Recently, a young woman came in to buy an underwater camera. She professed to be a professional writer intending to supply articles to diving magazines. She wanted a camera that was very straightforward to use.
A friend had previously lent her an Olympus EPL7 camera in a housing so she naturally asked for that. It’s a system-compact with interchangeable lenses that can be matched to suitable lens ports. The salesman (an award-winning underwater photographer himself) would have been happy to take her money but once he got into explaining to her the intricacies of using it, it became clear that she just wanted to get into the water, press a button and get usable pictures. She also blanched at the price, even though the EPL7 in an Olympus proprietary housing represented remarkably good value.
So the sales assistant then suggested she might be happier with a more basic compact camera instead. She was with him for about five hours, during which time he told her virtually everything he knew about successful underwater photography.
She ended up purchasing a Canon G9X in a Fantasea housing that gave access to all the camera functions and with the possibility to add additional wet lenses later, when she felt she could afford them. It was a good choice. He also sold her an underwater strobe (a Sea & Sea YS01) with which he explained how she could get perfectly exposed TTL strobe-lit pictures. It appeared to be the perfect solution and within her limited budget.
The company was surprised only a few days later to get an email from the customer now in the Caribbean and accusing it of selling her equipment that was totally unsuitable for underwater photography. She stated that she was not sold the camera she asked for (the Olympus EPL7) and that it was not possible to adjust the white-balance with the Canon she had.
The G9X can be set up to provide a one-button manual white-balance setting – something she had been demonstrated during the hours of consultation in the shop. It can also be used to shoot RAW files, which is the professional way of shooting since many settings such as white-balance and even exposure to a degree can be decided on long after getting out of the water. Not only that, but the software, properly used, should take care of a lot of the contrast and color decisions.
Sadly, this is a case of someone neither managing their expectations nor bothering to read the manual!
Famous underwater photographers like David Doubilet must despair when they hear stories like this. The years that he has devoted to learning his craft are dismissed by a new generation who think they can simply buy an item of equipment and immediately become endowed with talent such as his.
I got my first job with a diving magazine (the very same one she intended to provide material for) because I could reliably take pictures that were correctly exposed, in-focus and nicely lit – a skill that was quite rare in the days of wet-processed film. Today, digital photography with its instant feedback from the camera’s LCD display means that it is possible to learn (by your mistakes) incredibly quickly, but learn you must. I worked as an underwater photographer for more than two decades and although I never considered I was a master of the art, I got results that were frequently published. Even so, I used a camera outfit that cost nearly ten times as much as the budget this young lady decided she had.
I contacted the editor of the diving magazine that this particular young lady said she was intending to contribute her work to. He told me she was a good writer but that he’d told her she needed to be able to support her writing with good photography. He told her to buy a camera.
It was disappointing that the editor of a magazine could think that merely buying a camera makes someone into an underwater photographer! Have the standards of magazine publishing dropped so low?
Magazines pay extremely poorly nowadays. Not many make a living supplying original material anymore. Most take pictures for their own pleasure and are knocked out if they see their work in print. If they can get a few hundred dollars in payment as well, that’s a bonus. For this young woman to make any return on her investment in the most basic underwater photography kit will take a great many pages published.
Most take pictures underwater purely for their own pleasure. Digital photography has made getting good results easier than it ever has been. However, it does demand a degree of dedication in that one should be totally familiar with your camera’s functions and operation long before entering the water. Don’t buy underwater photography kit on your way to the airport and expect to come back with masterpieces in light and shade. As is so often said, “RTFM!”
If you’re really intent on being an underwater photographer and don’t have time to be apprenticed to a master, enroll on an underwater photography course.