Dive Equipment for Underwater Photographers
Fins, Regs and BCDs
This is a subject where there is much debate. I recommend stiff paddle fins, not split fins. I use OMS Slipstream fins. Fins that move too easily silt up the area, and make it difficult to turn, back up, etc, and are not good for underwater photographers.
Use a backplate & wing for better buoyancy, instead of a regular BCD. Use 2 computers, 1 air integrated with a low air alarm. Dive with the weight you need, so you are neutral on a low tank at 15ft. Use a high-quality regulator for optimal air delivery & usage.
Big high-pressure steel tank filled with Nitrox
Especially when shooting macro, there's nothing like a big steel tank filled with nitrox. Depths from 50-110ft are often prime territory for macro subjects. Using a large high-pressure steel tank means you are able to focus on taking photos, and are less worried about bottom time or air consumption, especially when doing multiple dives. Instead of 45 minute dives, you can have 75 minute dives or more. Most photographers I know in California have bought into the "big steel tank with nitrox" concept. Of course, large steel tanks are not available on all dive trips, so you might have dive with whatever is available, but it never hurts to ask.
Cover up, and stay warm.
I highly suggest you cover every inch of your body, especially the wrists, ankles, etc. Coral, stinging hydroids, jellyfish, and box jellies are all out there lurking to injure their favorite prey, photographers. Your only exposed skin should be your lips and cheeks. Don’t forget to stay warm underwater. Once you really get into photography, you’ll be doing 4 dives a day on a trip, each dive at least 60 minutes long. Many “tropical” destinations have water temps in the mid-high-70’s, you’ll want a full 3mm plus a hooded vest, or a 5mm suit plus a hood once the temperature dips below 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 Celsius), and a 7mm suit if it’s below 75 (23.8 Celsius). Don’t forget a wind-breaker jacket for the boat, especially if its an open boat.
Horns, Alerts, Markers
A good underwater signaling device can make a big difference in sharing photo subjects between buddies, or between buddies and a guide. A highly prefer horns or quackers over tank bangers and shakers, if used properly and sparingly. The best dive guide I ever (Peri) had did one "honk" for a subject, two "honks" for a great subject, and three "honks" for a very special subject. It worked very well. On our last trip to bali, we brought underwater "honkers" and gave them to our guides for them to use instead of banging on a tank.
A good marker can be used to mark a photo subject, like a nudibranch, while someone swims to fetch another diver. I am still trying to figure out the best markers to use underwater, perhaps a large yellow colored metal stick would work well.
Beach diving with a dSLR
If you beach dive with a dSLR, I strongly believe you need the ability to enter/exit the water hands free. This means you must attach clips to your camera arms and the front of your BCD or harness/wing so your housing can rest on your chest. I had to change my BCD to a harness with D-rings because my BCD didn't have anywhere for me to attach my camera.
Here's a review on how to rig your dSLR system for shore diving.
Underwater Photographer Travel Tips
Always bring a mask, computer, compass, backup dive light and maybe a hood
Read why you should also bring your fins
Call ahead to make sure full wetsuits are available, don't wear shorties. Remember, neoprene is not just for warmth, but also for protection again jellies. Don't be exposed.
- Planning your underwater photography dive
- Underwater photography dive travel and destinations
- Underwater housing & camera maintenance
- Underwater photography packing list
- Photographing marine life behavior