I've been scuba diving for more years than I care to remember and for most of that time I've been taking photographs underwater. Starting with an amphibious camera (a camera that is specially designed for underwater use, with specially strengthened body to withstand the pressure, water tight controls and specially design optics). I subsequently moved on to using a conventional SLR in a housing. The housings are generally specifically designed for each model of camera, since the camera controls are operated by controls on the housing that have to match exactly the positions of the controls on the camera. The housings are usually either polycarbonate or aluminium. Divers/photographers have been taking photographs underwater for many years, originally with ambient light but moving onto flash when it became available (a friend told me that when he started he had to carry around a bag full of flash bulbs and change them underwater after each shot. The bulbs being positively buoyant meant that the bag floated above him as he swam). With the advent of faster, finer grained films and electronic flash, underwater photography has been revolutionised (not to mention digital). Most underwater photographs are taken using flash, either as the main source of light or else as fill. I can pretty much guarantee that when I show a flash lit photograph of coral or a tropical fish to most people that ask was it really was that colour. The answer is yes and no, since water absorbs red light , once you are a few meters down most things start to look predominantly blue (or green in UK waters), it's strange cutting yourself underwater and bleeding green blood, but once artificial light is used to light the subject, then it's true colours become apparent. Flash is great but it does present a number of problems, including water and electricity don't mix very well, even the strongest flashes are limited to a few feet, and problems of backscatter which is where the flash lights up and particles in the water as well as the subject which leads to the photograph looking like it was taken in a snow storm. This is why I've been moving more and more away from flash light pictures to ambient light. Certainly in the cases of photographing dolphins underwater with the speed of the dolphins, the cumbersomeness of the equipment and the lack of range of the flash then ambient light would be my first choice for subjects like this (also dolphins are fairly monochrome anyway). These images were taken in the Red Sea and the Bahamas using a Canon EOS 50 in a Subal housing with a 14mm lens. Typically wide angle lenses are popular for underwater photography since they allow the diver to get as close to the subject as possible and thereby reduce the amount of water between the camera and the subject.

The Bahamas pictures were made on a trip to Bimini a few years ago. There are special dolphin watching trips organised which attracts a wide cross section of people from photographers, families, people looking for some spiritual outcome of interacting with dolphins, etc. The trip consisted of the boat sailing backwards and forwards between the various islands. We weren't looking for dolphins and definitely not chasing them, we were hoping that the dolphins would see the boat and choose to interact with us on their terms. There would be no point chasing the dolphins since if they weren't interested they could certainly out swim the boat, never mind any divers. The days revolved around the boat sailing between the islands, with the passengers amusing themselves. When a pod of dolphins became interested enough to swim up to the boat (which they did on a fairly frequent basis) everyone would rush to the stern of the boat, kit up and wait (a bit like the films of the pilots during the second world war "scrabbling" ready for action). We didn't scuba dive since we wanted to be as agile as possible. The boat would slow down slightly and if the dolphins didn't swim off immediately everyone would jump in the water whilst the boat was still moving. If the dolphins were interested in what was happening at the back of the boat they would come to investigate, other times they would swim off and we wouldn't even catch site of them. It was a great experience but I certainly wouldn't claim it as being spiritual, jumping off a moving boat with a camera in hand, trying to avoid people jumping in the water all around you, trying to snorkel down to the dolphins (who seemed to know just how long each person could hold their breath for and stay just that bit too far away until you couldn't hold your breath anymore). Maybe it's just me. Sometimes the dolphins would swim straight off, sometimes they would stay for a brief period and other times they would stay for half an hour. All too often people try to impose human values and motives to animals, in my limited experience, the dolphins are intelligent animals that have much better things to do with their time than to play/rescue humans on the whim of a human. If they choose to interact it is on their terms until they loose interest or find something better to do with their time.

Over the years I've printed the pictures in many ways but found that the cyanotype process particularly suited the images, not just the fact that the images are blue and so was the water, but it just compliments the images so much.

© 2015 Paul Webster. All Rights Reserved.