After thoroughly researching photography equipment and shot composition, I’ve finally purchased my DSLR and underwater housing. Before I start shooting, I also want to make sure I also know how to do it safely. Does DAN have any tips for how to be a safer underwater photographer?
Building photography skills is an excellent choice for divers looking to expand their repertoires, and by asking this question you’re already taking the first important step to being a safer underwater photographer. The primary safety concern for divers new to underwater photography is task loading — an increase in responsibilities that escalates the risk for error. As a diver’s attention shifts to image composition or strobe positioning, he or she may overlook a critical safety issue and trigger a chain of events leading to an incident. Before you start shooting, prepare with these tips:
Practice Using Your Gear Topside
Treat your new camera like any new piece of gear. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with your equipment in a controlled setting so that you can pay special attention to your air, bottom time, buoyancy and surroundings when you’re in the water. Who knows? You may also develop a few new photography techniques in the meantime.
Master Your Buoyancy
The most important skill for any diver to master is the ability to be neutrally buoyant and maintain good trim. Divers who perfect these techniques experience less fatigue, reduce their gas consumption, benefit from better control in the water and are less likely to make errors due to task loading. One major hazard facing underwater photographers is the tendency — unintentional or not — to hold their breath to get that perfect shot. This is very dangerous and can result in pulmonary barotrauma or other serious complications. Mastering your buoyancy can help you get closer to your subjects without disturbing the environment, keeping you safer and delivering better photo ops.
Use Your Buddy
Although it probably goes without saying that your buddy needs to be aware that you’re exploring a new skill, the two of you should also take extra time to plan your dive with that in mind. As you learn to juggle the technical and creative tasks of underwater photography, you need to be able to rely on your buddy to stay close and responsive. While you both need to take responsibility for monitoring your own air consumption and surroundings, you may agree before a dive that the non-photographer will periodically signal for both divers to check and communicate gas supplies before continuing.
Research Your Shots
Before you start shooting, know what you’re likely to see. Research what is common and rare at your dive site. Study these animals’ behaviors in books and videos. Listen to your divemaster and other local divers, who can tell you exactly what you might expect. In order to take a great photo in the water, you need to get very close to your subjects; planning your shots ahead of time can not only teach you how to approach marine organisms without spooking them, but it can also ensure that you’re keeping your subjects, and yourself, safe during the encounter.
Remember: Safety First
Your dive skills are even more important than your shooting skills when it comes to the quality of your images— and your safety. When planning your photo outings, remember to research your dive plan as thoroughly as your intended subject, and, when executing that plan, remember to stay in the moment as a diver first. Never forsake your safety for the shot. If you have any hesitation, it never hurts to take a course in digital underwater photography. Doing so will give you a chance to learn tips and tricks from the pros, meet new buddies with shared interests and build the confidence to fully — and safely — explore your new activity.
Want more dive-training tips? Check out the Training section of our website.
For more information, visit DAN.org.