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Book Review

by Alexander Mustard

The Underwater Photographer : Digital And Traditional Techniques.

The Underwater Photographer : Digital And Traditional Techniques.

by Martin Edge.

Focal Press. Oxford, Auckland, Boston, Johannesburg, Melbourne, New Delhi. 256 pages. ISBN: 0240519884. Available from Martin Edge

This morning a copy of Martin's new book The Underwater Photographer dropped through my letterbox. The book will be officially released at LIDS (1/2 April 2006), but I believe that this is such an important book for BSoUP that I wanted to write a review straight away. The reason I got my copy early, which I state so that you can account for any bias, is that I wrote a short section on filters (just 10 of the 392 pages). But apart from that I don't actually know Martin as well as most BSoUP members and we have never dived together.

The Underwater Photographer is a third edition, but it has been so thoroughly revised to include digital techniques that it could have easily justified a new title. If you own the second edition then you will already probably want the third. The late, great Jim Church said of second edition that it 'set a standard that will only be surpassed when Martin writes a third edition'. And Martin has clearly worked tirelessly to ensure that it does live up to that billing.

First impressions are that this is a substantial volume at just under 400 pages. It is full colour throughout, and is divided into 5 sections: The Basics and Beyond; The Digital Revolution; Using SLRS and Compacts Underwater; The Mindset (Martin's Think and Consider approach to underwater photography); and The Big Four (Composition, Lighting, Macro and Wide Angle).

The Underwater Photographer is seriously comprehensive and will clearly serve as a faithful and thorough reference manual. But the author's enthusiastic, personal and accessible style make it easy reading. As Peter Rowlands says in the foreword Martin's gift is to be able to explain this multi-faceted subject both simply and comprehensively. Technical issues are dealt with thoroughly but reassuringly free from jargon, and even if it gets a bit technical, you can always skim through the heavy stuff and skip to Martin's personal recommendations, to instantly improve your shots. There are a few opinions I disagree with, but I would say the same about most other underwater photography books I have read.

To really get the most out of this book you really have to buy in to Martin's philosophy. In my opinion, Martin's strength as a photography teacher is that he is not an instinctive photographer. His images are the result of analysis, planning and calculated execution. He understands better than most why his images work, and when they don't why they have failed. He understands the technical and artistic decisions that go into producing a great image. Put simply his book helps the reader do the same.

Another nice feature of the book is that the author directs the reader to useful further information. He also regularly refers to other photographers' work as examples and asks thought provoking questions such as: 'Consider your favourite underwater photographer.. Doubilet? Newbert? Cathy Church? How do you think your images would improve if they chose your subjects?' And naturally, BSoUP and BSoUP members are mentioned regularly!

It is very hard to think of any negatives. If I had to say something, I would say that the standard of the images is not absolutely world class throughout (although I would add the standard and detail of the teaching most certainly is). The images have been chosen to demonstrate techniques and to re-affirm points. But I would like to see an extra sprinkling of gratuitously stunning images in there.

In conclusion, this book is very impressive and as up to date as a work of this magnitude could hope to be. In short, if you are an underwater photographer and you want to improve your images then I recommend buying this book. That's as straight as I can put it.

Alexander Mustard (27.03.06)

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