In the last post, we went over the best BCDs for photographers, focusing on the advantages for buoyancy on a back inflate system. You can read that article here.
In this second part, we will talk about the other equipment and accessories that will help improve the quality of your shooting as well as your diving as an underwater photographer.
An obvious accessory for photographers that affects how you see underwater will undoubtedly be choosing the proper mask. Being the first bit of equipment most people purchase it can either help you have an amazing dive or be the source of all of your frustration. My strongest suggestion would be to visit your local dive shop to personally try on masks and even better would be a shop that has a “try before you buy” policy. Some shops will let you jump in the pool to test out masks before you make a decision. I highly recommend this.
What to look for:
Some might think: the bigger the better. This is not always the case. There is a line of masks that promote wide viewing angles by placing glass around the sides. Seems like a good idea but DON’T FALL FOR IT. What happens is those side pieces of glass actually reflect a bit of what is behind you. Maybe good for an instructor but I found it to be a huge distraction, whipping my neck around constantly thinking there was something next to me when it was just another diver behind me. Frustrating.
Obviously, the fit, comfort, and seal will be the most important things to consider, this is why it is important to try on before you buy. Not all faces are the same. A mask that might be perfect for one face might cause you extreme pain on the bridge of your nose. Another consideration is the color and lens. This might seem like a moot point but 2 things that will affect your photo taking is a clear mask that will let light and reflections in through the top and sides making it a little difficult to see your screen and a mask with a cool looking UV protection coating. The UV will change the colors slightly and the reflection from them can be a photographers nightmare.
The seal of approval
A point of major frustration for anyone diving is a leaky mask. Now to be clear: EVERY mask will leak a bit (definitely if you have a beautiful mustache as I do) but excessive leaking is a big problem, especially when you are trying to stay still with both hands on the camera or taking video. Many times the perfect shot was ruined for me due to my mask starting to fill up with more water then I was comfortable with. Experiment with different shape makes and skirt materials. Typically they come in 2 styles: rubber or silicone. In my experience silicone is much more comfortable and form fitting. If you are nerdy like me, here is a cool video on the making of SCUBA masks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3CGqnAWM6U
The last point of difference for masks is going to be the frame and strap. You can go with either framed or frameless, a frameless/low profile mask (less volume inside) is going to be best for traveling as it becomes almost flat when packing given that it has no extra outer frame to hold the skirt in place. Then lastly add a comfort strap to the mask to make it easier to take on and off (especially for those with longer hair) and you also can use the comfort strap to customize the mask with a cause you support such as “Project Aware”, “Shark Guardian”, “Girls That SCUBA” or show your support for your favorite online underwater photography retailer.
Lastly: Fogging. When you get a new mask there will be some steps you will need to take to get rid of the silicon film (which is the cause of new masks fogging) the manufacturers put on the lens to keep them looking shiny and new. There are 2 methods, one with toothpaste and one with a lighter. I recommend both. You can do a quick search online on how to perform these or better yet ask your sales rep at your local dive center to help you as they have probably done it hundreds of times before. If you would like to try yourself here is a video demonstration – one thing they don’t mention in the video is don’t go immediately from burning to cold water, you will crack the glass (DON’T MELT YOUR NEW MASK!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gc1nmpuo3bI
Fins will be more of personal preference and sometimes determined by the conditions you will be diving in. Try as many different styles as possible whether it’s through your dive operator or trading with your dive buddies. There are lots of fancy looking fins with claims of doing one thing or another uniquely but most important is going to be comfort, maneuverability, and power. I personally prefer fins the require booties. They just feel more comfortable and as long as the booties fit well then the fins should be no problem, especially when it comes to points of rubbing and looseness.
The long and short of it:
There are some divers that prefer short fins like me due to their great maneuverability, lightweight, ease of travel and less chance of damaging the reef or kicking other divers. I personally use the APEKS RK3 which also come in a variety of color if you are into that stuff.
Then there are other photographers who swear by super long freediving fins which help them race towards subjects in the distance and slide through currents like a hot knife in butter.
This is going to be a personal preference but I suggest taking the opportunity to try both. If you do a lot of diving in strong currents then that should be the ultimate factor in your decision making simply for enjoyment as well as safety.
It goes without saying that you should use a computer especially for photographers since we have a tendency to lose track of our surroundings (and buddies) when we are focused on a subject. Being aware of your depth, NDLs and gas consumption are the main objectives here. I won’t go into conservativeness or algorithms, you can check the manufacturers’ details regarding that or better yet as your sales professional. The style and color of your computer are trivial and more of a personal preference. I dive daily so I prefer a watch style computer so that I will never forget it and it always stays on my wrist. Just last year I started using a transmitter with my computer that will show me my air consumption on screen, I will never go back to not having one. The freedom of not having to check any gages is wonderful.
You can also experiment with where you place your computer, I know a lot of divers that place their computer (or an additional computer) directly on their camera housing or float arms. This way it is always in view. Great for when you are following a subject and have both hands on the camera. You can monitor your depth, NDLs, and air without ever having to look away from your camera. I currently use a Suunto D4i with the transmitter and have no issues whatsoever. The only reason I would switch is If I desperately need a new shiny toy or if I decide to go into the world of trimix or rebreathers.
Streamlining is an ongoing process as you change your gear and diving style to find the best way to keep all of your equipment nice and tidy and close to your body. The advantages being: Less drag and more efficient diving, less potential damage to the environment, safety and simply looking cool 😉
Remember to keep all of your hoses and dangly accessories secured to your body. Countless times I’ve to see divers with cool torches, compasses, octos just dragging them across the reef…
As photographers, we have extra concerns about streamlining (as we tend to get closer to the reef or other obstacles such as on wrecks) while we are carrying extra equipment. If you have long strobe arms as I do you will inevitably deal with getting the hose of your regulator caught on the arms. This is frustrating and at worst dangerous, as you can inadvertently tangle yourself up in your own gear. My recommendation is to get shorter myflex hoses for your second stage and a swivel joint to place between your second stage and hose.
This will allow you to route your hose closer to your head and avoid getting it caught on your strobe arms. The next option if you are a more advanced diver would be to use the Hogarthian method or long hose, which will completely contain all of your hoses against your body. This is the favorite method of technical and cave divers for obvious reasons and also adds some safety measures as well. If you plan on trying this I would suggest getting trained on the proper way to use it by an experienced instructor. If you would like to know more about this method and possibly get hooked on some tech and cave diving, you can take that risk by visiting: https://frogkickdiving.com/regulators-%7C-hose-routing
At the end of the day, the most important objective is going to be to have fun and to enjoy your experience underwater. Make sure you are comfortable with whatever equipment you use and safety is a high priority.
Happy bubbles, if you have any questions please feel free to message me or leave them below in the comments.
- What is the Best and Fastest Way to Learn Underwater Photography – September 8, 2020
- How to Extract Perfect Still Photos from 4K Video – May 14, 2020
- Rebreathers for Photographers and Video Makers – Is CCR Worth It? – May 12, 2020