Dive photography: improving your neutral buoyancy to be a ‘much better’ underwater photographer

Ruth takes us through her top tips to improve your underwater dive photography and avoid damaging the marine environment.

When I first learned to scuba dive, back in the nineties, underwater photography was the preserve of the professional; it was simply just prohibitively expensive for everyone else. In the last few years, as with other technology, the cost of underwater photography equipment has come down enormously. This means that more and more divers take cameras down when they dive, whatever their level of qualification and experience.Although this might sound like a good development photography can be fun and enhance your diving holiday this could be bad news for the underwater environment. Taking photographs underwater takes a lot more skill than just being able to point and click. You need a certain amount of diving proficiency to maintain your neutral buoyancy and take a photograph at the same time. Its a skill that not all divers, especially novice ones, posses. On top of that, its often very important to get as close to your subject as possible, meaning that sometimes wildlife or coral can be disturbed in order to get a better photograph. Some photographers arent satisfied with the composition as it is and even interfere directly with the creatures in order to get a better looking photo.

On recent scuba diving holidays Ive seen divers Grab onto a coral pinnacle in order to steady themselves while taking a photo Kick up so much sand that the visibility is severely affected Stress out a blue-ringed octopus in order for it to be bluer and make a better photo Hassle a frog fish so that it jumps up and moves Hang on to bits of coral on a wall to keep them steadyIt doesnt take a marine biologist to work out that if the majority of divers are now taking photographs, its more likely that this sort of behaviour will happen, and that lasting damage to the underwater environment as a result is inevitable.How to avoid the pitfallsIf you want to take photos while diving, the most important thing is to ensure that your buoyancy is the best that it can be. Once youve got this sussed, hovering while taking photos becomes a lot easier, youll use less air and youre less likely to cause any damage. There are a number of things you can do to ensure your buoyancy is top notch Take a courseThe PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course will help you refine and improve your buoyancy. Frogfish photography in Manchester offer underwater photography courses, which include an in-water module on buoyancy. Do a weight check every time youre in a new locationDifferent wetsuit thickness, using a dry suit, different types of tank and the salinity of the water youre diving in will all affect how much weight you need. Its therefore really important every time you dive in a new location or have different equipment to do a weight check before you dive. How to do a weight check? When youve got the right amount of weights, you should be floating at eye level when holding a normal breath. When you relax, fully exhale and dump all of the air out of your BCD, you should be able to sink slowly feet first. You shouldnt be sinking fast and if you are, youre too heavy. Many new divers mistake a slow descent as meaning that theyre not weighted enough. If your tank is aluminium you will also need to add a small amount of weight as these tanks get lighter as they get emptier. Make sure you remain weighted correctlyIts likely that during the course of a scuba dive holiday, you may require less weight. Keep an eye on your buoyancy throughout and if you feel too heavy, then you probably are. Look before you landIf youre landing on sand before taking a photograph, look carefully at what youre landing on. Its also important to kick up as little sand as possible. Not only will it reduce the visibility, it suffocates the coral. If you have to steady yourself with a finger, make sure you educate yourself firstMany divers simply arent educated enough about the underwater environment to know what its okay to touch. Coral is a definite no-no. The trouble is how do you know if its a coral? Some coral, especially the smoother varieties, can be dull coloured and look like a rock. Take an underwater naturalist course to learn more about the underwater environment or book onto a diving holiday which will also educate you at the same time. Be aware of your feet as well as your handsSometimes, were so focused on whats in front of us that we dont pay enough attention to what our feet are doing. Make sure you know whats behind you and what your fins are doing so that you can avoid kicking up sand or breaking coral. Avoid glovesGloves mean that its inevitably more tempting to put your hands down. This is why some dive operators ban them altogether. If the water temperature is warm enough not to need gloves, then just dont wear them. Get more experienceThe more you scuba dive, the better a diver youll be, and a better dive photographer youll be too. Take courses, go on scuba holidays and dive dive dive! Ruth Rosselson is a professional writer based in Manchester, UK and a PADI Divemaster. www.ruthrosselson.net http://www.twitter.com/ruthrosselson

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2 Replies to “Dive photography: improving your neutral buoyancy to be a ‘much better’ underwater photographer”

  1. As a novice diver whose only experience is dry-suit-hood-and-gloves diving off Scotland, I’m intrigued by your comment “Gloves mean that its inevitably more tempting to put your hands down”. Why? I don’t feel any more need to put my hands down on land when I’m wearing gloves than when I’m not, so why underwater? Is it because, in gloves, your hands are less likely to get scratched?

  2. Hi Charlotte,

    Yes, precisely, divers often feel safer and more protected diving in gloves. Add that to our inquisitive nature in ‘alien’ surroundings, and you would be amazed how often people start reaching out to touch, pick up and feel things, that they wouldn’t in bare hands.



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