Travel is a very stressful adventure for the underwater photographer. Many of the world’s best dive locations are remote, situated far from mankind’s influence. The lack of civilisation that makes these spots so desirable environmentally also ensures that there is not a handy camera shop on the corner waiting to fix any problems.
Our worries get a lot worse when we start to take pictures. Before shooting digital, I spent almost 20 years exposing film underwater, and whenever I was away I would have no real idea how I was doing. Certainly experience reassures us we are doing fine, but we can only remember what it looked like through the viewfinder and hope that our black box of mechanics and electronics is working properly.
Until we get home we are left comforting ourselves that “I am pretty sure my TTL was working, and I think I loaded the film correctly, and I hope that the strobe was correctly aimed at the manta and not at the cloud of sediment my buddy kicked up, and I pray that the X-rays at the airport haven’t fogged the film, and I beg that my strobes had recharged.” The list could go on, and until the film is processed the film photographer can never be 100% sure.
On top of this, the better the diving the more stressful the vacation becomes! Each once in a lifetime opportunity adds to the torture. Soon we’re as tightly wound as our exposed film coiled up in those little green canisters.
This is where digital cameras come to our rescue. You see, some bright spark fitted digital cameras with a Stress Relief button and called it Image Review. It only small and it’s on the back next to the LCD screen but once we press it all our concerns vanish. One stab with our finger and we see exactly what we have just taken. The anxiety, the stress just drifts away with our bubbles. If it is good we know we have got the shot and all our kit is working and if not we are in exactly the right place to try again.
Instant image review takes all the stress out of underwater photography. © Peter Rowlands
Getting a good view of the LCD screen is essential. Luckily, as underwater photographers, most of the time our screens are easy to view in the dark depths of the ocean. But we still prize cameras with the largest screens and housings with the best shading. Some photographers even use LCD magnifiers, which I struggle to comprehend because it seems as useful as putting a lupe on your computer monitor.
LCD screens do change the way we shoot. Satisfied that we have the shot we are encouraged to experiment and try a new angle or a different technique. Although LCD screens are a treasure trove of useful information viewing them can get a bit too addictive, even to the detriment of our photography. We can spend so much time admiring our handwork in the LCD that we can miss the real action! I bring this up because I keep getting caught out. It’s a disease known a chimping, which gets its name from the monkey-like gait that photographers develop when peering into their LCD screens.
The problem is that LCDs make addictive viewing and
many of us spend much of our dives chimping over them
Chimping is definitely one of the more inelegant changes that digital has brought to underwater photography. Go diving with other photographers these days and everywhere you look the aquatic scenery is spoilt by photographers chimping over their LCDs. No longer are divers gracefully exploring the ocean realm, instead they move about hunched over the box of tricks in their hands! This latest evolution of the aquatic ape may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but it is a small price to play for stress free travel!
The underwater photography bug is virulent, and soon after we are infected it is ruining all aspects of our vacations! Our paranoia is such that we dive again and again re-shooting the same subjects to increase our chances of success, and when we are not submerged we are fretting about our camera or technique. Or I should say, we were. Since the invention of the Stress Relief Button, dive trips are more like, well, holidays!
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.