The Underwater Photographers Code of Conduct
Most underwater photographers are concerned to
protect the environment in which they take their pictures and to
avoid stressing marine creatures when they are taking their images.
This is good for the marine environment and leads to better
This Code sets out good practices for anyone who
aspires to take pictures or video underwater. Many aspects are also
applicable to the general sports diver.
No-one should attempt to take pictures underwater
until they are a competent diver. Novices thrashing about with
their hands and fins while conscious only of the image in their
viewfinder can do untold damage.
Every diver, including photographers, should
ensure that gauges, octopus regulators, torches and other equipment
are secured so they do not trail over reefs or cause other
Underwater photographers should possess superior
precision buoyancy control skills to avoid damaging the fragile
marine environment and its creatures. Even experienced divers and
those modelling for photographers should ensure that careless or
excessively vigorous fin strokes and arm movements do not damage
coral or smother it in clouds of sand. A finger placed carefully on
a bare patch of rock can do much to replace other, more damaging
Photographers should carefully explore the area
in which they are diving and find subjects that are accessible
without damage to them or other organisms.
Care should be taken to avoid stressing a
subject. Some fish are clearly unhappy when a camera
invades their "personal space" or when pictures are taken using
flash or lights. Others are unconcerned. They make the best
Divers and photographers should never kill marine
life to attract other types to them or to create a photographic
opportunity, such as feeding sea urchins to wrasse. Creatures
should never be handled or irritated to create a reaction and
sedentary ones should never be placed on an alien background, which
may result in them being killed.
Queuing to photograph a rare subject, such as a
seahorse, should be avoided because of the harm
repeated bursts of bright light may do to their eyesight. For the
same reason, the number of shots of an individual subject should be
kept to the minimum.
Clown fish and other territorial animals are
popular subjects but some become highly stressed when a
photographer moves in to take a picture. If a subject exhibits
abnormal behaviour move on to find another.
Night diving requires exceptional care because it
is much more difficult to be aware of your surroundings. Strong
torch beams or lights can dazzle fish and cause them to harm
themselves by blundering into surrounding coral or rocks. Others
are confused and disturbed if torch beams or lights are pointed
directly at them. Be prepared to keep bright lights off subjects
that exhibit stressed behaviour, using only the edge of the beam to
Care should be taken when photographing in caves,
caverns or even inside wrecks because exhaust bubbles can become
trapped under overhangs killing marine life. Even small pockets of
trapped air which allow divers to talk to each other inside them
can be lethal for marine life.
The image in the viewfinder can be very
compelling. Photographers should remain conscious of their position
and of the marine life around them at all times. In sensitive
areas, they should avoid moving around on the bottom with their
mask pressed up against the camera viewfinder.
Areas of extensive damage or pollution should be
reported to the appropriate authorities. Today, when so many more
divers are taking up underwater photography, both still and video,
essential that the preservation of the fragile marine environment
and its creatures is paramount and that this Code of Good Practice
is carefully observed.
This Code of Conduct has been introduced by the
Marine Conservation Society
with funding from PADI's Project AWARE project. It is
endorsed by the British Society of Underwater Photographers, the
Northern Underwater Photographic
Group and the Bristol Underwater Photography Group as well as
being supported by the Sub-Aqua
Association, the British
Sub-Aqua Club and the Scottish Sub-Aqua Club.
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