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story of the greatest gold salvage from a sunken vessel
|There are almost 11,000 known shipwreck sites
around the British Isles. Many of these are on the deep side.
Such wrecks impose so many diving problems, including physically
altering and balancing partial pressures of gas mixtures, that
you sometimes feel you're not supposed to be there! Add in all
the extra equipment needed, acquisition of knowledge, the journey
out to the site and getting the slack right, and Nature may
have a point. Throw a camera into the equation and you find
yourself questioning your own sanity.Basic underwater photography
presents its own problems, but the deeper you go, the more technical
problems begin to build. Filtration of light through water affects
colour according to depth. Take a millpond day with the sun
high. The first colours to be lost are reds and oranges at about
8m, then yellows and greens at around 20m and finally blue.
To keep those precious colours, you have to take your own cans
of light in the form of flashguns.
Above; Author Leigh Bishop
Beyond 30m you need some pretty big mothers to illuminate large
sections of wreck, especially if you want to bring out colour
as well. But artificial lighting also tends to illuminate suspended
particles and cause backscatter, a problem that haunts British
photographers. Colour and light - two significant problems to
overcome. But instead of battling against the odds, why not
simply take them both out of the equation? By accepting that
depth robs us of colour, and shooting with monochrome film,
you can not only shed an element of stress but change the entire
mood of a typical British shipwreck scene. Professional land
photographers regard monochrome work as having a certain "integrity",
so why should this not also be the case under water?
Above; Even at 69m a high sun
has given enough light to freeze the fish beside the prop, f11-2sec
Agfa pushed to
| I found that capturing large sections of wreck
on film meant backing off some distance to fill the lens. Even
with a large guide-number, flash was not powerful enough to
illuminate the scene. So I felt that natural light and long-exposure
photography was the way forward. The world of ultra-fast films
and a new concept of exposure now followed me like a black cloud.
The biggest question: would British diving conditions open a
window and let me try these techniques out? Most of the deep
wrecks I photograph, especially in the English Channel, lie
in utter darkness. But on odd occasions a friend or skipper
telephones with news of brilliant visibility, which in turn
means clean waters. If a mid-day dive with the sun at its highest
is possible, the available light window is suddenly open.
Above; Tripod erected atop
wreckage to capture deck winch and background mast. Other than
one static fish the shoal was on the move during a 5sec exposure
in aperture-priority pushed to 1600 ISO
| To photograph big sections or entire wrecks,
the wider-angle the lens the better. We are also looking for
some serious depth of field in order to capture the distance,
which means small apertures down to f22. But small apertures
with low light levels also mean longer shutter speeds, and the
final link in this nasty little chain is picture blur caused
by movement and camera shake. The answer was a tripod, even
though introducing such a device to the deep wreck-diving community
was inviting a hearty laugh at my expense. Ultra-long exposure
photography can be practised only with housed SLR systems,
|because slow shutter-speeds are limited to 1/30th
of a second with Sea & Sea and Nikonos cameras. Using a
Nikon F90x in an Aquatica housing, all I had to do was design
an adaptor that would easily slot into a tripod shoe. Fortunately,
a former Diver Photographer of the Year, Ken Sullivan, lives
just round the corner, and Ken has been responsible for system
modifications to the equipment of many leading photographers.
Some simple machining and the job was done. With my camera attached
to a heavy-duty Velbon video tripod, I was ready to shoot.
| A chance to return to Ireland for a few weeks
was too good to turn down. All I had to do was work as hard
as I could alongside the crew aboard the expedition vessel Loyal
Watcher. In return for my efforts, I would be able to dive some
of the most fabulous wrecks in the world while testing the tripod
approach.I would be diving on a rebreather, so the depths at
which I was shooting would pose no significant problems, and
I could concentrate on creating images. I had all the time in
the world! My choice of film was considerably narrowed by the
fact that I wanted slide format for presentations.
Monochrome slide film is on the rare side, but some research
showed Agfa Scala 200x to be as good a choice as any. It's a
professional variable-speed film that can be pushed or pulled
between 100 and 1600 ISO. I had also discussed film with US
and photographer Brad Sheard. He strongly
Above; HMS Audacious guns,
at 215ft depth I had set the tripod up and waited for divers
to arrive into my viewfinder. The Kodak Tmax p3200 print film
has left a fine grain although was the result I was looking
for. F16 2 seconds manual exposure.
|recommends Kodak Tmax, a fast 3200-speed mono
print film normally used without a tripod. Its ultra-fast speed
would allow handheld use at around 1/30th sec. In trying to
capture deep wreck images anything is worth a try, but I have
yet to experiment with this option.
The key to this type of photography is almost certainly composition.
Previous exploration of a site and awareness of exactly which
image you intend to capture before entering the water can make
all the difference. Not all subjects are suitable for ambient-light
photography, but big wrecks, as well as subjects close to the
surface and subjects of high contrast, are the best options.
Avoid anything that does not stand out against a background.
Above; RMS Justicia The tripod
was once again erected at speed once I had spotted the divers
coming my way, this time I was on top of uneven wreckage forcing
me to adjust the legs to various lengths. Again f22 with an
approx. exposure of 2 seconds. The divers were actually quite
a distance away which helped in that the little movement they
made was not recored by the camera with a blur motion. | Calculating exposure variations, even deciding
which part of the scene to meter, is probably the hardest task.
So many variables affect light levels at depth that without
considerable experience you cannot estimate accurately the amount
of light reaching your subject.
Acknowledging the problem, many cameras have built-in light
meters and can automatically measure levels and adjust camera
Bear in mind that meters average the value of all light they
see. Based on that average, they suggest settings (f-stop/ shutter-speed
combinations), all of which result in the same exposure.
Overcome uncertainty about exposure-metering by bracketing.
Shoot several frames at slightly different settings, and single
out the best image on later development.
Above Left; Scotch boilers
on the Empire Heritage at 230ft have made a significant
section of wreckage for the film in order to best relay the story
of the ship. The tripod
has been angled towards the light source on the seabed to capture
the boilers on the
Empire Heritage, manual exposure of f11 for 3sec with Agfa film pushed
to 400 ISO.
Above Right; Sherman tanks on the Empire Heritage.
The smallest aperture possible
captured the depth of field, and the 10sec exposure has blurred the
|The first of a set of frames would be shot using
aperture-priority, a function of SLR systems that gives ideal
control over depth of field. After deciding the aperture required,
the camera's micro-computer automatically selects a corresponding
shutter- speed to give what it believes to be the correct exposure.
I was searching for detailed images with great depth of field,
so this seemed an appropriate way to start a bracketing set
and gave early indications of an average exposure under the
conditions on the day. After three frames ranging from f11to
f22, the system's controls were switched to manual. The electronic
viewfinder display could be used to determine the exposures.
Above Left; RMS Justicia 231ft depth.
I had descended to the wreck prior to the arrival of
the remaining divers in an effort to set the tripod system upon the
seabed and frame the
bow before the arrival of the divers. Using the 16mm Nikkor 2.8FD
lens I was incredibly close
to the wreck, the shoal of fish to the right were going nowhere so
I waited on the bottom for a
sign of action. The diver hung around for a while although I had to
shoot film fast as many
more were on their way into the viewfinder which would have blurred
the image from their
movement. F22 for the massive depth of field matrix metering and manual
exposure. Agfa scala
200x pushed to 1600ISO.
Above Center; The same bow although I have moved
the tripod system round to the port side
the fish here were of the same shoal although as I am much closer
to the wreck their activity has
been picked up by the film from the long 6 sec time exposure. Agfa
Scala pushed to 1600ISO.
Above Right; These props of HMS Audacious at 214ft
depth are silhouetted against the background
contrast giving me the effect I was inevitably looking for. As I've
angled the tripod and camera towards
the available light I have been able to capture all available light
allowing the cameras computer to
override the exposure metering. The rebreather gives me the time to
relax on the seabed behind the
system and think about the exposures I am looking for. Agfa Scala
pushed to 800ISO f8 16 seconds.
|Once again, a small aperture was selected, though
this time the shutter-speed was also adjusted until it corresponded
with what was deemed the perfect exposure. In theory, the long
exposure determined would be exactly what the camera's computer
requested in aperture-priority mode. Results showed that the
exposures in both modes were exceptional, and exactly what I
was looking for .Adjusting the shutter-speed by one or two exposure
values either way over-rode what the micro-computer wanted.
The resulting over- or under-exposed shots often produced interesting
silhouette effects, depending on conditions and camera angle.
All the metering undertaken with the long exposures was done
in conjunction with the
Above; Remaining film after
a dive can be used to capture effective mono images of divers
decompressing. Here aperture-priority was chosen over manual
for fast results to avoid buoyancy problems, using f16 at
1000th sec | field-proven 3D matrix system, which was obtained
through an eight-segment sensor and the AF Nikkor lens itself.
The system takes into consideration scene contrast, scene brightness
and subject-to-camera distance. The result in this situation
was an optimum exposure for each frame, even in the complex
lighting situations I was throwing at the camera. If after my
dive I had frames left on the roll, I would switch once again
to aperture-priority on the ascent and look out for the possibility
of silhouette images of my colleagues decompressing. Again,
a variation of apertures gave interesting effects against the
sun using monochrome film. Aperture-priority was the easiest
to shoot in this situation, given the effort involved in continuously
rotating the speed dial while monitoring buoyancy, as the shutter-speed
often rose well above 1000th of a second.
|At the depths at which I was shooting, the micro-computer
asked for exposures ranging from 4sec to a whopping 25sec. The
latter granted me enough time to relax behind the tripod and
monitor my rebreather's computer for a change. The long exposures
were problematic only when I was working with a diver to provide
scale within the scene, because fin movement was as inevitable
as trailing light beams, but divers were angels compared to
the fish! I found that acting like a screaming break-dancer
behind the tripod often prevented fish entering the field of
view during an exposure. The only drawback was that, as I was
using a closed-circuit rebreather, there was always a chance
that a passing colleague might mistake me for someone having
a convulsion!Large shoals of fish that refused to budge from
a scene resulted either in an interestingly busy image or simply
one for the bin. Whether my images produced using these methods
are acceptable to the experts is debatable, but interest in
them has been overwhelming, because they do allow everyone to
see deep shipwrecks as I see them.
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