.
How to use your camera: If you want to take more than happy snaps, you need a close-up facility, something that will act like a macro lens or supplementary lens for closeups, and wide-angle lenses for magazine-worthy blue water shots. Regarding flash guns, start with only one to learn its effects and what it will do so when you add a second flash gun, you’ll know the difference it makes to the mood in a photo.
Techniques to perfect: I just returned from Truk and trying to avoid backscatter in the murky waters was one of my biggest challenges ever. The trick when shooting in silt or sediment with SLR housing is to get flash guns as far back behind the housing as you can. For wide-angle shots, position the flash gun behind one of the shade constructions on the camera’s top and side to minimize backscatter. Many amateurs with digital cameras don’t correct their mistakes while they’re underwater. I always make a habit of building 10 minutes into every photo dive to check the LCD screen for mistakes that should be corrected before resurfacing. Once you’re back on board, the opportunity is gone.
Most common no-no: Shooting down or at eye level at your subjects. It is the most comfortable position for divers but it separates amateur shots from pro shots. A spear fisherman told me you should always approach a fish from below. If you come down on a fish too close, you’ll spook it but if you get down below it and swim upward, it’ll be more comfortable with you. Try to come up to its level, then shoot from slightly below.
Recommended photo book: My book has a big chapter on the mindset to have underwater. Amateurs pop shots while diving, but photographers are always looking for photo opportunities like landscape photographers always look for good light.
Favorite dive sites: My favorite liveaboard in recent years was the Odyssey in Truk Lagoon.For resorts, Captain Don’s in Bonaire and Kungkungan Bay Resort in Sulawesi.
Web site: www.edgeunderwaterphotography.com

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