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Photo-snorkeling (11/16/2005)
By Tom Hirsch
Photos at the beach can be interesting and challenging, but are you the adventuresome type who would like to take pictures at the beach while getting more than just your feet wet? Then maybe your next trip to the seashore should include photo-snorkeling. Definitely, it should be at the top of your "must do" list for any future tropical vacation. This activity is inexpensive, challenging, and it combines two very enjoyable activities.

Snorkeling equipment includes goggles, a snorkel tube, and fins. Most tropical resorts and cruise ships that ply the Caribbean and other tropical waters will loan or rent snorkeling equipment. But eventually you might want to buy your own gear. It's not expensive, and you'll have the apparatus whenever snorkeling opportunities arise.

Underwater cameras range in price from the single-use models for under $20 to very sophisticated film and digital cameras costing hundreds. Several moderately priced 35mm compacts are designed for underwater use, and they also provide good picture-taking capabilities on land.

Another option is an auxiliary underwater housing unit for your specific 35mm or digital camera. Because of the range of models and prices, you might want to ask a photo dealer to recommend something that would fit your needs and price range.

In most photo situations, we like to take pictures at the start of the activity or event. Not so with photo-snorkeling. If you've never snorkeled, learn the technique, then practice until you feel completely confident before taking your camera into the water. As a rookie, there are hidden dangers to contend with. These include ill-fitting equipment, sharp coral reefs, and other swimmers and snorkelers. If you're an experienced snorkeler, you'll want to spend some time exploring the unfamiliar underwater territory.

Under the right conditions, a photo-snorkeling experience can be the thrill of a lifetime. The right conditions include fairly calm waves, clear water, picturesque rocks and coral, and colorful fish.

Calm water is a must. If waves are choppy, or if you have to swim against heavy, or even moderate, waves, most of your energy will be used up in swimming, and you'll find it hard to concentrate on picture-taking.

Another potential problem is that waves often stir up sand particles. These can cause eerie white spots in pictures when on-camera flash is used. The particles are not visible to the eye, but they'll reflect light from the flash, giving the appearance of underwater snowflakes. For this reason, it's best to avoid using flash unless the water is extremely calm, and you can get some distance away from other swimmers and snorkelers who could stir up the crummy stuff.

If you're thinking of getting into underwater photography, you'll probably want to use a film camera rather than a digital. One reason is price. Another is availability - at least at this time. Digital cameras that can get dunked are just now becoming available.

Okay then, what film is best for underwater photography? For several reasons, a good-quality ISO 800 or faster film would be best. You'll want a fairly fast film because water filters out some of the rays as light passes through it, and the deeper the water, the less intense the light. Also, you'll be moving, fish will be moving, and probably underwater plants will be moving in the underwater current. You could use a slower film and rely on flash, but remember those snowflakes?

When snorkeling, be sure to wear a shirt or other full covering on your back, and apply lots of waterproof sunscreen to all parts of your body that will be exposed to the sun. Believe me, a snorkeling sunburn takes an awfully long time to heal. 


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