Photographing Engine Rooms
Engine Room - Kensho Maru The Kensho Maru
by Mike Gerken
Photographing wrecks often requires models in the composition to add perspective, show scale, tell a story and help set the tone of the image. However, models are not always at my beckon call and some are inpatient and demanding (add wink here). So sometimes a little improvisation is required. The divers that appear in this photo where shot unbeknownst to them as they penetrated into the heart of the engine room of the Kensho Maru.
The engine rooms of many of the wrecks of Truk Lagoon are the highlight part of the dives. The combination of surreal ambient light and the excitement of deep penetration into a WWII shipwreck are the ingredients for a potent cocktail.
The engine room of the Kensho Maru is in superb condition since it wasn't damaged extensively prior to sinking. The open skylights and the symmetry in the row of cylinder heads and the criss-crossing cat-walk help push it into the realm of the "best engine room dive" in Truk Lagoon.
The only other element required to complete this shot was divers. On this particular day I became privy to a group who expressed strong interest in being guided throughout the Kensho Maru. I simply jumped in ahead of them and positioned myself in desirable location in the engine room and spent about 10 minutes taking test shots and adjusting settings. Then I just waited.
Pretty soon I could see the divers enter the upper engine room with there light sabers whipping to and fro. Then the shooting started. For this shot I decided to not use strobes and take advantage of the stunning ambient light and use an ISO setting of 6400. The Nikon D800's ability in low-light allows for shooting at this high ISO without terrible image degradation (and the D850 is even better!). In the time that I was in the engine room I shot more than 200 images. All of them were tossed aside but for this one (I only needed one). The position of the divers and the varying angles of their lights balance the image nicely. I couldn't be happier. To get one diver in the right spot even when pre-planned is hard enough but to have 5 divers all sync up was a coup and this was accomplished without them even knowing it. In fact, all of the divers stated afterwards they didn't even see me lurking in the dark corner of the engine room.
With a little bit of pre-panning, stealthiness and shooting a large volume of images you too can increase your odds of landing at least one great photo in a dive. Not every encounter underwater will yield an A-list image but when you do nail it, it is a feeling that will cause you to want more. Photography is addictive for this reason.
Join me in Truk Lagoon on board the Odyssey for the Rec•Tec 2020 Expeditions. There will be comprehensive work shops with tips and techniques. Find out more here.
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