|Anemonefish by Dennis Liberson|
What makes underwater photography work for new shooters? At what point does the light bulb click on and the pictures start coming out right? I asked 12 former photography students of mine this question: What is the one thing--book, tool, technique or suggestion--that has had the greatest impact on your photography skills?
Their responses were quick and insightful. Here are some of the things they believe have made them better shooters.
From - Oakton, Va.
In a nutshell - Learn to use one setup before trying another.
He says - "For a long time I would shoot wide-angle one dive, macro the next, change my strobe configuration on the next dive, different film on the next--you get the picture. But I rarely did. When I purchased a housed system, I started shooting the same equipment with the same objective on most dives. As a result, I was better able to learn from my mistakes, better understand the true capabilities of my equipment, then make adjustments and improve accordingly."
His best quick tip - "Use a strobe that recycles quickly. Most shots have that one decisive moment that won't wait while your strobe powers up."
|Great white shark by Ike Levine|
From - Reisterstown, Md.
In a nutshell - With an SLR, what you see is what you get.
He says - "My breakthrough came when I switched from the Nikonos V to the Nikonos RS, primarily due to the compositional precision that a single lens reflex system allows. Being able to focus through the lens with my RS allowed me to pre-visualize results much better than I could with the Nikonos V. Then I bought and housed a Nikon F5. Again there was a huge improvement as compared to the RS because I now had more options, e.g., auto bracketing, changing exposure modes, etc."
His best quick tip - Use a pre-assembly checklist taped to the back of your camera. It helps ensure all housing controls and camera controls properly mesh.
|Leafy sea dragon by Elise Woltersdorf|
From - Wichita, Kansas.
In a nutshell - More is better.
She says - "Wet TTL connectors helped me become a more productive shooter. They gave me the flexibility of taking down two Nikonos cameras, either to have a different lens or an additional 36 exposures--or both. I was getting tired of seeing great stuff after I was out of film."
Her best quick tip - "Hook the second camera around your wrist or attach it to your BC so that you can concentrate on stalking critters and composing shots instead of worrying about your equipment."
From - Caracas, Venezuela.
In a nutshell - When it comes to equipment, little things count big time.
|Barracuda by Juan Maizo|
He says - "Sure, I love cameras and all the gadgets that come with them, but the little stuff helps me do a better job with my Nikonos RS and housed F5. Wet TTL connectors, a Schneider loupe, a portable light table--all help me maximize my bottom time and accurately evaluate what I came back with."
His best quick tip - "Sometimes the little things can hurt you: The UltraLight grip handle helps prevent wrist fatigue that could negatively affect shots at the end of a dive."
On the other hand - Juan also agrees with Gary Ronay of Brandon, Fla.: "A combination of patience, skill and luck is far more important than having the most expensive, high-tech photo gadgetry."
From - Surrey, England.
In a nutshell - Know the basics.
She says - "There are three simple but significant techniques I've learned to use: (1) Get in close, (2) shoot up, (3) turn the camera around for verticals when called for." Ray Berch of Belleville, Mich., agrees with Anne. He says: "Get close, and if you think you are close enough, get closer still."
Her best quick tip - "Keep it simple by not trying too many different things on one trip."
|Anemonefish by Linda Gettmann|
From - Camas, Wash.
In a nutshell - "Sunny 16" works.
She says - "In addition to getting close and shooting up, the best technique tip I've learned is the Sunny 16 Rule, which helps me choose the best f-stop." The rule is: When the camera is set at f/16, the shutter speed that will give the correct exposure (midday, front-lit subject) is the reciprocal of the film ISO. For ISO 100 film, for example, the exposure would be f/16 at 1/100th second. For ISO 200 film, f/16 at 1/200th second, etc.
This rule helps to confirm that what the meter indicates is accurate, but is valid only topside, generally between 10 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. Obviously, light is absorbed under water, as a function of depth, surface conditions, water clarity and other factors.
|Trumpetfish by Mitch Woltersdor|
From - Wichita, Kansas.
In a nutshell - Restrict your universe to three feet or nearer.
He says - "This has forced me to get close, cut down the water column, and stalk carefully. I used to shoot whatever I saw, whenever I saw it, to prove to non-divers I saw it. All I ended up doing was displaying a very unattractive undersea world to them and providing myself with lots of poor pictures."
In a nutshell - Match camera optic with subject size.
She says - "Only take pictures of subjects the camera optic can handle. Too many people try to take pictures of everything with one lens and the pictures are terrible, especially when the wide-angle lens is misused. Usually the subject comes out the size of a peanut."
From - Miami, Fla.
In a nutshell - Stalk your subject.
He says - "When shooting macro/close-up, once you find the subject, take at least one shot quickly to establish the image without getting too close and spooking the subject. Then take progressively closer and different shots to fine tune exposure and composition. Get the subject a little used to you before you get too close and lose it."
His best quick tip - "Most small critters (and larger ones) have patterns of movements. Study what they do as you are shooting. You can guess where they will go next and set up your shot by anticipating their next move."
|Anemonefish by Ray Sullivan|
From - Clinton, Miss.
In a nutshell - With wide-angle, use your strobe for fill illumination.
He says - "I discovered I should use the strobe as a fill illumination, balanced with the ambient light. When I first started shooting under water, I had the idea all you needed was a powerful strobe and you could blast your way through any wide-angle situation. I have been much more pleased with the effect of utilizing ambient light and using the strobe to fill in the shadows."
From - West Chester, Ohio.
In a nutshell - Just do it, especially with others.
|Reef scene by Phil Napoli|
He says - "The one thing that will have the greatest impact on anyone's underwater photography skills is to surround yourself with experienced photographers, preferably in a closed environment like a live-aboard that provides E-6 processing. Ask questions, experiment, bracket, and shoot, shoot, shoot!"