Just a few short years ago, being the only underwater photographer on a dive boat could get you the sort of dirty looks you might expect if you were about to take your pet crown-of-thorns starfish diving with you. Just about every diver had a story of an evil photographer they dived with who crunched coral and stressed fish. Many divers were quick to label all photographers reef destroyers.
How attitudes have changed. The popularity of compact digital cameras these days means an increasing number of divers are taking up underwater photography, and long-time photo enthusiasts are no longer the shunned minority.
This sea of change may be nice for us, but it doesn’t necessarily help coral and other marine life. Some photographers are no doubt still causing needless damage, and with so many divers distracted by their cameras, the potential for harm has grown tremendously. In fact, there have been several studies done by marine scientists to measure the effect of ill-disciplined photographers on the marine environment. Clearly, the onus is upon all divers and marine photographers to ensure continued health of the underwater world.
Away from the water, the coming-of-age of digital technology has produced major ripples in the social hierarchy of diving clubs and underwater photography societies worldwide. Some ardent film shooters, for instance, reject all digital images as computer-enhanced snapshots and seem irrationally prejudiced against new technology. Perhaps it’s because they feel digital technology undermines their long-standing authority and photographic knowledge? Yet these photography veterans should know better than most people that the laws of physics remain fundamentally the same, whether we’re talking about film or digital technology.
Advocates of digital imaging can be just as bigoted, constantly lauding the strengths of new technology while seemingly oblivious to the fact that great images are still being taken on film. These persistent pixel-pushers can be absolute nightmares on dive boats, thrusting their LCD screens in everyone’s face, bragging about how their particular camera is the latest and greatest model, available exclusively from the factory gates in Japan.
As with many things in life, most sensible people fall in the middle, but the views of the silent majority are not always heard above chatter from more vocal extremists.
In general though, the increasing popularity of digital cameras has done much to unite the underwater photography community in a way that has been missing for many years. For example, when joining the widely respected British Society of Underwater Photographers thirty years ago, new members would receive a copy of the Society’s Data Book - a treasure trove of technical knowledge. Photographers back then were united against common problems. Before wide-angle lenses for underwater use were common, for example, a major aim in the United Kingdom was photographing a diver full length in our own low visibility water! But as off-the-shelf kit became more widely available and improved in quality, the friendly world of underwater photography sadly changed. Tips became closely guarded secrets; knowledge was horded, not shared.
Digital has brought the altruistic spirit back to underwater photography, as photographers are once again united against a new set of challenges accompanying the latest technology. Being digital divers, obviously we can no longer use a paper data book and instead interact through electronic media such as here at Wetpixel.com to share our knowledge, ideas and experiments with our peers from around the world.
Digital technology may be all the rage, but old-fashioned social interaction is the key to getting the most out of your digital kit.
Dr. Alex Mustard
Digital has ushered in many changes to underwater photography. The aim of this column is to discuss both the important and more frivolous consequences of these changes to the status quo of our consuming pursuit.