Getting Started

By Marty Snyderman

Recently, I was honored to be the emcee of the 33rd San Diego Underwater Photographic Society Film Festival. After the show, Randy B., a longtime diver from Encinitas, CA, told me he had been bitten by the photographic bug, but he didn't know the best way to get started. His question was "What would you advise me to do to get started in underwater photography so I can have fun and not get overwhelmed?" The answer to Randy's question can help anyone get started, and if you are an established underwater photographer, my answer may help you advise friends who are interested in pursuing underwater photography.

Clearly there are a lot of paths to success in underwater photography, and there is no universal best way to get started. However, I do think I can offer some advice that will be helpful to most people. First and foremost, in order to be a competent underwater photographer, you must be a solid diver. So be sure you develop basic scuba skills before diving with a camera. Even though Randy is an experienced diver, it is likely that putting a camera system in his hands will make him feel a little clumsy for the first few dives. Because diving with a camera system is different and because one has to learn how to operate the camera equipment, I strongly suggest beginning with a macro camera system that allows new underwater photographers to do the majority of their photographic thinking and equipment setup topside before the dive. In the water all they need to do is point and shoot.

A macro system setup enables photographers to take great full-frame shots of small creatures such as nudibranchs, hermit crabs, feeding coral polyps and anemones. Several types of macro systems are available. A Sea & Sea MotorMarine II-EX camera with a single strobe and either a 2T or 3T macro lens is an ideal system. So is a Nikonos V camera with a single strobe and an extension tube and framer. A number of manufacturers make excellent macro strobes as well as extension tubes and framers, which come in a variety of sizes allowing photographers to vary their subject size. If Randy prefers to start with slightly larger subjects he might opt for a Sea & Sea close-up conversion lens or the Nikonos close-up kit. Sea & Sea makes conversion lenses for both its MX-10 and the MotorMarine II-EX.
One final word of advice is take a course. A lot of pros teach excellent classes, and no matter whose class is taken, I feel confident that new photographers will develop their skills faster while enduring fewer frustrations by starting with a macro system and a class.