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Getting Better Buoyancy Control

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Diver - Jared Keeling - dives deep in Ginny Springs

By Don Constanza

How many times have you looked at an underwater image and thought “I wish I could do that,” or “If I had that kind of camera gear, I could get the same images?” Let’s be honest, if you are an underwater photographer and you are like most of us, that thought has crossed your mind more than once.

My name is Don Costanza and Scuba and H2O Adventuresmagazine has asked me to share with you some tips and tricks that will give you a few things to consider as well as add to your underwater photography knowledge base. My goal is to help you create better images and isn’t that what we all strive for? Each month we will feature an image and break it down; I’ll explain the reason for the image as well as sharing some of the more technical aspects of the shot.

We will get to some pretty exciting topics in the upcoming months, but as we begin our underwater photography journey together we need to take a moment to discuss a very important topic. Many people think that gear alone differentiates a good picture from a great picture. Buying gear is fun, I’ll admit, but I’m here to tell you while the type of gear does have a role to play in the final image, it is not as big a role as you might think. I believe that in many circumstances, you can create great images regardless of the camera platform you use. I’m going to share with you one of the most important elements of underwater photography that you can do on your very next dive. It won’t matter if you have a “point and shoot” style camera, such as a Go-Pro, or a high-end DSLR camera. This tip will apply to all underwater photographers equally. That element I am speaking of is buoyancy control. 

That’s right; buoyancy control is a very crucial element that will often separate a good photographer from a great one. I know you are thinking, “that’s lame”—you were probably expecting me to mention “composition” or specific ISO settings or some cool new piece of equipment…and we will get to those… but first we need to make sure we have a solid foundation to build upon or nothing else we discuss will make a bit of difference in your images. Think about it. You are trying to get a shot of some creature and unless you can remain motionless, you will be perceived as a threat, and more often than not, you won’t get the shot you were hoping for. The subject will stay in its shelter or will swim away from you. If you are doing penetration dives in either caves or shipwrecks, buoyancy control is extremely important for diving safely, let alone shooting images. Without buoyancy control in a cave or shipwreck, you can very easily disturb the sediment and not only ruin any potential for a great shot, but you could also put the entire team at serious risk of being in a no-vis situation very quickly.

Here is another thing to consider. There is a reason many land based photographers use a tripod, it is for stability. While there are tripods for underwater use, they can be cost prohibitive for many. As an underwater photographer, you are the tripod. With buoyancy control you have a stable platform to shoot from and more likely to get the shot you want. By being stable in the water and not moving up/down or side to side, you will have the time to compose the shot you see in your mind instead of taking a machine gun approach of rapidly firing off shots and hoping one of them turns out. Another benefit to having buoyancy control is you will minimize motion blur in your images because the camera is stable.

In the upcoming months we will talk about topics such as gear familiarity, composition, video lights vs. strobes, creative perspectives, on-camera and off camera lighting, and much more.

If you have any specific topics that you would like me to address in future columns, I welcome suggestions. Please send an e-mail to mail.scubah2o@gmail.com. and I will do my best to address your questions.

Don Costanza got started in scuba diving many, many years ago because his wife was going to kill him if he didn’t get a hobby…and was hooked immediately. He is an avid diver who is never seen without his camera and dives every single week regardless of weather conditions. When not photographing the local underwater quarry objects he is either on the bottom of one of the Great Lakes capturing images of vessels from a by-gone era or in underwater caves whose goal is to share some of the wonders of Mother Nature that few divers ever get to see.”