Good buoyancy control for photography underwater isn’t just being able to get to the bottom without crashing into the reef or getting back to the surface without violating your computer. It’s about real, fine-tuned control and awareness of your position in the water column in relation to everything else around you, as well as your photo subject. It’s also about being able to move or change that position, at will, without hitting, stirring up, or disturbing anything else. It’s a somewhat more expanded definition of buoyancy control as compared to the basic definition of “just” neutral buoyancy. It’s a tough assignment! But, that’s definitely the goal. If you can’t fine tune your buoyancy or maneuvering skills, then you’ll be fighting against yourself the whole dive, making it difficult to focus on photography for more than a few seconds at a time.
Underwater photographers can be hard on reefs. Trying to get the best angle for a shot or trying to get close enough sometimes results in kicking, standing, or kneeing on the reef. All of these can damage a reef. Having excellent buoyancy control is essential for photographing close to a reef and getting the shot you want, while avoiding coming in contact with the reef. Hovering just above your subject or contorting your body into a weird position for the right angle with a camera in your hands requires precision and perfect buoyancy control.
Experienced cave divers probably have the best buoyancy control of any group of divers around. They get lots of practice maneuvering close to silt they don’t want to stir up, as well as walls, structures, and growths they don’t want to touch or damage. In short, their specialty absolutely demands great buoyancy and maneuvering control.
So, where do you start if your buoyancy and body control skills aren’t quite up to cave diving levels?
First, test yourself in the water with your gear in its usual configuration. You and your buddy can watch each other. Float neutrally buoyant several feet above the bottom, (preferably an open area of sand) and assume the horizontal “sky diver position.” In other words, belly toward the bottom, looking straight ahead, arms out to the sides and legs spread and slightly flexed at the knees. Just stay there a few minutes. Relax and let nature take over. Let yourself roll or fall in whatever direction you go in. Do this a couple of times to verify what happens. Some folks didn’t even know they had a roll problem until they tried this test. They just thought you had to fight buoyancy the whole dive. Notice if you start to roll to one side or the other. Notice if your feet start to sink or you start to fall forward onto you head. (This test does assume you can achieve basic neutral buoyancy in the water column). This test tells you if your weights and/or tank and/or gear are not balanced.
If something is pulling you in the particular direction, take a look at your weights. Are they evenly placed? Same amount of weight on each side? Are the weights toward the back, pulling you into a roll once you start in that direction? Do you wear a piece of gear on one side that could pull you toward that side? All of these questions help sort out the “roll problem.” Adjust things when you get back to the boat; it could be hazardous trying to change your weights around on the bottom. If you fall forward or your feet sink, it means that possibly your tank is too high or too low on your back. When you adjust where the tank rides in the BC, it only takes a small change to make a big difference. How high or low you wear your weights could also affect the falling forward or sinking feet. If you have weight pockets instead of a weight belt, and moving the tank isn’t comfortable or possible, some people resort to putting a small ankle weight on the tank neck or on their ankles or at the base of the tank to adjust their trim. All of the adjustments we’re talking about here are small increments toward the goal of perfect balance.
Once you’ve achieved balanced buoyancy, you’ll notice photography and everything else is a lot easier. You don’t have to constantly fight to hold position or flail around trying to get back to where you want to be. You’ll also save on air consumption during your dive, which in turn will give you more time to find that perfect photo.
An underwater housing is what keeps your camera dry at depth. This is a critical job, since one drop of saltwater hitting the camera in the wrong place can destroy it. The prominent companies making housings generally have this problem well solved by design, else they wouldn’t be in business very long. However, being a dependable moisture barrier is not the only important quality to look for in housings. There are other key features and characteristics that, if absent, can really limit the capabilities and enjoyment of your underwater video system. We’ll look at all these areas to help you make a choice that’s right for you.
Water removes warm colors from sunlight with depth. It also magnifies subjects by about 33 percent. To compensate for these two effects of water on underwater video, it’s extremely important that the housing support the proper lens optics underwater. There are two fundamental requirements.
The housing should support a color-correcting filter that can optionally be selected underwater. This can mean one that is inside the housing and flips in front of or away from the lens using a mechanical control, or it can mean an external ‘wet’ filter that can be pushed on or pulled off the housing’s lens port. Most housing manufacturers incorporate the optional use of a color-correcting filter underwater. Optional is the key, because you only want to use the filter when your primary source of light is the sun. If you start out a dive in open sunlit water, but then penetrate a wreck or enter a swim-through where it becomes dark and you switch to artificial lights, you’ll need to remove the filter. Keep Reading
Every time I go diving on a boat, I always get a remark, “What is that thing?” The “thing” the diver is referring to is my underwater camera housing. After I explain what it is and tell him/her how much it costs, they think I am completely insane. Underwater camera housings can cost from $200 to $10,000 or more with all the bells and whistles. I think that the cost of your housing should reflect the price of your camera. For instance, I wouldn’t have a ten thousand dollar housing with a cheap compact 5 Mega pixel camera. And vice versa, putting a Canon 1DS Mark II or the Nikon D2X in a cheap, hundred dollar housing just doesn’t fit. For people who shoot compact digital, I will always tell them to go for something plastic, like Ikelite housings. It’s likely that, down the road, they will replace their camera system, so this is just something they have to get by with for now. I have sunk way too much money into finding the right housing, and the ordeal of switching systems has got to be one of the hardest things to do financially. On the other hand, if someone has a digital SLR camera that I know they will be keeping for a while, I wouldn’t send them down the plastic housing route.
I chose Sea Cam for my housing, but I will not always recommend Sea Cam, as your housing needs depend on the camera and the photographer. Not to mention that there is a chance that Sea Cam won’t have a housing for your particular system. When I had my Canon 300d digital Rebel, I used Sea and Sea. This was a great housing that had an inverse of half metal (front) and half plastic (back). I had no problems at all with this housing and have great respect for the company. After I had decided to shoot the Canon 1DS Mark II, I discovered that Sea and Sea had no housing for the MKII, so I went with Sea Cam. It is an all-metal housing with a moisture alarm system. Housings have various controls, options, and features for using your camera underwater. It’s important to understand how your camera works and then research the features of the different housings that work with your camera. Depending on what you’re looking for, you could easily narrow your search by eliminating housings that don’t meet your requirements.
Figures: Inside of the housing
Now, I can’t say which type of housing is better. It’s all about the user and what you want to do. I like Sea Cam better now for a few reasons. It’s the lightest housing I have ever used, which makes it easy to position my camera when setting up my subjects. It has the most interchangeable port systems. Along with that, they can make a focus ring for any lens that you use. What they do is measure the lens and then create a focus ring just for you. That way, I never have to worry about buying new lenses and them not working with my housing. Next are the viewfinders. With the new 45 and S180 viewfinders, Sea Cam really got my attention. These new enhanced viewfinders give you an increased magnification of -0/+3, which gives you the advantage of perfect vision underwater, even for those of us who wear glasses. Finally, Sea Cam created optical coating for the ports. This ensures that there is a better chance of not having the lens’s reflection from the port in the image. I don’t know about other photographers, but I have had countless images ruined because of my lens’s reflection in the image. Even with Photoshop, sometimes the image just can’t be saved, which can be very frustrating.
I hope that, in the future, photographers take their time and research their cameras and housings before buying them. While ultimately the decision is yours, I urge you to take advice from tech’s and professionals before spending a lot of money.