Underwater Photography Without A Camera

This episode, in the field of applied surrealism: underwater photography without a camera. That’s what I did today at Kurnell, during two dives in Botany Bay south of Sydney. I sincerely believe that not taking a camera on a dive can help you become a better underwater photographer. Not every dive, of course, then you would end up without pictures at all. But sometimes, a cameraless dive can break bad visual habits you might have picked up on your way, and you might notice animals or animal behaviors you had missed so far.


What I particularly noticed today is how agreeable most fishes in fact are. When behind a camera, I get the impression that I am in a psycho-match against the fish in front of me. How closely can I stalk it, how close can I get my camera’s objective to the fish, before it has enough of me and takes off. But today, cameraless, I was simply floating along and enjoying the view – and much fewer fish than when I am camera-carrying fled from me. I was drifting upside down next to a sponge – and the hawkfish living in that sponge ogled me with curiosity, rather than escaping. So, am I too aggressive and fast towards the fish when all cameraed up? This is something I am very conscious of, and try to avoid, but I might still have some way to go to be a completely unobtrusive underwater photographer. The less I scare the fish, the more likely they are to display their natural behavioral patterns. Today I did see two wrasses fighting, and one large damselfish fend off another one attempting to intrude into its territory. I also watched a filefish couple take it easy next to a rock ledge. I noticed how filefish use their first dorsal fin spine for communication – putting that spine up seems to mean “I am here”.

cowfish pacificklaus

A cowfish from a previous, fully cameraed dive.

Another thing which occurred to me when reflecting on my cameraed diving is that I am spending an awful lot of time with my Canon USM 100 mm macro lens. It’s a nice lens – no question, but it limits the scene which I can ban on a sensor to about 20 centimeters across in size. But even in the absence of manta rays and large sharks there are lots of intriguing things to photograph which are larger – such as the aforementioned filefish couple. I’ll definitely put on a bigger variety of lenses in the next months.


Sometimes, not always (that would have been a bit neurotic) during my cameraless photodive today I was nevertheless composing images – putting a mental frame around scenes, and imagining if what’s in that frame would make a nicely arranged photograph. Sponge backgrounds, scary looking scorpionfish, some gobies with nicely patterned scales, lots of colorful nudibranchs, a few large stingrays – lots of subjects for my not-photographs.


So, as an applied surrealism homework for you, I recommend visualizing the photographs I might have taken today, and, if you like them, maybe leave a comment which aspect you particularly enjoyed.


And, yes, after almost two weeks of science-related travel and a few manuscripts to attend to, I will very soon continue my series on starting underwater photography.