Sun, sand, sea, scuba and videos

  • Opinion
  • Sunday, 01 Jun 2008

SEVERAL weeks ago, I was invitedto an event that had everythingright. There was sun, sand, sea andscuba diving. And best of all (no,not the pretty blonde in the teenyweeny bikini), there wasunderwater photography!

I have written about underwater photography before in one of my previous articles where I managed to get a nice shot of a clown anemone fish in a very classic pose during one of my leisure dive trips.

On this trip, it was all work, but it’s the kind of assignment I really enjoy. I do aspire to become an underwater photographer or videographer and on this trip, I got to do both.

A Malaysian environmental NGO, Coral Malaysia in collaboration with Singapore’s Association of Artists of Various Resources (Apad) organised a trip to Pulau Tioman, where dive-qualified artists were to attempt setting a record by painting a long underwater picture.

Light, colour and billowing sand proved to be tough challenges inphotographing these divers creating their 56m-long underwatermasterpiece

The painting, at over 56m long, has already been certified as Malaysia’s longest underwater painting and the group is currently waiting for a world certification by the Guinness Book of World Records.

My task on this assignment was to report on the record attempt for print as well as to shoot a video story for The Star Online (Check out videos at

My underwater photography gear consists of a Nikon CoolPix 8400 that not only takes still photographs but also shoots video, protected by an Ikelite underwater housing.

The Ikelite housing is a full-function waterproof unit made of clear polycarbonate, the same stuff that is used in bulletproof windows.

Most of the dives were done from the shore as the organisers had set up an underwater platform about 100m from the beach. The 60m-long platform rested the flat sandy bottom, which was to prove a challenge for photographers.

The sand, which was as fine as castor sugar, would bloom up in a miniature underwater sandstorm whenever the artists landed on the bottom.

What was previously clear blue water turned very quickly into a hazy mess with visibility down to less than two metres.

It is very difficult to take clear photos underwater when the visibility is reduced. One reason is that the amount of sunlight is reduced. You then need a flash, either the built-in flash on the camera or an external flash.

In these conditions, the flash will cause a problem known as backscatter. This problem is the bane of every underwater photographer as the photos will look like it was taken in a snowstorm. The cause of backscatter is the reflection of the particulates in the water when the flash is fired.

You can reduce backscatter by moving in closer to your subject and also by angling your external flash slightly to the side.

The full-auto video mode of my camera also posed a problem since I have no control over the white balance. Shooting underwater has inherent problems, the main one being the absorption of the colour spectrum by the water column the deeper you go.

Light is made up of the rainbow colours of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, in that order. And you will loose these colours, in that order, as you dive deeper.

With the reds mostly gone, my video pictures took on a greenish blue tinge. The intensity of light will also reduce the deeper you go.

To alleviate these problems, an underwater videographer would attach a video light to the camera to compensate for the loss of natural light and colours.

If you are shallow enough (usually less than 10m), a colour correction filter can compensate for the lost colours.

From my experience, it’s good idea to own a multi-purpose camera, but bear in mind that these cameras will perform well in one area and only adequately in others.

A video camera will get you great video but expect performance to be mediocre in photo mode.

The best solution would be to buy a video camera and a still camera. Then each device will do the job it was originally designed for, well. Now I am wondering when the company is going to issue our bonus?

  • A picture may be worth a thousand words but Star photographer Lai Voon Loong, who holds a BA in Media Studies, believes that behind every picture taken is a story worth telling, too. He’s open to queries and suggestions, bouquets and brickbats; send e-mails to the address above.

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