By Nick Coendoz:
Over here on Bangka Island we are fortunate to be surrounded by a myriad of world class photo opportunities. From rare and wonderful critters to astounding reefscapes set in gin-clear water, nothing is left wanting from super macro right through to sublime wide angle scenes, often on the same dive. When faced with such richness we as photographers face some serious task loading issues; adjusting settings, composing the scene and focusing on not scaring away the subject can leave little concentration left over for peripheral details. To ensure protection of the underwater environment, avoid raising the ire of fellow, non-photographer divers and generally be ambassadors for our sport there are a few simple considerations that we should all keep in the back of our minds:
1. Buoyancy, buoyancy, buoyancy. The number one crime committed by photographers is, in my opinion, resting fins/legs/entire bodies on the reef behind while taking photos. Destruction of the very environment you love should not be the cost of nailing the photo – and looks terrible to anyone watching on or waiting for a chance to observe what you’re shooting. With a mixture of buoyancy practice and situational awareness we can all get the photos we want and leave the reef exactly as we found it.
2. Care when Leaving the Subject. This one applies to all divers, not just those taking photos. I was once waiting patiently to get a look at a juvenile painted Frogfish in the Similan Islands in Thailand; Happy that they’d had a good look, the diver in front of me turned around and with his first fin kick promptly belted the poor frogfish off his little soft coral home and over the bommie behind. The story here is awereness of our size and lack of dexterity when close to delicate objects underwater. Ideally we should all be planning our exit when approaching any tight space. To back away from subjects if all else fails it is always best to gently push off from a (reasonably) bare piece of rock using the tip of a finger or a stick if you dive with one and keep the kicking to a minimum until well clear.
3. Keep exposures of an individual organism to a minimum
The vast majority of organisms underwater do not have eyelids and are very vulnerable to strobe flashes and stress when approached by divers. A good photographer will prepare settings before approaching a subject; thus giving us the best chance of taking a winning shot with minimum hassle to the animal. Especially important with Pygmy Seahorses – always remember the maximum 4 shot rule!
4. Interfering with Subjects & Their Homes. Whether to help locate Pygmy Seahorses on fans or influence charismatic behaviour there is great temptation to touch, re-locate or otherwise meddle with organisms – often to the detriment of their health. We should always minimise the influence we have over the environment, for example; you can pass your hand behind a sea fan to better see Seahorses, wait patiently for animals to become more accustomed to your presence and start behaving naturally and most importantly never feed fish. Local guides can be quite aggressive in their handling of delicate corals – though they are only proudly showing off the life in their area, try to influence them to take a passive approach to locating and displaying the marine life.
5. Consideration of other divers. This is the subject that arguably gives photographers the worst reputation, especially away from the main photo-centric areas like Lembeh Strait. Always consider the group you are diving with when taking photos. Prepare to approach a subject with your settings already tested, take a few photos and then allow others to get a look. If you are not happy with how your exposures turned out you can always return to the subject once the group has moved on. With practice It is usually possible to keep up with a non-photographic group and come away with great pictures. And everyone remains your friend at the end of the day. 🙂