Underwater 1, Kevin 0 Aug08

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Underwater 1, Kevin 0

Touché water, touché.

My current photographic push is trying to come up with great underwater photography.  The addendum to this challenge is: doing it without spending a ton of money.  Step #1:  Buy a ridiculously cheap underwater bag for my DSLR.  For $120 a company named DiCAPac makes an underwater bag which thus far has kept my camera dry.  The confidence-instilling blurb from their website says it best:

Kristin Rogers underwater“Because the DicaPack is up to 5 m waterproof, your filming limits are expanded to taking pictures of swimming or of multifarious life.”

With my multifarious life subjects getting ready, I faced the challenge of light.  I wanted to do studio-style lit portraits.  I chose to use a pile of speedlights to avoid having anything plugged in near the pool.  Then I threw a Pocket Wizard MultiMax on the camera and jumped in the water.  No dice.  Anyone with two seconds of underwater experience knows that radio transmissions from little wireless triggers don’t make it through even an inch of water.  Well now I have that two seconds of experience.

Attempt number two was to go off of an optical slave from the on-camera flash.  There isn’t room to get a full-sized speedlight in the bag, so I went with the pop-up flash and then a stubby SB-400 that just fit.  Neither consistently triggered.  Water eats up a whole lot of that flash.  It’s almost like flash container.  Looking at the surface of the pool you can see the flash popping, but it just doesn’t escape the water with enough vigor to trigger the built-in optical sensors on the speedlights. So we ended up shooting some stuff from just under the surface, where the PW could poke out the top and send it’s radio signal, and some other stuff fully underwater just with natural light.

What I learned:Candice Bloch underwater

  • Radio triggers don’t work.
  • As soon as you get more than a couple feet from your subject, the cloudiness of the water really washes them out.  Stay close and shoot at super-low ISOs, because you’re going to have to stretch the hell out of that contrast in post.
  • Everything takes 10x longer than you expect once there’s water involved.
  • Humans– much to the ironic shock of drowning victims across the ages– float.  One of the biggest challenges is getting everything to sink enough.  Scuba weight belts would be dandy, but remember we’re doing this with no budget.  And where do you hide a weight belt on a model anyway?
  • Flat ports, like on this cheap bag, have a zooming factor as if you were looking into a fish tank.  This makes all of your lenses suddenly a bit longer/more zoomed.  Chromatic aberration/sharpness/etc?  Forget about it; go buy a real camera enclosure with a real port.

In order to properly bring the lights into play, I’ve picked up a Wein Ultra Slave for next time.  It should be sensitive enough to pick up the underwater flashes optically, so I’ll be doing more lit shoots soon.  Thanks to the lovely models Candice and Kristin, photographers ChrisIsaac, and Eliza for helping out, as well as Paul Simkin for loaning a gajillion speedlights.  It was hella’ challenging, and there are far more horrible pictures than useable ones.  But a few nice frames did come out, I’m excited about the challenge of finding that next level.  I’ll see you all in the deep end soon.