Salvaging Bad Dives
Text & Image by
Camera: Nikon D300
Lens: Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye
If you're a diver, then you know the regretful feeling climbing out of warm bed on a Saturday morning, strapping on your fins and rolling off the back of a boat into a bad dive. Whether the visibility was poor the water colder than expected or the marine life absent, we have all been there. If you are one of these divers who is also an underwater photographer, I'm writing to tell you not to despair when a shoot is going down the tubes. Instead be creative, think outside the box and develop a new plan on the fly rather than pack it in and head for the bar.
The wreck of the Caribsea off the North Carolina Coast is famed for aggregations of sand tiger sharks; one of my fave subjects. This featured image was taken on a dive that started out as a let down. Although there was plenty of sharks about, I tried without success to shoot wide-angle but, poor visibility created hazy results with annoying backscatter (particulates that reflect like tiny mirrors when hit by strobe light).
With many of the sand tigers swimming in mid-water, I decided to turn my eyes upward. To my pleasure, the water color skywards was a cobalt blue and the sharks were stunning pressed up against it. Upon seeing this I thought a new strategy was needed. The strobes were shut off, thus eliminating backscatter, and the shutter speed and f-stop were adjusted for aiming towards the glare of the sun. I was going to shoot a silhouette.
Getting directly beneath the sharks and swimming upside down while trying to frame the shot with the sun directly behind them proved trying. Bubbles kept getting in the way and the sharks would startle. To get the shot the biggest rule in scuba diving had to be broken; NEVER hold your breath. However, the only way to sneak underneath the shark and get the shot was to do just that. After maybe 10 minutes of using this amoral technique, I was heading to the surface with a compact flash card holding some digital goodness.
It wasn't an easy dive but, I went home that day feeling content and with an added bonus of not killing myself due to violating the golden rule of scuba. What made the image appealing to me was the sun dead center behind the shark creating a pleasant halo also known as "Snell's Window". In addition, the S-pattern in the tail implied movement in the animal; a desired result in wildlife photography. Landing one "keeper" photo from a dive that started out as a bust is, in my book, a victory. The image later went on to become the inspiration for my company logo, Evolution Underwater Imaging.
When the tough gets going don't give up. With a little ingenuity and creativity you too can salvage a busted dive. But, please don't hold your breath!
Join Mike in North Carolina May/June 2020 for the Wreck•Shark Shootout.
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