MARTIN EDGE’S - THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHER, Fourth Edition
Reviewed by Steve Williams
We live in fascinating times. For about 26$ (US) you can own the accumulated knowledge of underwater digital photography. A mere pittance really when you consider the value. So let’s get this out of the way right up front. If you’re at all interested in taking a camera underwater, go get your hands on a copy. Since the last edition was released in 2005 much has changed and evolved in the underwater photography world. In his fourth edition Martin brings us along with his wife and son and a whole host of friends to explore what’s possible today with both digital compact and SLR cameras. With over 500 pages, the book covers the whole spectrum, from the fundamentals of cameras to developing an individual style.
In writing this book, Martin brought together some key individuals in the community of divers to support him and bring their own special gifts to the party. The book is a collaboration of authors and a special sharing of knowledge and ideas. The contributors include Mark Koekemoer, Shannon Conway, Alex Mustard, and Stuart Gibson, all of whom wrote whole chapters. Major contributions are also included from Steve Warren, Keri Welk, John Wallis, and Peter Rowlands.
Many of you will own a dog-eared copy of the Third Edition and I am sure you are wondering whether to update your bookshelf. I was initially hesitant to purchase the fourth edition of a book I had studied cover to cover countless times. What could be that new? I quickly discovered that a lot has changed in five years! First, with one noted exception, all of the images are completely new. This version is entirely devoted to digital photography, no more switching back and forth between film and digital explanations. Martin doesn’t even use the term DSLR. We shoot with SLR’s and compact cameras now. If film makes a comeback we’ll call them FSLRs.
This new focus required a more thorough discussion of how digital cameras collect light and Martin’s explanation in Chapter 3 has forever changed the way I expose an image. For me the core of the book is all about light; natural light, strobe lighting and importantly the successful combination of the two. Martin shows us both his recommendations and some very new and interesting unique ways to position strobes. I can’t wait to try them out. There has been a revival of interest recently in Close Focus Wide Angle (CFWA) and super macro, the increased awareness of both techniques the result of equipment improvements that make it easier now for photographers to attempt. Martin was ahead of us and the book includes new information devoted to tools and techniques needed for these types of images. Suffice to say that this book is a total rewrite with more than enough new information to deserve your attention.
The keys to underwater success haven’t changed though and Martin continues to hammer them home. First and foremost, protect the reef. His belief that over 70% of our potential subjects are not in a position to shoot safely should be stenciled on every dive boat the world over. The book’s photos of divers contorted into odd positions clearly demonstrate that often the comfortable position is not the best for getting the image we want. The “rules” of composition, making the most of our opportunities for macro and wide angle, aren’t new subjects to some of us, but having the chance to read what Martin has learned over the last few years is enlightening.
All photography has always been about the ability to combine the art and the craft (the technology) successfully. It’s easy for many of us to get caught up in the technology especially when it’s changing so quickly. A careful read through Martin’s book reminds us that it’s a combination of the technology and the artistic mindset that gives us the best opportunity to capture the photos we set out to make. Many authors speak in ways that separate these two things. Martin has a way of combining them into a way of being underwater, which represents a true picture of what it takes to be successful.
One caution, read carefully. There are a few pictures scattered throughout which demonstrate how not to position your strobes or which illustrate what happens when you do something not quite right. Martin clearly put this book together to teach not just to impress us with his skill.
My impression upon opening the book for the first time was that there was a lot of open white space, some might say negatively so. The layout is not crowded. On the positive side this layout does provide room for Martin’s larger images and the copious notes and abundant tips he provides in the margin. My copy is full of sticky notes marking where I want to go back and study or jot down important tips to take with me on a dive trip.
A few contributors to Wetpixel have noted some typos that should have been caught. I must admit I didn’t notice them but it reminded me that in Martin’s photography he adopts a mindset of never being satisfied. Even on his best images the sand isn’t quite the right color or that little fish doesn’t belong in the frame. He is always looking for ways to improve. It’s one of the things that keep him motivated and what keeps us coming back to see what he has learned.
In Stephen Frink’s forward to the book he writes that, “Martin is a master of the facts and techniques presented, but he doesn’t preach or pontificate. He has the rare ability to make you feel like you are learning from a dive buddy. It is probably his passion for diving in general that comes through first, but make no mistake this book is all about underwater photography.” Stephen’s words really resonated with me. After reading this book, I’m left with the same feeling I had when completing the third edition. I’d love to go diving with this guy.
Review by Steve Williams
Steve is a passionate amateur underwater photographer who switched over to digital after reading Martin’s third edition in 2005. He has been shooting underwater since 1972 and is the founder of the Fin Foundation Images website that supports the education of young people throughout the southwest US on the importance of protecting the ocean environment.