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How much experience before starting photography?

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Hi all. How much diving experience do you think is reasonable before trying ones hand at underwater photography? I've heard conflicting information from my group of dive buddies. Some think its fine right off the bat, others think you need to have a bunch of experience before giving it a try? I just thought I'd get a broader range of opinions from some people that have a lot of knowledge in underwater photography.

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I think the answer will depend on what you mean by underwater photography.  Carrying a gopro on a stick is a very different thing than diving with a full kit with tray and dual lights and strobes, with macro and WA swap-able lenses.  The amount of dive time will also vary by person.  Before you branch out from gopros I would say you need to be able to do a few things consistently and without much thought.

  • Buoyancy is key.  You need to be able to maintain your buoyancy even when other things are happening to divert your attention.  Particularly early on with photography, trying to figure out the settings and just working the camera takes a lot of focus and with newer divers once they pay attention to that, buoyancy and situational awarness start to fall apart.  Once you can keep buoyancy when task loaded that's one sign you are ready
  • Situational awareness.  Photography can consume most of the attention your brain can give it until certain things become ingrained through experience and muscle memory.  That goes for the physical muscle memory of working your gear and your camera as well as the familiarity to be able to do both without much thought.
  • You should be able to function all your normal dive gear quickly and easily without much thought.  S drills, lost mask, reg recovery, etc should be very proficient, and you can do them at any time.  Adding a camera system in the middle of these can cause real problems if this isn't able to be handled quickly and easily without much thought.
  • It really helps to get very very familiar with any camera system on the surface, and then with a few shallow dives to work out where your problem areas will be.

Each person is going to reach this experience level at different times so its hard to say X number of dives will get you there.  If you are diving with a group of divers and one or more is mentoring you, ask them to help you work on some task loading exercises, and work through any buoyancy issues when doing them.  You can work on camera familiarity on land.  Also if someone in your group shoots, see if you can buddy with them and them let you shoot on a dive to see where you are.  If things get to be too much work out a plan to just hand stuff off.

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Very good advice from aviator8. 
As set out, u/w photography requires huge amounts of concentration - depending on the gear - so dive skills and equipment familiarity need to be automatic and well embedded into muscle memory. Good buoyancy skills are essential. 

Yes, if you are using a GoPro on a stick, then maybe the need is a bit less. But even then Id suggest you shouldn’t be seduced into thinking it’ll be easy - as I almost leaned to my cost in the Red Sea more than 20 years ago with a disposable camera. 

it does of course depend on the individual and the number of dives   Just don’t underestimate how any form of camera draws your attention away from the dive equipment and the environment. 
 

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Adding to the advice of previous replies, it also depends on the level of diving. You need to be completely comfortable and 'automatic' at any level of diving before you start complicating it with a camera. You will reach that point sooner for 5m dives in warm water and good visibility than for deep dives in cold water and poor visibility.

Once you start photography, there will be dives where you can develop your photographic skills, there will be dives where you can develop your diving skills - but not both at the same time.

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You need to master all diving skills to feeling second nature at them before  a full camera rig.

Point and shoots and go pros are another deal -easy to tie on a BC or store in a pocket as a beginner.

I think aviator8 summed it as well as I could have .

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As others have said, it depends, but it's generally not a good idea to start diving and underwater photography at the same time.   Understanding the risk is simple - while you are concentrating on the camera, you are doing something wrong and not noticing it.  Maybe you never notice that you just dropped into coral and kicked the crap out of it.  Maybe you don't know that while you were floating around in an uncontrolled manner, you dropped onto of another diver and knocked their mask off, or their air out of their mouth.  Maybe you did notice the fire coral you just sank into, but probably you did.    Or maybe, like my late wife, as you were concentrating so hard on that shot that you drifted down and ripped an ear the first day into a week-long Fiji liveaboard.

Buoyancy control IS key, and you need some of it before you start shooting.  That said, holding a camera steady on a subject is also a good way to improve your buoyancy skills.

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I started at the same time but I think it interfered with some of my enjoyment early on. 100 dives of experience and it’s much easier to take pictures now :-)

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All good advise. I think I'll probably stick with my Olympus point and shoot before venturing into anything too complicated. Much obliged.

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All really good points. I started off using a GoPro which I think is pretty reasonable. Then got an Olympus Housing for my EM-1 mk1 and shot without strobes for a little while. Progressed to one strobe than two. I guess what I'm saying is to build your dive skill then slowly introduce more complex task loading with your photography. 

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I really like how positive all the responses sound from everyone. I remember asking a similar question many moons ago at my club and everyone looked down their noses at me and none seemed too supportive. That said I soon showed them when I got on a buoyancy and trim course with a fantastic instructor, then learned sidemount with Garry Dallas and became a better diver for it. Experience, stability and awareness made for a better diver and a great base to start UWP

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I agree with most of the comments, and would like to emphasize the point that it is good that you are comfortable (and safe) in the water, so that your attention can be focused on photography while having all the diving-related things (check air, bottom time, NDT, as well as your buddy) become natural.

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All the replies are very good. Having the right equipment can also help. I benefited from going from a tradition jacket style bcd to a wing bcd.

 

Cheers,

Henrik

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That's a good point, Henrik (and welcome to Wetpixel!). I've never even thought about u/w photography in a "traditional" jacket-style BCD.  Trickier indeed I would have thought.

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Agreed Henrik !! I feel as I have more mobility/flexibility with my backplate/wing BCD over the traditional vest style, which I have occasionally rented on vacation.

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Personally, if you can get your trim dialled down properly, it doesnt really matter what you use.   I've use traditional jacket-style BCDs, back inflation BCDs and BP/wings, and it hasnt made a difference.   Choice of fins is probably a bigger factor than the style of BCD, atleast for my body type.

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Posted (edited)

More thoughts.  (Bored from social isolation).

Like so many have said  - it depends. 

Depends on the dive conditions

Depends on the subject

Depends on your competence

Like others, I say you need to get a basic set of skills down, mostly buoyancy, but perhaps more important than anything is to be comfortable diving, especially with your equipment, so that you have some level of awareness for what's going on around you in addition to your dive situation.

Then, get a small point-n-shoot camera and tether it to your right wrist.  It should be small enough to just dangle without causing you an issue.   The wrist strap should be tightened so that the camera will not fall off while you thrash through some surprise.

I find that using a camera will tend to force you to improve buoyancy skills, but also leads to concentration on a subject to the detriment of situational awareness.  I guess a classic example would be when my wife concentrated so hard to get a good shot of a lionfish that she did not notice she was sinking.  She then busted an eardrum, which was already weak from previous ruptures.  That was only the 3rd dive on a week-long liveaboard in Fiji.

Edited by phxazcraig
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Posted (edited)

Some really great advice here!

Edited by Samir.singh

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