Freediving the Gold Coast with a camera

Fish near the service

The last 3 weeks have been very hectic with little to no time to edit and process the photos that I have been working on or even post to this blog.  However, earlier this week I took a couple of hours out of a busy schedule and decided to make the most of the near perfect weather conditions and head out for a quick freedive with my camera.  To me - there is just nothing more relaxing then being able to combine my two greatest passions of photography and freediving. The diving weather around Brisbane has not been the best over the last couple of years with only rare days for finding a mix of great weather and good visibility.  In this particular instance it was a spur of the moment decision where I raced home, grabbed my freediving gear (including a new wetsuit I had never worn or tested), a camera and wide angle lens as well as an underwater housing for it.  

Now the one thing I often tell my students when photographing underwater is to never rush anything and plan well in advance of taking an expensive camera underwater otherwise there is an increased risk of flooding a housing or forgetting something as simple as an o-ring check/lube.  It was just luck that I had recently serviced the housing and charged both Ikelite DS161 strobes 6 weeks prior to this and I knew that the Lithium batteries would still be close to full charge.

I decided to freedive a place about an hours drive from Brisbane which I hadn’t freedived or scuba dived for about 15yrs, but knowing the visibility was going to be good in most places I knew it was the most practical place to dive and still get back to work in time.  The problem with the chosen site was that I had to walk about 300m in a new 3mm wetsuit and carry a weight belt and huge camera set up which is quite heavy out of the water.  Luckily a good friend of mine was able to join me and carry my fins as well as help me in and out of the water with the camera gear.

The camera gear I used was an Olympus E3 with the 12-60mm zoom lens (I was going to take the 7-14mm but couldn’t find the right port for this before leaving home).  I generally don’t photograph underwater with this lens as I have a preference for my 50mm f/2 macro lens.  I also used twin Ikelite DS161 strobes set to TTL.  All other camera settings were manual though autofocus was used as it is impossible to manually focus the lens underwater with the chosen housing.  The lens was used only at 12mm and centre weighted metering was also used.  The aperture was generally kept to around f/4 to f/10 depending on what sort of scene I was trying to achieve and the shutter speed was set according to this.

Another freediver upside down looking under the rocks in about 4m of water

A lonesome Jellyfish near the surface - up nice and close here trying to capture the surface movement with the jellyfish

A school of mullet again near the surface

A freediver in about 13m of water with me closely behind with the 12mm lens focal length

Freediving and photographing underwater can be a challenging task.  Unlike scuba where you can often (not always) take your time to compose a photo knowing that you have time and air, freediving consists of choosing the moment to take a photo, getting close enough to your subject to decrease the water between you and the subject, composing the photo, focusing and ensuring you have the correct exposure settings for the type of photo that you want, bouyance for the depth that you are shooting at and ensuring that you have enough air in your lungs to do all of this.  In some case this means that you may have to dive down and just wait for the right opportunity or go looking for an interesting scene or subject.  In the case above I followed the freediver down to about 12-13m and then adjusted the camera setting, focused and took the photo.  This is not something that you do in about 20 seconds.  In the next photo I dived down to the bottom in about 13m and just waited when I saw a pufferfish swim past in the distance.  Its not the greatest photo in terms of compisition or artistic work, but it does prove if you have the patience, enough air in your lungs and lay still for long enough there is the possibility of photographing something spectactular.  Diving on fish and then trying to photograph them often does not work and tires you more than anything.

Puffer fish in the distance at about 13m

A wobbegong reef shark hiding in between the rocks in about 6m

Mullet caught in the sunlight - notice the decreased visibility and particles appearing in the photo here.  The closer you are to the subject the less chance of picking up all the particles.

A crayfish shell reflection near the surface of the water

Here I am with the shell of a crayfish - unfortunately there was way too much distance between me and the camera and with an outgoing tide the visibility was decreasing.

Another freediver releasing a small thankful turtle that was caught in fishing line near the rocks

While freediving or diving in frequently used recreational areas it is not difficult to see the impact of humans of the natural marine life.  During this dive we saw numerous fishing lures and an abundant amount of fishing line caught on the reef everywhere.  We did cut off a few lures and watch a few fish with hooks and fishing line sticking out of their mouths swim past (including the turtle above that had line around it).  You will notice the visibility in the last couple of pictures becoming poorer and poorer as the tide went out.  One of the key things to remember when trying to photograph underwater is to decrease the distance between you and the subject where practically possible (especially in poor visibility or when there is a lot of particle in the water). 



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