One of the biggest differences between wildlife photography on land and underwater is movement. Underwater, a photographer has to contend with not only the movement of the subject, but also his or her own movement. The best way to minimize these added difficulties is to develop and master your buoyancy skills. Here, we have compiled our best tips on buoyancy as it related to underwater photography!
When preparing for a dive, the first thing to consider to ensure proper buoyancy is the amount of weight you will be needing. For the best estimate, always consider the following factors:
Next, it is important to consider how to distribute the weights you have selected around your body while diving. Most BCDs come with integrated weight pockets on the front in addition to extra pouches near the tank strap (keep in mind this weight cannot be “dumped” in the event of an emergency). Weight belts are also always a reliable option. In general, weight near the tank strap will orient you more vertically, while weights in the integrated pockets will cause you to lie more horizontally.
When deciding how to distribute your weights, take into account the type of dive you will be doing. If your plan is to pass over top of a flat, blanketing reef, a more horizontal position may benefit your photography efforts. On the contrary, a vertical position may be more advantageous on a wall dive. Also consider the type of viewfinder on your camera equipment. Personally, I recommend a 45 degree viewfinder, as it offers the most flexibility.
And of course, when practicing your buoyancy to improve your underwater photography skills, dive WITH your camera. Particularly if you have a large DSLR setup, the camera itself can have a large impact on your buoyancy as a diver. This should certainly be considered when deciding how to best distribute weights. As for the camera itself, aim for neutral buoyancy and trim that fits your profile. If you plan to take sun balls for your entire dive, trimming your camera to point the lens up may not be such a bad idea. This can be achieved through the coordinated use of float arms and weights attached to the camera tray.
Now that you’re ready for your dive, hop in, do your usual buoyancy check, and descend. As you approach the bottom, adjust your BCD for neutral buoyancy, and shift your focus to your breathing. (remember, never hold your breath!) Barring any substantial depth changes, breathing should be all you need to ascend to snap the perfect picture of the shark passing overhead or descend to capture a piece of ocean art for display in your own home.
In addition to the standard fin pivot and hover drills, try a few other methods of practicing: