8am: BoraBora Lagoon, French Polynesia. The weather was perfect, the seas were calm, my snorkelling gear was packed… Sometimes you just know you are in for a good day!
We were on our way by local boat across crystal clear waters – so translucent you felt like you were floating on air – to explore the underwater sea life of BoraBora Lagoon.
My goal for the morning was to shoot a split under/over water image showing the sea life below and the iconic Mount Otemanu above the surface. As I put on my snorkelling gear and entered the water I was amazed by the amount of life; there were tropical fish of all colours, remoras and rays along with a lot of rather plump reef sharks. The water was only around 2 metres deep in this spot and the white sands below me were reflecting the light beautifully.
I spent half an hour or so shooting a range of images before my local guide decided it would be a great idea to add some drama by throwing a few fish heads into the water in front of me to bring the sharks in even closer…! This made for a sudden frenzy of feeding fish with the sharks bumping into me as they competed for the spoils. An added bonus were the sea birds diving down to claim their share of the feed.
The equipment that I used for this series of images was the canon 5D mkII with a Canon 14mmL f2.8L mkII lens. I really like the ultra wide angle this lens provides without having to deal with the distortion of a fisheye. It also means you can get very close, as even the clearest of waters do not provide the same visibility as the air above the surface – the closer you get, the better the results!
To allow me to get my camera below the water I use an Aquatech DC5 underwater housing, with this I use a 25mm extension and an Aquatech 8 inch dome port. For those of you starting out with an underwater kit, it is not as straightforward as one would imagine. A few things worth knowing; a lens behind a dome port does not focus on the actual subject, like it does on land. It focuses on a “virtual image” that usually lies 20-30 cm’s in front of the port, depending on the port size. The larger the dome port, the further away the virtual image will be.
If you want to set your focus manually before entering the water – which I do – I would suggest a session shooting some test shots in a swimming pool with your lens and port combination. With my 8 inch dome and 14mm lens I manually focus at 1 foot / 0.3 metres and tape off the focus. I then choose a smallish aperture to give me good depth of field – normally between f11 and f16 dependant on the available light. I also set the ISO to a minimum of 400. This gives me a great result underwater and acceptable clarity for the topside portion of the image. If you are using a wide lens with a flat front element you can choose to use a split dioptre filter for under/over images to give you an accurate focus topside as well.
Here are a few of my favourite shots from that day. The birds feeding above the sea life in the water really make these images special.
As published in D-Photo Magazine September 2012.