The underwater world is such a beautiful place that we, as divers, would be crazy not to want to bring back memories of our secret explorations of paradise. It is part of human nature to capture moments of true beauty, to store them, to treasure them and show them to our loved ones with pride.
In the 21st century, capturing every single moment of our lives has become an integrated part of belonging to society. We take pictures of ourselves, our loved ones, our pets, the food we eat, the places we visit and the activities we engage in – including scuba diving. When taking photographs underwater, it is important to respect the health of the environment. Taking good pictures underwater without damaging marine life is not an easy task and there are many elements to consider before capturing that perfect shot. Here are my top tips for divers considering taking up responsible underwater photography.
Master Good Buoyancy
Divers who have not mastered neutral buoyancy should think twice before using a camera on a dive. Diving with poor buoyancy control and a camera can be dangerous to a diver, their dive group and the health of the fragile ecosystem they are diving on. Coral reefs are delicate, take many years to grow even the smallest amount, and can be easily damaged by a diver with poor buoyancy who is focussed on taking a photograph. Coral reefs play an important role in the balance of the marine environment and provide food and shelter for a large variety of marine species. They need to be protected from inadvertent damage by divers.
Divers can assess their buoyancy skills before taking up underwater photography by working with a diving professional. Good buoyancy means that no part of a diver, including accessories such as cameras, should touch the bottom or the reef at any point of the dive, for any reason except in an emergency. Divers should never feel afraid to ask a dive professional if he or she would be willing to assess their buoyancy. Not only will a dive professional be more than happy to help, they will most certainly be impressed with such consideration for the environment and likely provide photography tips and tricks; all whilst improving divers’ buoyancy skills.
Assess the environment
Divers should always assess their environment before preparing to take a picture and ask themselves:
Can I take this picture without disturbing the bottom composition?
There is no picture worth taking if irreversible damage is done to the surrounding environment. Rearranging the background of a picture by breaking off pieces of coral, that do not fit the picture or that hide the subject, is not an acceptable practice under any circumstances. Instead, divers should consider whether they can take the picture from a different angle. Hovering motionlessly above, or to the side of, a photographic subject allows divers to capture the image they want whilst also preventing damage to the dive site.
Divers also need to be aware of their fin placement when trying to capture a subject. With good buoyancy and an understanding of different finning techniques, a diver should be able to invert themselves so that their fins do not touch the bottom – even when their upper body is close to the reef.
Respect Marine Life
Divers should avoid chasing or harassing marine life when taking photographs, by asking themselves:
Can I take this picture without causing stress to the subject?
If the answer is no, the diver should move on to another photographic opportunity. Not only does chasing marine life with a camera cause stress to the subject, it also depletes air much faster than normal.
Marine life needs to be given the same respect we would want if the roles were reversed. Divers can study and assess the body language of different marine species, to ensure they known when to back off and indicate they are not a threat to marine life present. Species that do not feel threatened may even come closer, allowing a diver to get that prize photograph after all.
Remember to never touch marine life, as the bacteria on human skin can cause species harm.
As divers, we are blessed with the opportunity to visit and passively participate in a world that is both beautiful and alien to us. It is a glorious responsibility to witness such marvels of evolution. Through respect and understanding, we may continue to observe the underwater world and all its natural beauty for generations to come. The oceans today are suffering a massive threat to their health and, as divers, we should be part of the solution for the conservation and protection of the world’s most valuable resource; the Ocean.