Oahu Hawaii Underwater Shoot

Well, here it is! My first underwater shoot.

It’s been a dream of mine for so long to try this, and honestly I don’t know why it took me so long to try. There were a lot of things that needed to line up in order to make this day happen so I thought I would share my story behind the shoot.

This experience was significant to me not just because it was hard, or that it somehow worked, but because I’m actually pretty scared of water. I grew up in India where swimming isn’t culturally a common thing, and the only time I ever spent in the water was on our visa run’s ever year or so in a swimming pool in Sri Lanka or the occasional white water rafting down the Ganges River which kind of scarred me with fear. I’m terrible at holding my nose underwater, and snorkeling gives me panic attacks. So doing this was a big deal for me.

First off, shooting underwater is hard, and a whole different ball game then shooting on land. I did hours of online research looking up youtube videos and blog posts of what I needed to know, what kind of gear I should have, and how to put it all together. I found this amazing couple who lived in Oahu and were so down to just help me try. I found the gear I needed at Hawaii Camera - the best local gear rental place in Oahu.

I rented an SPL housing that fit my Canon 5D mark IV (each housing fits a different kind of camera so you need to do your research here), an SPL dome port that fit a 14mm 2.8 canon lens, and said lens. The dome port is what allows you to get those half in - half out of the water shots that I really wanted to try and get, and the 14mm lens was recommended as the best wide angle to work with to get that kind of shot.

Now for the hard part - putting it all together. You’d think that it would be simple, but there were a ton of different little pieces and O rings you had to lube just the right amount and screw on to get the perfect 100% sealed housing. I sat in the living room of our airbnb for about 2 hours just trying to youtube every little detail of what I needed to do, and then filled up the kitchen sink to test it out.

And of course, the second I put the camera in the sink, it flooded. My camera was basically taking a bubble bath in there. And you have to unscrew 9 different screws just to get the camera out of the housing so I was in a total panic in the kitchen yelling at Rich to get the wrench. What happened was in my very meticulous assembly of each part of the housing, I completely missed a huge hole right at the top, and it was so big that it flooded immediately. So funny and embarrassing and sad and then funny again. But all was well, we got the water out and dried everything off -thank God for canon’s well made weather sealed gear- and put it all back together to try again.

Everything seemed fine so we set out to the beach, a few hours later than I had hoped, to meet up with my couple to try this thing. The ideal time of day to shoot underwater is mid-day when the sun is highest in the sky so the light rays penetrate and illuminate the water. You also need really clear water because every single little particle is magnified and recognized by the camera when you are underwater. That’s why Oahu is perfect for this kind of thing - they have incredibly clear water.

I probably had to get out of the water at least 5 times due to a multitude of things that kept going wrong - the lens kept fogging up, the camera wasn’t positioned right so the shutter wasn’t firing, the exposure was too low, then too high, or live view wasn’t working. After about an hour of just trying to make it work, I figured it out. AI Servo, high speed shutter, high aperture, live view, auto focus, goggles to see underwater, flippers to tread in deeper water, do not disturb the sand, shoot at a downward angle to get those half in half out shots, shoot at an upward angle below your subject to get the light rays, bubbles are fun, I can’t believe how tired I am, I think I just drank a whole gallon of ocean water.

It was exhilarating.

I would have been happy if I walked away with 1 good photo. The experience itself was worth it.