I first became involved in photography in the early 1990s and at the time, I was certain of a few things: (1) I didn’t know what I was doing; (2) I couldn’t really afford it; and (3) I had absolutely no interest in shooting subjects above the water. I spent a lot of hours in beautiful underwater environments with a borrowed Sea & Sea camera in hand, snapping frame after frame of mediocre images. Frustrated with the discrepancy between how I remembered the scene and what my photos looked like, I decided to purchase my first underwater camera (a used Nikonos V) and get some training.
Those were the days when I threw around words like “Velvia slide film”, “cost of developing” and “GSPR” (an acronym I used for “good shots per roll” – a number that at the time tended to be pretty low). Although it’s probably uncommon for a photographer to get their start below the waterline, I’m happy that I did. You can learn a lot photographing a fish. You learn about patience, getting your equipment to unforgiving environments (and more importantly, getting it back safely – an endeavor that I failed at more than once with costly results), preparation, and how to get a shot that may present itself only once.
As time went on, I did two unthinkable things: I bought a 6-megapixel digital SLR (I was sure digital cameras would never really catch on) and I started shooting images above the water. Initially, the later may have had more to do with economics than interest. Getting my new digital camera underwater meant purchasing a housing, lens port, and strobes. Consequently, there was a period of time (while I was saving money for all of this) that my camera had to stay topside.
Needless to say, I was wrong about digital cameras catching on. I have a stack of them and I’ve worked my way through a dozen versions of Photoshop. It’s an interesting time to be a photographer. Technology in the field (cameras, optics, and processing software) is bounding forward at an unbelievable rate, turning more control over to the individual. In spite of this, I’ve come to realize that if the fundamental principles of photography and processing have never been learned, achieving good imagery is difficult – no matter how expensive your camera is or how tech-savvy you are.
Twenty years after I took those first awful underwater shots, I’ve learned more than I ever would have imagined. Although I owe some of this to formal training and some very patient photographers & magazine editors willing to help me along the way, the bulk of my education came from my mistakes – something there was never a shortage of. Every time I flooded a strobe, oversaturated an image, got chased by an eel, or shot a portrait that wasn’t quite focused correctly, I learned. At times, it was a painful process but one that as photographers, we all need to go through.
I am still learning, still asking questions, and above all, still shooting as often as I can. Whether it’s a portrait, a tropical sunrise, or a shipwreck, I still get a twinge of excitement every time I sit down to look the images I just shot. And if I were still using film today, I’m happy to say that my GSPR would be much higher.
New York Times Magazine
Eco Teach Foundation
Encyclopedia of the Nations
United Nations Environment Program
Sea History Magazine
Aquarium Fish International
Matrix Fitness Systems
Blue Planet Green Living
The Johnny G Krankcycle
The Undersea Journal
Shortomatic Board Shorts
Big River Magazine
Alert Diver Magazine