Underwater Photography for Freedivers

Freediving is breath hold diving and has its roots in spearfishing, an activity that long preceded recreational scuba diving. Almost all of the leading pioneers of underwater photography and film making from the early years and many of today’s top underwater photo-journalists and documentary cameramen have strong freediving backgrounds. Freediving is an essential skill for working with many species of mega-fauna, such as cetaceans, which are disturbed by bubbles or move to swiftly for a scuba diver to stay alongside.

Underwater photography equipment for freediving usually requires that you use a camera inside an underwater housing. Most waterproof digital cameras only operate to modest depths and may also have a limit on how long you can keep them submerged for. It is likely you will be working in low light levels, because of depth, poor visibility, time of day or in shadows created by kelp, cliffs, rocks and wreckage. So a camera with good low noise characteristics is useful. To obtain strong colours without using flash, an efficient manual or custom white balance setting is an essential feature. This can be enhanced by using a dedicated underwater filter, which are made for both blue and green water conditions. A ‘one touch’ custom white balance is desirable as it saves you from navigating menus, which is time consuming.

If you plan to photograph small to medium sized fish, then you will need to think about your choice of lenses. Compact cameras usually need to be zoomed in, but you also need to be close to your subject. Not all cameras can focus as close as they need to for successful fish photography. Your INON UK specialist underwater photography dealer can advise you on which compact cameras can focus at the required distances and also give tips on which autofocus settings to choose. If you are using a compact system camera or SLR, kit lenses or specialist macro lenses are good choices. Your INON UK dealer can discuss options with you.

For working with larger subjects such as wrecks, reefscapes, whales, sharks, mantas, seals and other divers, you will need to consider a wide angle lens. The larger the subject and the poorer the visibility, the wider the lens needs to be. Compact underwater cameras usually use accessory “wet” wide angle lenses. INON wet lenses can be fitted and removed underwater as needed. Genuine wide angle lenses greatly expand the coverage of the built in lens, which simple dome ports cannot do. Dome ports only restore the original angle of the built in lens – like your eyes behind your face mask a camera lenses angle of view is significantly narrowed when used underwater behind a flat housing port. Divers and untrained vendors of underwater camera equipment often mistake dome ports for genuine underwater wide angle lenses. It is very important to check compatibility of your compact camera and housing with any wide angle lens, including INON underwater wide angle lenses. Many housings cannot accept wide angle lenses at all and others, even if an underwater wide angle lens can be physically attached, perform very poorly. INON design special housing mounts for attaching INON lenses that actually form part of the optical light path to ensure maximum image quality. Some INON lenses also have adjustable or interchangeable fittings to enable them to be set in the right position for your camera and housing combination. Your INON UK underwater camera dealer can recommend INON lenses and mounts.

SLR cameras and most CSC systems cannot use wet wide angle lenses (often INON wet close up lenses can be used). You will need to choose a normal wide angle lens and select an appropriate port for your housing. However a small number of CSC cameras can be used with INON wet wide angle lenses, giving you the flexibility of a compact camera with the benefit’s of the more advanced CSC body. Many INON UK dealers can provide equipment, advice and back up if you choose to invest in a CSC or SLR system for your own underwater photography.

mermaid Kat
Professional mermaid, model and free diver, Mermaid Kat, has honed her skills as a free diver, allowing her to stay underwater for several minutes at a time, interacting with the underwater world. Lisa Collins was lucky enough to photograph her in Egypt.

paul colley freediving
"To emphasise the depth to which this diver was going, I chose a viewpoint that encompassed the ship's bow for scale, but also stood back to achieve a true wide angle perspective. An important part of planning was the direction of light to achieve the catch lights in the free diver's mask, which was always intended. Olympus XZ-2 with INON UWL 100 wide angle lens and dome port with a PT-054 housing." Image by INON UK Instructor and Expert, Paul Colley CB OBE.

frogfish free diving
By Nick Robertson Brown of Frogfish Photography and INON UK Underwater Photography Instructor. The freediving image was shot during a freediving competition held in Manchester. You are not allowed to use flash, so that you do not distract the competitors, and so high ISO is essential. This was actually a record breaking dive by Rebecca Coales!

kat with reg
Kat modelling
Whilst on assignment for Diver Magazine, INON UK Principal and Underwater Photography Instructor/Trainer Lisa Collins was tasked with photographing professional model and free diver Kat Felton. Kat was brought down to the bottom by a safety diver who would give her his alternate air source for a few breathes, before Kat would start modelling for up to 3 minutes each time on one single breath hold.

jellyfish lake
This image was taken by Lisa Collins, whilst free diving in Jelly Fish Lake, Palau, Micronesia. Scuba diving is not allowed due to the relative shallowness of the lake and the silty bottom, which could be stirred up by diving, causing a drop in visibility. Jellyfish follow the sun around the lake, gaining nutrients from it. With decreased visibility the jellyfish would not be able to absorb as much of the nutrients they need. Diving down underneath them, Lisa was able to shoot a snell's window effect up towards the surface, without disturbing the silty bottom.

free diving with dolphins
Freediving with dolphins in Egypt was the only way to capture these fast moving mammals. We were lucky enough to encounter a super pod of over 70 dolphins in the far South, who had just returned to a protected area after feeding in the open ocean. By Lisa Collins

mark free diving
Swimming by Mark Koekemoer
Loughborough University Swimming Pool 2011

This photograph of Olympic swimmer Ross Davenport, was taken for an article (The Fifth Stroke) in The Times in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics. Holding my breath I lay flat on my back as Ross powered over the top of my camera. This action shot requires a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement and the use of multiple frames per second.

Shot with Nikon D300 DSLR & Tokina 10-17mm Fish-eye Zoom Lens, inside SUBAL ND300 housing & 2x INON Z-240 Strobes. f11, 1/160th ISO 100