Posted 29 December 2010 - 12:43 AM
On tropical coral reefs I personally see no real compelling need to use tripods, nor the need to touch anything anywhere.
All you need is good buoyancy (ability to maintain your position in water) and propulsion (ability to move yourself with fins in the water) skills, and you should balance your camera rig to be neutrally buoyant. And definitely, keep your strobes to yourself on strobe arms.
Once you have learned to manage your buoyancy, you can hang perfectly still in water and not move while taking your shot. Once you have learned to use your fins, you can move to any position you want, and do so without touching nor damaging anything with your fins either. And you really can learn to do all of this without touching nor damaging anything, and you certainly don't need any tripod. Controlling buoyancy and using fins are the most basic scuba diving skills, and things you should learn first before starting to do something else underwater, like photography. While you can never learn to move as gracefully as a lionfish or a dolphin, you can however get pretty close.
Taking photographs is no excuse to damage the reef environment, and no excuse for not learning to dive properly.
The really big advantage that an underwater photographer has compared to a topside photographer, is the fact that you can just float in the water perfectly still, even in the weirdest places and positions. It is sad if you don't learn to take full advantage of this asset.
In a strong current it is of course impossible to stay still in one place, but in that case no tripod is going to help you either. You should also accept the fact that in a strong current there are severe limits on what kind of pictures you can take. After all, when you are photographing on topside you don't go out in a storm pretending it's a calm and clear day either - you need to accept the natural conditions as they are.
Finally, you should also consider your personal safety and that of your diving buddy's. Carrying a tripod and a number or loose items (like strobes on separate tripods) will increase your risk of getting into all kinds of trouble underwater, and will make it very difficult for you to assist anyone else in trouble. Putting too much attention in taking a photograph will remove your attention from other important issues concerning your own or other divers' safety.
Just carrying a big camera with arm attached strobes is a big concern for diving safety, and you should think ahead and train yourself how to deal with emergency situations when carrying a camera.
Canon 7d, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye, Canon EF-S 60mm Macro, Sigma 10-17mm OS HSM, Ikelite housing,
2x Ikelite ds-161 strobes with Stix 12"+12" arms with floats.
Canon ixus 980is in Canon housing.
Olympus c8080wz in Olympus housing.