Friday

Getting my feet wet with underwater photography

With summer in full swing now, you may be spending a lot of time around the pool, at the beach or just standing under the sprinkler to cool off. Most cameras don't take very kindly to water, though. If you want to get some fun shots while you're splashing around or snorkling, you need to buy one of the many "water-proof" or "water-resistant" cameras or get an underwater housing for your existing camera. That second choice is the one I made.. here's why.
The Canon WP-DC43 housing plays in the surf near Kona. 
Last year I went to the beach on the Gulf Coast with my family, and bought a waterproof point-and-shoot to play with. While it was fun to use, I found its limitations more frustrating. For one, that camera only produced jpegs, and even at the largest setting I could still see a lot of compression artifacts. So this year, for a trip to Hawaii, I bought a Canon waterproof housing for the S100 that I've been using for several months. Using the housing, a WP-DC43, let me shoot everything in raw and gave me the most control over my images. 
I should point out here that I'm not a diver, and I've only been snorkeling about four times in my life. So I wasn't expecting to come face-to-face with a giant squid or see any mermaids. And there are many aspects of underwater photography that are much different (and more difficult) than what can be shot on land, so this isn't going to be a tutorial about how to get great shots beneath the waves. 
Sea urchins among the crevices of a large coral.
With the exception of the turtles above, which obliged by floating around in about 1 foot of water, the conditions I faced were generally not great for shooting. Around the beaches where snorkeling is popular in Kona, on the west side of the big island, you get a fairly constant churning surf, which means that sand and debris are being kicked up in the shallower areas all the time. So the water is murky, and I've had to punch up the contrast in most of these photos quite a bit, as well as the clarity.
My brother, who has been scuba diving for years, did give me one tip about underwater photography.. if you're shooting straight ahead, things look a lot better. If you're pointing the camera down toward the seabed, you lose a lot of contrast and depth and tonality. That's pretty much the same as being on land, though: if the light is coming from right behind you, it flattens out all the shadows (which is why I don't like on-camera flash) but if it's coming from an angle it often looks much better.
But of course, during my travels in paradise I wanted to be able to use my nice little camera for other shooting as well, and I quickly realized that the smartest thing for me to do was to leave it in the housing all the time. That way, I could get it wet any time I wanted to (or couldn't avoid it, like near the surf or in the rain, or by a waterfall) and it reduced the chance that I'd somehow risk water damage to the camera by taking it in and out of a dripping housing. Each night I did take the S100 out and rinse the housing (as per the instructions on Canon's website) and I then backed up my images as well. 
My S100 fits right in to the housing, with every function available from outside buttons. 
My main worry in using the housing, aside from the constant fear that I would come to the surface with a drenched hunk of metal, was that my pictures weren't going to be very sharp. After all, you are placing another element in front of the lens. But the material (glass? plastic?) on the Canon housing seems to be very clear and I didn't notice any particular loss of sharpness. As much as I like being able to slip the S100 in to my pocket and keep it out of sight, it wasn't really a hassle to carry around the camera in the housing. One part of that which really helped is that you can attach the strap to the sides of the camera housing, as shown in the top photo, which makes it hang better on the body and also makes it easier to handle underwater. 
A tourist photographs a lava flow that overtook the road on the south side of the island. 
I think maybe the best thing about using the Canon waterproof housing, which I got from B&H Photo in New York, is that it let me try making some photos that I wouldn't have attempted otherwise. I found myself freely dipping the camera in to shallow pools, holding it down at the surf line, and carrying it around in places where I might have left an unprotected body in the car (or stayed back a few more feet to protect what I was carrying.) I got splashed a bit when making these photos, but they're kinda fun and different and enhanced the record of my trip.
This is a photo I wouldn't have attempted without having some splash protection for the camera. 
I could have spent as much money on a new waterproof camera, and probably even much more to get a good one, but using a housing allowed me to operate a camera that I was already familiar with and which gives me very good image quality without a big new learning curve.

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