Picturing underwater beauty | Opinion

I’ve written a book and many articles about underwater photography. My basic premise when I teach courses about how to take good pictures underwater is to simplify. Diving conditions are not always ideal. I urge gaining experience as a diver before adding additional burdens. I teach diving. When I know I have divers at the point where I can take my own camera underwater to document their dive and the world they experience, I need something that will not get in the way in the event I need to assist. That said, “simplify” has become my own hallmark taking pictures underwater as it is the way I teach.

When I had to illustrate my articles and books with underwater photographs, I could not find dive buddies that could take pictures for me. I had to do the diving, write the article and take the pictures. It began with complicated and bulky housed film cameras. They required great care. Nothing exposed to pressure in water can be sealed and kept dry without a rubber gasket or ‘O’ ring. Flooding was the norm with disappointment. Then Nikon brought out an improved Calypso, from the French self-contained underwater camera. The Nikonos was small, rugged, compact and had interchangeable lenses. I bought them all from the first Nikonos I to the V that offered automatic features.

Past and present cameras used by diver John Christopher Fine to shoot underwater photography.

Past and present cameras used by diver John Christopher Fine to shoot underwater photography. (John Christopher Fine / Contributor)

Film died. I was probably the last hold-out. Finally, two years into the digital age, my editors refused to accept color slides to illustrate my articles. With the demise of film, my knowledge of photography was repealed. I had to learn digital photography as a beginner. I had to start over from scratch with new equipment and newly acquired techniques and skills. That was on the equipment side, my philosophy of underwater picture-taking did not change. Simplify is still my persuasion. It is not made easy with a whole realm of underwater housed cameras that were complicated by their size, bulk and lighting. Up until that point in time, I used strobes to light my underwater pictures. Now temperature-adjusted lights are prevalent. I had plenty of cinema lights that I used with my underwater motion picture cameras. The color temperature was not correct for stills.

All that changed when SeaLife brought out first its housed cameras with strobes then, what I had been hoping for, a small compact self-contained underwater camera called the Micro 2 now succeeded by the newest generation called the SeaLife Micro 3. The need to quickly point a pre-focused camera, fire the shutter release to capture a fleeting moment in time is exactly what I wanted in the Micro 3, and I got it. A fast-swimming shark is not going to wait while I fiddle around with settings on my camera.

John Christopher Fine

John Christopher Fine (John Christopher Fine/Courtesy)

I usually wear gloves diving not only to protect my hands climbing back up the dive ladder but to keep them warm. My cameras must have large enough controls so that I can work them with gloves. The Micro 3 is ideal. When SeaLife first came out with its DC 600 housing it was a nightmare of 13 small buttons. I never want to review a picture underwater, no need to do all those things a land camera can do. I want to capture the image and go on with my dive. I contacted them. They took my suggestions to heart and came out with large piano key controls. I only use on-and-off and the shutter release. That is all I need to concentrate on underwater: aiming the camera and shooting the picture.

The little Micro 3 is also a good video camera that can capture action for as long as a half-hour. It also has audio features and WiFi.

A sea turtle is captured in John Christopher Fine's underwater photography.

A sea turtle is captured in John Christopher Fine’s underwater photography. (John Christopher Fine / Contributor)

It can be difficult to see an LCD screen underwater depending on light conditions and water clarity. The Micro 3 has a 2.4-inch color display. The internal memory is 64GB, large enough to store thousands of pictures and video clips. Like anything else, it is always wise to immediately download images from a camera and save them in multiple safe storage.

The charging plug is the avenue to the computer via a special adapter that slides into the slot. While the port is submersible, the adapter cannot be wet. The camera port must be thoroughly dry before inserting the adapter for charging or downloading pictures.

Divemaster Kurt Tidd uses lights below to bring out the ocean's colors.

Divemaster Kurt Tidd uses lights below to bring out the ocean’s colors. (John Christopher Fine / Contributor)

I travel the world with my underwater photo equipment. I have paid many excess baggage charges, now strictly imposed by airlines. I pack the sturdy Micro 3 and its companion SeaDragon underwater lights in my carry-on. Small, compact, sturdy, and, most important, with its wide-angle f2.8 fixed focus lens, it takes great pictures. Simplify.

John Christopher Fine is an author and marine biologist who lives in Boynton Beach.

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