Being a long time land based photographer, my past experience has been primarily with film based SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras. Moving to the world of digital photography, I've been through a few different digital cameras and have finally settled on my latest digital SLR camera, the Nikon D3.

A 12.1 Megapixel CMOS camera, the Nikon D3 has hands down beat the previous digital point and shoot cameras that I've used. The higher quality full-frame sensor has produced results that are beyond comparison. And going to digital-SLR was a big step, as it has allowed me greater flexibility in choice of lenses.

I have housed the D3 in an Aquatica housing, and has now become my primary rig.


My Nikon D3 digital SLR camera


Aquatica Housing with 9.25" dome port, Nikon D3 inside with Nikkor 16mm fisheye lens


Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens

Taking pictures underwater is very different than taking pictures on land. The biggest challenge is how light behaves underwater and dealing with the dramatic difference in visibility in water versus air.

Light quality diminishes dramatically the further away you are from your subject, and as well, the more water between camera and subject also means more particulate matter that can get in your shot. Because of this, a good wide angle lens is invaluable, especially in our local Canadian waters. 

For wide angle photography, my lens of choice is the Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D AF Fisheye lens. This lens allows me to get close to my subject, minimizing the amount of water between the camera and subject, as well as minimizing the filtering effect of the water on the light. I also use the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S wide zoom, which gives me some flexibility when shooting larger marine animals.

Water and cameras do not mix. Inherently, water is death to cameras, and typically anything electronic. So when taking pictures underwater, camera equipment must be sealed to be protected from water. And not only from water, but from water pressure. Diving to only 33 feet of water increases the pressure of water on the camera to 2 atmospheres. Imagine going down to 150 feet, as I have done with some of my photos. That's more than 5 atmospheres of pressure! 

A camera housing is designed to encase an otherwise land-only camera and allow it to function underwater while protecting it from the water and the increased pressure. My housing for the Nikon D3 is made by Aquatica. The housing is precision cast aluminum with levers and buttons that allow full functionality of the camera while protecting it from water. The housing is sealed by a set of rubber o-rings that create a water tight seal that is effective to a depth of 300 feet. The housing is attached to a tray, which hold the camera in place as well as provide handles to grip the camera. 

Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G Wide Zoom Lens


Natural light underwater is not the same as on land. Water has the ability to filter out the longer wavelength colours, such as red, to a much greater degree than the shorter wavelengths of light, such as purple and blue. As a result, natural lighting underwater tends to turn pictures blue and green, even at a depth of only a few feet. As such, having a good lighting system can be invaluable. The flash system I use, commonly called "strobes", are a set of two Ikelite DS-125 strobes. They provide a full range of coverage with sufficient power and quick recycle times to suit my needs for an underwater lighting system.

I use a set of arms to hold the strobes about 3 1/2 feet either side of my camera. The reason for this is that with particulate matter in the water, it is helpful to create a larger angle of the light to the camera lens to minimize the illumination of particles directly in front of the camera, which results in white dots in pictures, commonly known as "backscatter". For our local waters here, this length mostly eliminates backscatter, but still not entirely. 

And when it's all put together, the system can seem pretty massive and difficult to manage under water. From one strobe to the other, the camera rig, when set up, measures nearly 8 feet in length. With a bit of practice, handling this underwater is really not all that difficult.... Really! Notice the scuba tank is about 2 1/2 feet tall.


What is a rebreather? Simply put, a rebreather is a device that allows you to recycle your breath by scrubbing the waste carbon dioxide from it and replentishing the oxygen that is used up. This can create a bubbleless system for diving.

Rebreather technology may seem new, but actually, it's been around for a long time. Today's rebreathers, however, are significantly more advanced than their early precedessors. My unit, made by AP Diving, is called the Evolution. It utilizes a computer controlled system to maintain a constant pressure of oxygen in the breathing gas, which is re-circulated in a "loop". 

Back view of my rebreather

My Evolution Rebreather

Because the system optimizes the breathing gas continuously, longer bottom times and less decompression is required than when diving with traditional open circuit scuba. And for photographers, rebreathers are beneficial because they do not produce bubbles. Not only does this make for better pictures, the lack of bubbles allows me to get closer to marine life as they are not spooked as easily. 

Rebreathers require special training to operate and dive safely. There is significantly more to know about rebreather diving than with traditional open circuit scuba diving, and can present additional risks if not trained properly. However, the benefits with regard to underwater photography is significant. 


Diving my rebreather on the Daryaw.May 2006, Brockville, Ontario



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