The photographers tale
Some say that when youre an underwater photographer, youre always really diving alone. If Mike Wards example is anything to go by, its easy to see why

MY WORD, BUT THIS IS A NICE BOAT! And what a great table for my camera equipment! Plenty of natural light so that I can see what Im doing - well, there will be in the morning - and a nice big surface to do it on. Perfect! Ill just spread out my bits and pieces and start putting the kit together.
     I beg your pardon, I didnt quite catch what you said.
     Im using the main dining table Yes. And your point is
     Ah! Well, Im very sorry, but youll just have to find somewhere else to serve the meals.
     Really! Some people just have no idea about the special needs of underwater photographers. Now, where was I Ah, yes. Assembling my camera gear.
     I like to start with the strobe arms and the strobes themselves. I know some photographers feel a single flashgun is enough, but quite honestly, it isnt. Two strobes just look so much more impressive. No point in doing something unless you look the prat. Part, I meant part!
     Then I need to check over the camera, a single lens reflex, naturally, and load film into it. Transparency film, of course, as we photographers call it. Thats slide film to you.
     Yes, I know the whole world has gone digital, but the technical quality just isnt there yet.
     Yes, I know the latest compact digital jobbies are cheap to buy, simple to use and produce good results, but that simply misses the point entirely. We proper underwater photographers expect to carry around far more kit than ordinary divers, and pay through the nose for the privilege, but we do get longer dives. A bit like rebreather users, but with a realistic chance of survival.

Now choose the lens. Ultra-wide angle or macro Check dives always take place on a well-dived reef, and there is always excessive bubbling and sand-kicking, so Im going macro, the 105 Nikkor with the extended macro port. I know some people use lenses that are not made by Nikon, but it all comes down to the quality of the image again.
     Now, just grease the O-rings and Im ready to go. There, thats the hard work done. All I have to do now is assemble my dive gear. Ill need to be near the camera rinse tank, so Im afraid youre going to have to move your kit over there.
     Come along, come along, move over! Thank you so much.
     I beg your pardon Well, Ill certainly bear your comments in mind, though Im not sure that what youre suggesting would be possible. It would be very uncomfortable, though.

hspace=5 Good morning, everyone! Ready for the check dive
     Ah yes, Ive dived this site before. Macro was exactly the right choice! Stay shallow and I should be able to get some good natural light, with just a touch of flash to keep the colours vibrant.
     Buddy Er, why Im a photographer, I dive with my camera. I know that you like divers in pairs, but anyone diving with me will not have a good time, I guarantee you that!
     I tell you what, Ill buddy dive when I want a model, OK Just as long as they understand the need to do as theyre told, and that their safety and well-being is considerably less important to me than looking after my camera. Now, you run along and look after the rest of the group, like a good boy.
     Talking to the dive guide in that way may seem a little harsh, but in my experience theyre best treated like puppies. Speak to them kindly but firmly, using short words, until they do as theyre told.
     No, I dont need you to pass me the camera once Im in the water, thank you so very much, it means too much to me to risk some ham-fisted deckhand dropping it! No, I prefer to hold it high over my head with some air in the BC and it wont even get wet when I drop in.
     Now, gently under water and check for bubbles. Im sorry, love, but youre just going to have to wait a bit. I may need to get straight back out if I have a possible leak, so Im not going to move away from the bottom of the dive ladder until Im ready. Seems to be OK, so off I go.

I love shallow dives. Lots and lots of time to find good subjects, then wait for the best shots to happen and try for a great image. The downside is that I have to be so very vigilant, because the relatively low pressure of the water isnt high enough for the O-rings to be fully secure and there is a very real possibility of a flood, especially if the O-rings are over-greased.
     I hate floods. Water and delicate electronics dont mix at all well, in my experience, and the divers on my last liveaboard were very unhelpful when we had to steam back to port. What did they expect me to do, dive without a camera
     Oh my word! Ive never seen one of those before! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! Thats me done for this dive! Im only here until I get the shot!
     Wow, wasnt that just awesome Did you see that superb Hypselodoris infucata Absolutely magnificent! When it reached the tip of the coral, the composition was sublime!
     Perfectly stretched across the thirds and on a lovely, taut diagonal to impart tension to the scene! Shame it fell off.
     Never mind, that dive has to be my best ever! I was only in the water for an hour and three-quarters, and managed to shoot four frames!
     Just one small point, though, if you would be so kind. I really do not appreciate being dragged to the surface merely because you want to move the boat to another site.
     Ill not make an issue of it this time, but you must bear in mind the needs of your photographer clients.

Where are we diving next Hmm, open water with a wall and a reef. I think Ill go wide-angle with the dome port for this one - mustnt forget to grease the O-rings.
     Big fish with a diver behind always look good, and this is an obvious site for pelagics, so Ill need a buddy to interact with them. Youll do, you look reasonable in a wetsuit and your kit is quite nicely colour co-ordinated.
     I beg your pardon You seriously intend to put your own selfish desire to dive together before the needs of art I see. Well, it may very well be your honeymoon, but Im sure youll both have others.
     Well, really, some people! Ill just have to do the best I can without any help or co-operation, then. I just need to change the lens and port and re-grease my O-rings.
     Its a shark! Its a shark! I need to be below it, shooting upwards towards the surface with just a bit of flash to light the belly and balance the illumination, so I need to be deeper.
     Missed the beast! Drat, damn and double blast! Ill just wait for a while and see if he comes back.
     Nah. Up I go, then, nice and steady.
     Regs getting a bit tight, must be ready for a service. Nope, Im almost out of air. Well, Im not going up yet, Ive got stops to do and, more importantly, I havent taken a shot yet.
     I wish I was still set up for macro. This reef is stunning, pristine and really colourful, but a dead loss with the wide angle. Ah, the dive guides here, and hes got a camera as well! His sort of photographer just gets in the way. Oh good, it isnt a camera, its a spare cylinder. Maybe he does care after all.

Debrief the dive Of course, what do you want to talk about No, youre quite right, it wasnt a good dive at all. I didnt get close to the shark and I had entirely the wrong lens for the reef.
     What do you mean, safe diving practices Oh please! Dont give me that old line about oxygen toxicity, it may well be a threat below 63 metres, but I was there for hardly any time at all, and I had plenty of air for my stops.
     Much more importantly, when are we night diving I have to change over to macro again and re-grease my O-rings and that all takes time. I love night dives. The creatures change and your vision concentrates on one small area. My way to night dive is simply to find a likely-looking spot and just sit and wait.
     OK, it doesnt always work, but I find it far more productive, photographically, than finning all over the shop.
     See, there we are, a magnificent Stenopus hispidus, just lurking on the edge of sight in that little crevice. Well, youre no good to me in there, old son. This is exactly the sort of situation for which I carry a crowbar instead of a knife.
     In it goes, a quick twist and what was a crack in the reef is now wide open. Wait for the sediment to settle and there he is, revealed for all to see.
     Ah, bless, one of his little legs is trapped. Never mind, it means the little beggar cant move until Ive got my shots and it gives me the chance to line up both strobes and get really tight in.
     Ill just turn up the flash intensity so I can get the minimum possible aperture and maximise my depth of field and there we go! Excellent shot.
     Now, if I move him around a bit and light from behind by detaching one of the flash heads and jamming it against that bit of coral, I can get a really nice shot of him surrounded by a halo of light. Fantastic!
     Now, I dont want to cause him any undue stress so Ill limit myself to the two shots and move along a little.

Just time to grease my O-rings before bed, and relax a little.
     Why do I take pictures under water I have to say Im always a little surprised by the question. I mean, what do people who dont take pictures do under water Just swim around and look at things until their air runs out Whats the point of that
     Anyway, next time someone asks, I can just tell them about today. Three fabulous dives and six super pictures - things just dont get any better. If this carries on for the rest of the week, Im going to need a second roll of film.

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