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A less than glamorous assignment

by Mark Webster

Reproduced from in focus 20 (February 1987)


To most underwater photographers the thought of taking pictures commercially conJures up visions of tropical locations, glamorous models and large pay-cheques. However, more often than not the reality is very different. I have had the dubious pleasure of earning all or part of my living through underwater photography on various occasions, either as an inspection diver offshore or through my business, Photec, and whilst it could never be construed as glamorous, it can be rewarding in many ways. For the benefit of those who have perhaps yearned for the opportunity, I will briefly describe my last assignment, which is typical, and perhaps expose a few myths.

Late in the summer I was contacted by Avon International Polymers Ltd. who had a requirement for some publicity shots of a newly designed underwater marker panel, which was both fluorescent and resistant to marine fouling. The photographs were initially to be displayed at an offshore exhibition in Aberdeen, and then in promotional literature to market the product. The panels, which can be manufactured in a host of different shapes and sizes are designed to be fitted to oil platforms and pipelines to aid site location for divers and remote control vehicles.


The first problem was to locate an underwater steel structure, well covered in marine growth, which would resemble part of an oil platform in the photographs. A little bit of research locally revealed some steel piles in Falmouth docks ideal for our purpose, and permission to conduct the shoot was negotiated with the Dock Master. A variety of shots were required, and all had to be acheived in one day, which meant that we had to take pot luck with the weather and underwater visibility conditions. A local diving boat, Patrice, was hired for the day, and it was then down to choosing equipment and film stock. Avon had decided that the images must be on negative film, so the speed choice was fairly logical, 100 ASA for flash lit and balanced light and 200 and 400 ASA for natural light - yes its murky in the docks!

The size of the marker to be photographed was approximately 18 x 24 inches and the pile about 6 feet in circumference, so the choice of equipment was as follows; Nikonos with 28 mm lens for the general stand-off shots, and with a 20 mm lens for wide-angle requirements; a Nikon F3 with an 18 mm lens in an Ikelite housing for diver-with- marker shots; lighting was to be supplied by a Subatec S100 and a Sea and Sea YS150. I took two Nikonos bodies and the two flashguns, because on these occasions Sod's Law inevitably plays a part.


The day itself was bright and somewhat blustery, with the promise of rain and hail-showers! We loaded the boat and made our way to the location. The representative from Avon was to dive with me, to assist in installing the marker, to ensure that the site was suitable and to act as a model in some of the shots. The site chosen was at about 7 M depth, the visibility approximately 4 M, and the tide falling. I therefore elected to start with the portrait shots with the 28 mm lens, as light level would improve as the tide fell. Sod's Law decided to show its hand at the start by ensuring that the YS150 would fail to fire. Why is it that equipment checked out only hours before can let you down so utterly at the critical moment? Needless to say, it worked perfectly only hours later, and fortunately the Subatec was behaving itself. From there on the shoot went well, with the tide falling and sunny intervals arriving right on cue for the natural light shots, Several dives, with discussion and film changes between, brought the water time to 31/2 to 4 hours.


The client was ultimately very pleased with the results, with only two frames being unsuitable! That sort of result makes the effort personally satisfying, and I feel sure that the need to produce consistently acceptable results under pressure can only improve your work in the long term. But as you can see, the subjects are not always glamorous or inspiring, and sadly these sort of opportunities do not arise frequently enough to make a living from underwater photography. So, for those who still have visions of commercial success, be prepared for the less attractive bread and butter assignments.

Reproduced from in focus 20 (February 1987) with kind permission of Mark Webster (

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