Hawaii & Underwater Photography

I spent 10 days in Hawaii on the Big Island, also known as the adventure island. It was a trip I had wanted to take for years, and came after a very successful and stressful year. So as a little going away present for myself I picked up a small intro waterproof camera.

The Olympus Tough is waterproof (not resistant, that’s a very important distinction!) down to 15 meters, so good enough to take scuba diving. There are other cameras in this category like that, but what sold me on it were these important specs for a professional photographer; it shoots raw at 16mb files, has accessories to give you various focal lengths including a fish eye which is very useful for underwater work, plus a floatation strap so it won’t sink if it slips out of your hands (very useful and came in handy a lot).

The functionality is that of a consumer point and shoot, which comes with the territory I guess for a camera under 350$, but does have some easy to access priority buttons when working underwater. For the money it’s quite a good little piece of gear.

I took it snorkelling everyday, down on my first couple scuba dives, and even along a night swim with manta rays to shoot some video.

But this isn’t a camera review! The main thing is that I got to play around and experiment under water for the first time and I loved it!!

One thing I noticed was that I was freed from using a horizon line and could see the world so differently. Another important difference from shooting on terra-firma is that I was really at the mercy of the power and cycle of the waves, whether I was shooting while snorkelling or while scuba diving.

Obviously the main issue with this type of work is breathing, and being conscious of where my next breath is coming from. The second factor was the energy in the ocean and where it was taking me, sometimes for the good, sometimes against my will. It’s very hard to stay in one place, as everything from the plants to fish to you, are being moved by the unseen energy of the water. The third factor was visibility and not seeing what was out there to shoot (due to the colour of the water, sediment in the water around me or the more familiar light issues). Shooting on the surface (snorkel) or underneath (scuba) was dangerous/life threatening, overpowering, and required a willingness to instantly react to get the shots you hoped to get.

Bottom line is it’s a very freeing experience if you allow it to be. Certain rules still apply like framing and rules of thirds, but only if you want them to. They are very easy to break and let go of while still creating something that is pleasing and wondrous to look at. When I came home I bought full 5 inch wetsuits for myself and one for my daughter. I can’t always get to exotic locations to have fun so I want to be ready (and well insulated) to jump in here in the Pacific Northwest when inspiration calls.

I was lucky on my very first dive because three pro shooters were on the boat with me. They were all using full size DSLR’s, in pro housings, with two light attachments. To fully outfit myself with a similar rig would cost around 10K, and every time you change lenses need a different accessory for it, and each time you upgrade to a new body, BOOM, you have to drop another 2-3k for a new matching housing. So diving and shooting like a pro is an expensive game, and you have to either be independently wealthy to play along, or have a business plan to make money from your underwater shooting.

If you’ve had any experiences with diving/snorkeling, positive or not, I’d love to hear your personal stories and about the gear solutions you came up with. I’d also love to swap stories about great locations to snorkel around Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island.

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