Photography Techniques | Planning and Shooting a Wreck Picture | Part 3
Scuba Travel Mobile

Keep checking our technique pages, as I post the simple skills that
will get you taking great shots in no time at all.
I have condensed these tips and tricks down from years of coaching beginners
to shoot underwater with the minimum of fuss or flannel.

Planning and Shooting a Wreck Picture, Part 3

I hope you've caught up with parts 1 and 2 of this short series on safely organising shooting some pictures of a wreck, and we've looked at shooting with your buddy also shooting as well as both of you acting as models for each other alternately. This was part one. And in part two we looked at shooting as part of a small group using the same model. So for our third and final part we are going to look at shooting inside wrecks, combining the safety elements of a wreck penetration with the demands of taking pictures.

Planning and Shooting a Wreck PictureDiver and motorcycle on Thistlegorm in the Red Sea
Here my friend Roger has modelled (unintentionally) for me, and the fact he has his modelling light on adds a flare of interest to this shot of one of the motorbikes on the Thistlegorm. Try and use opportunities when they arise, even though you may not have planned for them, they can often end up producing good shots.

Just like in the first two parts the safe and successful outcome of shooting inside a wreck involves a thorough and well thought out plan, that you are both in on. No good having your own plan and not discussing the scenario with your buddy. First and foremost if unfamiliar with the wreck, listen closely to the briefing. It constantly amazes me that when a guide is giving a briefing, there are always one or two folk off in their own little world, chatting and joking. Not only is it rude, it's stupid. Even if they know the wreck well, things may have changed since they were last there, and there may well be folk who don't know the wreck at all, and they are being distracted from vital safety information, as they witter on or giggle at their own jokes whilst the guide is briefing. Having been in the guides position too, when I've had folk like this then I know that they are usually the first ones to get themselves into a fix, when the current changes or they get themselves separated from their buddies or the group.

Planning and Shooting a Wreck Picture, workshop of  the Ghiannis D wreck in the Red Sea
Inside the workshop of the Ghiannis D I found that I was having to shoot at 640 ISO for the available light even though I could see the scene quite clearly. I have also had to drop the shutter speed down to 1/6 sec, and to be honest that is a testament to the image stabiliser on my camera that I have got any sort of a shot at all here. If you look closely you can see some small evidence of camera shake.

Secondly, and based on the briefing, decide how,when and where you are going to penetrate the wreck. A common mistake in my book, is to rush to try and get inside before everyone else, in the erroneous idea that the newbies have stirred up all the silt and spoiled your chances of a good shot. My feeling is to go in last, and after spending the first part of the dive relatively shallow, wait until the masses have left, go in and have the place to ourselves. What about all the silt being kicked up then? Well the way I see it, unless its the sort of place with really fine silt, it should’ve settled down after 10 mins or so, and you'll have a bit more time to compose yourself and your pictures, without feeling that a finned horde is about to descend on you at any minute. This will make you a lot more relaxed, and this is a much more conducive state of mind to be doing a wreck penetration anyway, and is definitely a better state of mind to be taking pictures.
There is also the slight advantage that sometimes with a little bit of silt in the water column, background beams of light penetrating the hull stand out more and can look more dramatic. So on balance I think it's better to wait until you have the area you want to shoot, to yourself, because even if you get in ahead of your own group, there may well have been a group from another boat in before yours, so it would be silted up anyhow.

Planning and Shooting a Wreck Picture, ray of light inside the Ghiannis D wreck in the Red Sea
Sometimes waiting for others to pass, and then waiting for the silt to die down a little can result in the beams of light penetrating the gloom to show up better. However this pic of the inside of the Ghiannis D would have been better, if id directed my buddy to be facing towards me at the bottom right, maybe being positioned to be illuminated by one of the porthole shafts.

Right, once you've established a plan between you and your buddy about what photographs you'd like to achieve, and proposed route, and discussed your exits and safety protocols, you're ready for the off. I would strongly suggest that if there is a chance before the briefing to discuss your plans and intentions with the guide, this will be invaluable, because they may come up with helpful hints and tips to make your planned shoot run more smoothly, and this also adds an extra layer of safety as the guide knows where to find you if necessary. Ok, now you've a plan in place then it's time to think about the photographic side of things. Even if a wreck is well lit with lot's of external light piercing the gloom, it will still have a considerable amount of light reduction so that your camera settings may need to be set at higher than normal ISO settings. This can be deceptive as your eyes will adjust to the dim light better than the camera is able to, and you may be surprised how high you may need to go with your ISO to capture any available light. And this is important because if you are to use your strobes to supplement the available light and illuminate the foreground of the shot, then you will have to adjust their output to reflect the change in ISO and or aperture and shutter speed settings accordingly.

Planning and Shooting a Wreck Picture, Diver with camera posing on wreck in the Red Sea
Even though this was a fairly open area, I've still had to drop my shutter speed down to a 1/40sec so it can be deceptively dark. If this happens you need to watch out for too much subject movement as this can result in secondary blurring.

When you've found a suitable scene then you're going to have to work it out with your buddy to assess things and get your shot. This is why fore planning is vital, because making yourself understood in sign language whilst in an overhead environment can be fraught with problems. Maybe shoot some stuff with your buddy first where there are clear exits and entrances before you commit to penetrating the bowels of a wreck. Photo workshops are ideal for this sort of thing because we often choose to dive the same place again, giving you more options and bites of the cherry.

Planning and Shooting a Wreck Picture, fish inside wreck in the Red Sea
This swirling group of hatchet fish where playing around in the engine room of the boat, and for me the fish will be always more interesting than the metal work! However I positioned myself so that the hatch was top right to show that we were inside of a wreck.

I will say again SAFETY FIRST AND FOREMOST!! Please don't be dangerously selfish and only think of your own pictures and well being, you have a buddy to think about and so you need to be on the same page. If you've decided that this particular dive is non penetrative, then stick with the decision regardless of what you may feel in the moment. Decisions made on the spur of the moment at 30m are usually tinged with a bit of narcosis, so can't be relied on, and things can turn hazardous in the blink of an eye. There are too many previous examples of this happening because someone made a stupid narked decision. If you've planned well, and you and your buddy had a successful outcome, then you can give yourself a big pat on the back. If your pictures haven't lived up to your expectations then still give yourself a pat on the back for conducting the exercise safely. So don't fret, learn from the experience and use the knowledge acquired for the next time. Duxy


holiday search

Sign up to our photo newsletter and you will be entered into a monthly draw to win a £50 Scuba Travel voucher!