This video from a visit to Belize in April shows divers feeding a nurse shark from the tip of their spear gun. On Long Caye, the only fish we spear are lionfish, an invasive species that is hurting the ecology of coral reefs around across the Caribbean.
Baltimore Sun photojournalist and blogger Olivia Hubert-Allen was taking her first scuba dive while on a recent trip to Belize and had high hopes for capturing some breathtaking shots. “But breathtaking underwater photography isn’t easy, as I soon found out,” she writes in her post on the Sun’s photo blog, The Darkroom.
Some stories are of successes (read Bob Hamilton’s underwater photography guide for that), but this one is of failure — and the lessons learned through it. Now that I’m back from my trip, allow me to pass along a few pieces of advice for other photography novices who are considering diving deep with a camera.
TIP 1: KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC.
Look friends, there is a reason that the photographers and videographers hired by National Geographic get to film fish for a living while the rest of us are stuck in offices — they’re amazingly talented. If this is your first time taking a camera underwater, get ready to learn a lot and have plenty of fun! Don’t expect shark-week quality footage because you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment. I made this mistake and it ruins everything. While flipping through vacation photos, all I see are mountains of missed opportunities. Who wants that? Set realistic expectations and you’ll be just fine.
TIP 2: CHECK YOUR CAMERA’S SPECS AND ACCESSORY NEEDS.
I didn’t do enough research on the front end to know that I needed a special underwater case on the GoPro I used. Just because you can take a camera underwater without killing it, doesn’t mean it will actually take good images down there. My case was waterproof, but not optimized the way a special case would have been. All the videos and photos that I captured are out of focus and murky. Sad, sad, sad. Don’t be like me. Do your homework!
TIP 3: THINK ABOUT YOUR LIGHTING SITUATION.
Even in the pristine waters of Belize, it got a little dark once we were down 50 feet. My photos aren’t as vibrant as I would have liked in part because we were diving later in the afternoon. If photography is your main goal for diving, try to get a dive time around noon, when the sun will likely be the brightest. If you must dive in sub-optimal conditions, consider having a light source on hand. Though it is best not to use it if you don’t need it, it can help if you’re having problems capturing color and texture. Your dive master may be able to advise you on what kind of set-up you’ll need for the depth you intend to do. Some dive shops have camera set-ups with flashes you can rent.
TIP 4: DON’T UNDERESTIMATE VIDEO.
I wish I had taken more video while I was underwater, and spent less time trying to capture stills. This might be in part because of my case issues outlined in Tip 2, but the fact remains — our eyes and brains are much more forgiving of bad video than a bad photograph. Just in case the photos you’re getting aren’t amazing, take ample video to capture your experience.
TIP 5: HEAD TO SHALLOW WATERS.
Take the camera you’re planning to use out for a spin before the big day. Even if you’re shooting throw away images of your friend at the local YMCA, you’ll get a feel for how best to use the camera. Many GoPros don’t have viewfinders or digital screens for photo review, so you’re essentially shooting blind. I didn’t quite understand the angle of the lens on my camera, so many of my stills have the object of interest in the lower-most third of the frame. Yeah, not good. Some time spent tooling around in the surf would have helped me figure that out sooner.
Another blog with great underwater photo tips:
Long Caye Wall is one of our most spectacular snorkel and scuba diving sites, easily accessed from Adventure Island on Long Caye at Glover’s Reef, Belize. A short swim from shore brings you to the edge of the atoll where the sea floor drops away from 40 feet to 3,000 feet in less than a mile. Jacques Cousteau claimed this was one of his top 10 favorite dive sites in the world!
Though snorkeling is far and away the most popular activity on our island, many of our guests take advantage of the scuba diving opportunities offered by the Long Caye Dive Center, just a few feet down the island from our dining hall. All scuba diving on the island is from a Long Caye Dive Center boat and accompanied by one of their skilled guides. A complete description of the dives available with them, along with their rates and requirements, is available in the dive Belize section of our website.
They also offer a full line of certification classes, from first time Bubblemaker classes for kids to Master Diver and everything in between. If you have never been scuba diving before but have wanted to learn, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef is the perfect place to learn – the water is 80 degrees and visibility is some of the highest anywhere. If you haven’t considered it before, check out this great article about first-time diving in Belize. Read this piece just out by Joshua S. Brown published in the 2012 issue of Destination Belize Magazine.
Becoming certified to dive involves a little bit of book study and classroom discussion, as well as taking written tests. That is followed by shallow water or in-pool skill training and testing. The final step involves open water dives and passing further skill tests at 40 feet.
Rather than spend precious days on the island with their head in a book or sitting in a classroom, many of our guests who are diving for the first time prefer to get the classroom and pool skills part of their certification completed before they arrive. This can be accomplished easily by contacting any dive center in your vicinity and regardless which organization you go with, as long as it is one of the widely recognized certification programs (e.g. NAUI, SSI, ACUC, CMAS, and BSAC) and you bring along the appropriate paperwork, the final open water steps can be completed on Long Caye. In this case your certification would be issued by PADI or you can opt to take your paperwork home and have it issued by your original organization. This kind of course, where you do half of the course at home and half on the island is called a “referral” course. You can see a complete description of all Belize dive courses on our website. Once you are certified to dive, it is a lifetime certification. You can then dive anywhere in the world.