The Underwater Photographer, by Martin Edge / Review

If you're looking to do any kind of underwater photography, this might well be just the book you're after.

Fourth edition. Published in 2010 by Focal Press. 536 pages.

Available in paperback.


Since I first started getting my feet wet with the venerable Nikonos V underwater camera system, things have come a long way.

For one thing, the instant feedback of a digital LCD screen makes an enormous difference. With the Nikonos film system, you had to have some confidence that your exposure settings were right. And focusing with a mask is still a challenge, but now you can get a good sense whether you’ve nailed it while you’re still staring the fish or moray eel in the face.

For another thing, there’s now an enormous number of different types of housings for all manner of cameras, ranging from the simplest point and shoots with housings plenty good enough for the swimming pool or snorkeling to the usual high-end dedicated housings for full-size DSLRs rated to depths of 300 feet or more. That makes underwater photography infinitely more accessible. It also means that you don’t need to drop $3,000 to $10,000 on housings, lens ports, and lighting to get great photos underwater.

And then there’s white balance. Shooting RAW and being able to adjust white balance easily in post might well be the single biggest advantage of raw over film for underwater photography. With water being 800 times the density of air, that has an effect on how well light travels through it. You only have to go a few feet under the surface before reds start fading. By the time you’re at 20 or 30 feet, you get a lot of blue and not a lot else. But being able to adjust the white balance can make an enormous difference in your ability to restore some of the colors to the shot. And with coral reefs and tropical fish, it’s all about the colors.

If you’re looking to do any kind of serious underwater photography, Martin Edge’s fourth edition of The Underwater Photographer (2010, Focal Press) is a must-have.

The book is aimed squarely at digital photography. I suppose there must be some underwater photographers still using film, but the advantages of digital are even more pronounced underwater than they are on dry land, so I suspect few people will miss any discussion of what films to use.

The book leads with an introduction to the basics of digital photography generally that makes for a very good primer for those new to photography or new to digital whether they’re taking photos while wet or dry. I’d happily recommend that section to anyone new to the world of DSLRs.

Subsequent chapters get more specific with underwater, with chapters on lenses, cameras, lighting, technique, how to take photos while respecting the underwater environment, workflow, and developing an individual style. There are also sections dealing with specific pieces of dedicated equipment like how to use Magic Filters effectively for natural light photos with more natural white balance.

One of the things I like about Mr. Edge’s approach throughout the book is that he doesn’t claim to always have the right answer for every specific situation–underwater, there are just so many extra factors to influence photography–but he gives you ways to problem solve in useful ways.

Clocking in at 526 pages, this is a detailed and hefty volume with beautiful production values, as is typical of the books by Focal Press. There are lots of great photos and detailed information how they were taken. If you’re looking for a quick how-to guide for how to take happy snaps while snorkeling that you can read on the flight to Cancun, this book is going to be overkill and will end up being three pounds of dead weight in your luggage. But if you’re looking to improve on your previous efforts underwater, whether you’re doing the occasional snorkeling or doing some dedicated photography dives, this book is a superb resource.

You can buy it here. There is a Kindle edition, but you’ll miss out on the great color photos.

Chapters:

Chapter 1: Principles of Underwater Photography
Chapter 2: Digital Compact Cameras by Mark Koekemoer
Chapter 3: SLR Cameras and Housing
Chapter 4: Diving to Take Photographs
Chapter 5: The Mindset of the Successful Underwater Photographer
Chapter 6: All About Lighting
Chapter 7: Composition Underwater
Chapter 8: Close-Up and Macro
Chapter 9: Wide Angle
Chapter 10: Underwater Photography in Temperate Waters by Shannon Conway
Chapter 11: Creating an Individual Style by Dr. Alexander Mustard
Chapter 12: Developing a Workflow System by Stuart Gibson
Internet Resources Suppliers

Tip: Some other great resources online for all things related to underwater photography are Wet Pixel and Underwater Photography Magazine.

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