Is Underwater Digital Photography a Gateway Drug?

This is an article as part of our DEMA Expo 2009 round-up.

At DEMA, underwater photography was one of the most popular topics. There were more camera-related booths than any other group. Plus, the SCUBA photography seminars were some of the most interactive I attended.

Is Underwater Photography SCUBA’s Savior?

Some people I spoke with would have me believe that underwater photography is the single most important activity for a SCUBA diver retention. The theory is that by handing a SCUBA diver an underwater camera they are more likely to slow down, feel challenged and fully take in their underwater environment. I couldn’t agree more.

Speaking from personal experience, I had entered into professional SCUBA diving levels yet still did not feel extremely challenged by most my dives. However, when I picked up a camera new challenges presented themselves. I had to take better control by buoyancy, I learned more about the underwater world surrounding me and I noticed more of the marine world I was exploring.

PADI’s SEA Philosophy

PADI heavily promoted their several year old Digital Underwater Photographer to all the SCUBA instructors in attendance. To the professional (or pro-wannabe), this is probably one of the most sacrilegious ideas around: don’t worry about really knowing how to use your camera.

Before anybody cries foul, let me explain why I think this is a great idea. First, my story:

I learned underwater photography on film, my first experience being with a Nikonos V, then the Sea & Sea Motor Marine series. I learned from a professional underwater photographer who has shot for Nat Geo before. I purchased a complete Motor Marine set…about 18 months before digital underwater began to take off. Now I can’t give away my film setup.

I also tend to buy a new compact digital camera about every 9 months and know that there are far more features than the average person will ever use.

With those concepts in mind, I think PADI has it right. Don’t teach everyone how to use their camera’s because each one is different. Expect them to know how to take a shot and look at it. That’s where SEA comes in: Shoot, Examine, Adjust. Take a shot, look at it to see what is wrong with it, adjust. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Removing Barriers to Entry

We’ve already seen decent underwater digital cameras get down into the sub-$500 range, so price is much less of a barrier than before. If we can get our SCUBA divers to just start taking photos, won’t they go down the path of better awareness, (potentially) better buoyancy control and continuing to SCUBA dive?

I know I’m hooked on the underwater photography drug, how about you?

Image by PhotopediaPhotos

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