Shooting The Deep By Klaus M. Stiefel
You probably have already done it several times this week, and without all that much effort: take a photograph. The advanced lenses, sensors and software of modern digital cameras make it easy to take pictures, and sometimes even good pictures. Cameras have come a long way since photography was initially invented in the late 1700s. Back then it was a cumbersome and slow business! Bulky photographic devices had to be set up for exposure times spanning hours, followed by tricky chemical procedures to develop the images. Today the near-magic advancements of optics and electronics have rendered the photographic process so simple that a whole class of consumer cameras is quite correctly called point-and-shoot.
But in some cases, taking pictures still involves extraordinary efforts, like those I made for my deep-diving underwater photography during the last few years. I brought my camera along dives on the spectacular drop-offs of tropical coral reefs in the 50 – 80 meter (165 – 260 feet) range, well below what recreational divers can reach. I experienced an amazing biodiversity, with a coral cover in pristine condition, majestic large barrel sponges multi-colored sea feathers and pulsating anemones everywhere. I saw rare and unusual animals, some of them possibly never before seen by human eyes, and I took photographs of many of these sea creatures. I took pictures of marine life separated from the regular realm of humans by a barrier of 80 vertical meters of salt water, exposed to a pressure of 9 bar, which is 9 times as much pressure as on the surface. In this hard to reach environment taking good pictures down there took even more of my efforts than merely going to these places. As a reward, I got shots of unreal beauty and scientific significance. In this article I want to share what it took to get these shots. First, I will briefly describe the diving techniques I employed; Then I will tell you about the photographic gear, techniques and mindset I had to have to resurface with beautiful images of deep reef marine life. I hope that this description will be interesting in itself; I also think that a lot of the photographic approaches I used constitute good lessons for any under-water or nature-photographer.