It has long been held as true that we know more about space than we do about our oceans. Quite possibly true, though I don’t know how you measure it, what I do know is that club member Julie Kaye’s presentation on underwater photography went down, if you will forgive the unintentional pun, very well. Julie brought her equipment as well as prints of her results and took us through the mechanics, the necessities of adapting the human body and her camera equipment to the realms where no human is naturally equipped but for the very briefest of visits.
The equipment needs are not merely image critical, they are life supporting and diving is a dangerous sport if the basics are not attended to. The conditions under which you are shooting are a challenge too and this is one of the more difficult areas of photography to master. For those of us brought up on the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau the mysteries of the oceans were a childhood staple.
Possibly most associated by most as branch of travel photography, the underwater milieu goes back to the end of the Nineteenth Century, the first underwater camera and lighting rig was invented by another Frenchman, Louis Marie Auguste Boutan in 1893, when certainly photographs would have been taken but the oldest extant photo of a diver, a selfie by Boutan is dated to 1899 (and apparently damned near killed him through Nitrogen narcosis in the process). The gap is accounted for by Boutan’s work on a lighting solution, a highly explosive mix of oxygen in a barrel and magnesium powder to provide a flash held in a glass container triggered by an electrical current. Remember that film (read glass plate) speed was very low at these times with normal photographs being taken with what we would consider long exposures.
Prior to Boutan, the first person to take photographs whilst submerged, there had been underwater photographs but these had been obtained by using a camera in an almost-waterproof housing lowered on a tripod, was William Thompson, who took them in Dorset in 1856. Unfortunately the glass plates don’t seem to have survived.
Colour came along in 1926, National Geographic staff photographer Charles Martin and naturalist Dr William Longley taking a picture of a Hog Fish in the Gulf of New Mexico for that august journal. Following on in Boutan’s tradition they still executed the image with pounds of explosive magnesium flash powder. The difference was that they sensibly left it floating on the surface in a raft rather than build a submersible flash unit as Boutan had.
Cousteau remains the most famous pioneer though, operating from his famous boat the RV Calypso, which came to near sticky end in Singapore in 1997 but on which restoration work began last year (after a 20 year story worthy of a soap opera), he developed not only Scuba gear but the underwater camera as well. The Calypso, before coming in to Cousteau’s hands, was built as a Minesweeper for the Royal Navy and served as such from 1943 to 1949, then as a ferry in Malta for 4 months before being bought by Thomas Loel Guinness MP and leased by him to Cousteau for one French Franc a year on grounds of anonymity for Loel Guiness. There were, at the time, around a thousand Francs to the pound, so bit of a bargain. For those of us brought up on the TV show (1968-1976 and endless repeats) the Calypso was as much of the show as Cousteau.
Cousteau wasn’t just an explorer (naturalist, conservationist, etc etc), he was an inventor too. He conceived the idea, which was designed by Jean de Wouters, of an underwater camera which was called, wait for it, the Calypso. It came with an f3.5 35mm lens, with 45mm and 28mm optional lenses and a shutter speed of 1/30th to 1/1000th of a second shutter, which was redesigned to a 1/15th to 1/500th of a second range which was the one carried on to the Nikonos, licensed and built by Nikon, through three variants and which lasted in production until from 1963 to 2001. Basically it was killed off by digital but it is still to be found second hand.
Underwater photography is also a sport, not big here, admittedly, under the auspices of CMAS. The World Championships run thus: Basically at least four 90 minute dives (including decompression time) are undertaken and the first 100 images from the relevant memory card are downloaded and then the competitor selects which images go forward to (anonymous) judging. Then it gets complicated: ” During the last day of the competition, the jury will review all submitted images to rank these within the photographic categories described in the Specific Rules. An individual classification will also be compiled by allotting scores to the top ten images in each photographic category using a fibonacci sequence. The names of top ten competitors in the photographic categories and in the individual classification will be publicly announced.” Not so catchy, maybe.
There is a wider range of photographic equipment and accessories available to the modern diver, of course, specialist housing, lighting (non explosive), but all at a price and a half. It has to be precision engineered of course, able to withstand pressure greater than found at sea level and whereas it is popular with people on holiday (who can buy pouches and boxes for their cameras for shallow depths if their camera isn’t already waterproof) who go snorkelling, if you are serious and a scuba diver and a regular photographer, then the outlay garners the returns.
So a big club thank you to Julie for an interesting and unusual evening.
N E X T M E E T I N G
NB: The AGM has been postponed for a couple of weeks, our next session is table top photography so bring cameras, tripods and something small to photograph.
ROC round 1 judged by Ralph Snook, a first tie judge for the club and thanks to him for his efforts. Results will be on the club web site http://www.reflexcameraclub.co.uk/
So, for a change, the second of our ocassional contributions from club members, this time Rob Heslop on “It’s not the camera it’s what’s in front of it”.
Having just upgraded a perfectly good camera to the next model up, which is basically the same except for a few functions I’ll never use, for absolutely no reason other than the shop presenting my with a fantastic offer, got me thinking about camera kit our and do we really need half of it or could our photography improve if we invested elsewhere? It’s easy to get swept up with the latest must have gear, magazines are full of reviews with photos taken in exotic locations by professional photographer which somehow lead us to believe that if we buy that bit of kit we will be able to take that photo. Then there are the debates on the Internet about the subtle differences between kits that lead us to believe that anything but the latest pro lens is just not worth having. Even club members harmlessly chatting about their newest toy or a guest speaker explaining what kit they used lead us to subconsciously question is our own kit good enough. All this creates a mindset of I need an xyz if I’m to take photos that are any good and I know I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to falling for the marketing hype, but the “greats” never had half the kit we do, whilst that’s not to say they wouldn’t have used the technological aids if they had them, merely that they took mind blowing photos without half the equipment we have and it didn’t hold them back.
Which leads me to wandering is there a better way than fixating about the camera, perhaps if we want to take better photos we should instead invest more in what’s in front of the camera than the camera it’s self.
Over the years I’ve gone on various photographic ‘holidays’ around the UK and I use the term holiday in its loosest sense mind as who gets up at silly o’clock just to sit in a car in the pouring rain waiting for a sunrise that never comes before retreating to a cafe for breakfast. Then a couple of months back I took the next step and went international and for the price of a lens I headed over to that infamous photographic location; Iceland.
Having never been before and as this was primarily a photographic trip not your traditional holiday there was a great deal of planning in the local pub using the likes of Google maps and Flickr to pick places (and times) we wanted to shoot and subsequently places we would to stay in-order to get the conditions but foolishly we never planned places to eat, more on that later. The idea was simple; fly into Keflavik (the only international airport on the island) pick up a hire car and drive along Route 1 to the glacial lake, then make our way back taking photos on the way, simples .
Keflavik, is on the western tip of the island meaning we flew along the southern coastline which gives an amazing view of the glacial ice, the black sandy beaches and of course the ocean, all hinting at what’s to come. The plan touched down on what I can only describe as the surface of the moon or maybe it was Mars either way I’m pretty sure I could see the Apollo capsule in the distance.
On landing we picked up our car and I was relieved that the choice extended beyond the red one or the blue one, before proceeding on one of the most challenging drives ever; not because it of the navigation (there is only one road) not because of the road conditions (they were better than the UK) not because of the other drivers (both of the cars we past were polite and courteous drivers) but challenging as we had to force ourselves to drive past some of the greatest photographic opportunities we had ever seen; I had a feeling that it was going to be very hard to take a bad photo.
That evening we arrived at Jokulsarlon the glacial lake on the south of the island, the lake was stunning with icebergs breaking off the glacier slowly crashing into each other before drifting out to sea. They were a sight to behold and presented a wealth of photographic opportunities, well worth the drive. The plan was to wait for sunset, get some photos and head over to our accommodation for the night. There is however a catch we had forgot to make plans for dinner and found ourselves hurriedly eating cold sandwiches and lukewarm soup for dinner before the only cafe for two hours in any direction closed for the evening. We discovered that in the winter the population along the southern edge of the island is less than 100 people and if I’m honest I don’t think it’s much more in the summer, so it’s no surprise that food is limited. Still after a hurried dinner, closing on time seemed to take priority over feeding the dozen or so tourists that had also fallen foul to the lack of places to eat, we settled down to some serious photography but soon realised that whilst it got colder sunset wasn’t going to happen any time soon, to be honest I’ve no idea if it even happened as we were worn out and exhausted long before the sun was.
The next day was spent on the road to Vik about a two hour drive according to Google maps or an entire day’s drive if you include photos stops. The landscape was epic with and endless feel but somehow constantly changing offering a dearth of photo opportunities and it was all ours, every so often we’d see the odd car drive by but for most of the time we could lie down in the road if we wanted, oh and we did even if it was just to get the right camera angle. Vik however was a real treat for photographers with it’s black sand beaches and stone monoliths rising out of the ocean it’s hard to see how you could take a bad photo but I probably managed luckily I also managed to take a few keepers, rather than wax-lyrical about Vik I’ll simply recommend doing a quick search for images on Google, Flickr or similar, as like the old saying goes a picture speaks a thousand words and even that isn’t enough to sum up the photographic opportunities.
The final day was spent driving back to Reykjavik trying to remember everything that was saw on route a couple of days previous. This was our first insight to the touristy parts of Iceland; Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls, not to say these aren’t worth visiting from a photographic perspective, they are stunning but from mid morning on the crowds of day trippers on their coach tour excursions from the city started to build making photo opportunities more challenging, but they did at least mean food was more plentiful.
Then as quickly as we’d arrived it was all over and we were on the plane back to the UK. Sat in my seat my mind reflected back on the trip, the sites I’d seen, the photos I taken, and places I want to go back to, yet at no point did I find myself thinking if only I had that latest bit of kit. And that’s just it, despite what the adverts may imply having the kit on its own won’t magically lead to better photos and it won’t provide you with experiences or stories. So next time you find yourself starting to lust after that new piece of camera kit ask yourself would it be better to invest in your subject matter, it doesn’t need to be far flung and exotic, just give the subject of your photos the same attention as you give to the camera.
Thanks Rob, really interesting points and I am not at all jealous …
N E X T M E E T I N G
Week 10 – 3rd Nov 2016 19:30 – Practical “Reflex Reflects”. Creating images using various types of reflective surfaces and objects.
(Bring your cameras, tripods and lights/flashguns)