History of Underwater Photography and Filming.
People like to think underwater photography is a new phenomenon, but it’s been around since the 1800s, with pioneers like William Thompson and Louis Boutan attached cameras to polls and started developing housings to protect capture equipment underwater.
Here are other examples of Burce Mozert in 1938 using an underwater housing to photography Pin Up Girs in Silver Springs, Florida. The concept of water housings stayed unchanged for years, in part because of the use of film and until the advent of digital and the microprocessor revolution.
Jacques Cousteau was a pioneer underwater explorer and is widely recognized not only for innovating when it comes to underwater photography, but also inspiring others’ curiosity about discovering it for themselves. Jacques pushed several boundaries not only in still but also moving pictures/filming.
For a long time, Underwater photography required extra-ordinary equipment, expertize, time, and operation, putting it out of the reach of most people.
Today’s Equipment Options
Fast forward to today, and there are several options to capture light underwater.
On one end of the spectrum, there are solutions we categorize as bags. They are inexpensive and allow you to seal your SLR camera inside to make them waterproof. It’s fast to “install” and you can be ready to shoot in no time. And they often accommodate multiple camera makes or models within the same bag. Accessing functions of the camera can be difficult. A bit like using oven mitts. And the optical results are often less than professional, in part because of the materials used, and ability to control the camera’s functions.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have solid-state cases often made to accommodate specific cameras. If you upgrade cameras and lenses, you may need a new case. Their pricing starts at $1400, but some start over $5000. They deliver professional results. They weigh several pounds, and are bulky, making them difficult, and therefore also expensive to transport. They are also impractical above water. Not a travelfriendly solution. Set up varies, depending on your camera, case, and experience.
GoPros and cell phones are also an option, and offer excellent resources for use underwater. But we’re focusing on the full-frame capture market, and focusing on SLR cameras that can take full advantage of the capture tools in technology and optics that a GoPro does not offer.
Outex was created out of necessity to address that problem. Its malleable Cover material delivers lightweight (less than 1 lbs/pound, much less than 1kg), small, travel-friendliness in a modular system design that works with interchangeable optics that accommodate multiple makes/models of cameras and lenses. It can grow with your needs and not require you buy new kits each time, while allowing you to add tripod, lighting, and even cable/tethering support thru extensions that are compatible with components you already own. It delivers professional capture results at an affordable (starts around $300) price that fits in a backpack pocket.
When shooting underwater, you’ll discover it’s a whole new world. Principles of lighting, composition, movement, color balancing, etc, are all different than shooting above water, let alone in a studio. There are also differences between environments, since you can make a pool into a predictable, consistent, “controlled” environment, or prefer to adapt your experiences into a more dynamic, changing, inconsistent world of ocean or open water photography at various depths, light conditions, opacities, etc. These differences, along with temperature, buoyancy, and the subject’s comfort in that environment make it a challenge when compared to “normal” photography or filming. But that’s also what makes it so wonderful. It’s a liberating, still expanding art form with limitless opportunity for discovery.
Lack of gravity means you can shoot the subject from almost any angle, with lighting coming from different directions. The water also allows the subject’s dress, hair, and movement to become a different/new component of your framing expectations and objectives. It’s a much more 3-dimensional canvas for creative expression.
Several of our Professionals offer different styles, practices, suggestions, and even mentoring in the form of articles, classes, etc. More on that in a separate blog.
These various factors play an important part of delivering the best results. Let’s address some of them.
Buoyancy Control and Swimming.
Everything is always moving underwater, so don’t try to fight it too much. Embrace the natural movement. Learn to understand it. Use it to your advantage. Consider wearing a weight belt if you’re trying to stay put – such as in pool photoshoot. Or master your swimming skills to optimize your comfort in the water.
You will need goggles (swimming goggles or a scuba mask will do, depending on preference.) The more comfortable you are in your environment the better. Get fins or a wetsuit as needed, but remember to match your subject’s comfort if you’re shooting people. Not feeling/knowing what they are experiencing makes it less obvious in directing them if you can’t relate.
Outex allows you to regulate how much buoyancy you get by squeezing out (or not) excess air from within the housing cover just before you seal it. More air means more float, and vice versa.
Open water is much different, since you may be dealing with currents, tides, waves, or other moving parts in/on the water. Become familiar and explore your environment as much as you can so that your image capturing in the main/sole focus when you’re ready to shoot.
Framing Composition and Water Properties
As mentioned above, movement and buoyancy will also influence your framing and composition underwater. Take that into account by re-discovering your thinking and desired outcomes when framing and composing your captures accordingly. Water properties and conditions not only affect light as it crosses the surface, but also make it behave differently underwater. Depth, opacity, time of day, and other elements in the water such as chlorine, sand, dust, dirt, algae, etc. will influence lights reflection against surfaces, refraction thru the water, and all of the aspects of your image capturing.
In general, you want to be close to the subject. Water density and opacity quickly dissipates light over shorter distances, and can reduce image resolution, contrast, color balancing, etc. as your distance from the subject increases. Wide angles lenses are recommended to facilitate that proximity and all of its benefits. More on that later.
When capturing wild life, try to become one with the environment. If you move quickly or frequently, you’re likely to scare/disturb natural wild life behavior, as well as potentially worsening the movement of particles in the water. For example, fish will swim away from you when you move towards it. Be still, and let them come to you instead. It not only improves your chances of a natural framing/composition, it also enable you to capture a wider variety of angles and perspectives of the subject matter.
The image below by one of our Professionals Marco Bava is a great example. Notice the different colors of light created by refraction thru the water in the depth of field, and the sea-shell’s reflection on the water’s surface. These are elements that would be impossible to recreate above water without using Photoshop, and excellent illustrations of using the background, lighting differences, and natural environment towards re-thinking your framing and composition for shooting underwater.
Lighting and Colors
Use light as it travels into and thru the water when deciding how to frame your shot. Rays of light can be as beautiful and relevant in your shot as the subject itself. The background can steal the show. As mentioned before, depth and water opacity are a big factor in determining the right outcome. Unlink shooting above water, we suggest you think 3-dimensionally. Don’t always face the subject, or thinking of shooting across from the subject (on the same plane). Use the water to explore your ability to shoot up, down, or across to create new and different effects to your image.
The image below by one of our Professional photographers John Starrett is a great example of the beautiful results you can obtain by shooting up towards the surface. The water is a natural filter towards the direct sunlight, and helps enhance the naturally occurring contrasts of color both in and above the water.