Emma Godfrey

My underwater photography experience | Relearning to take photos


I love diving but have never really mastered underwater photography. For a while I was just too focused on the technical side of diving. Then I began to savour my time under water as a kind of Zen-like experience with nothing else to think about. The only camera we had was a Go Pro and, let’s just say, I am most definitely a stills photographer. When handed the camera to have a go I would be frustrated within minutes and just preferred to grab stills from my husband’s movies.

Scuba diving in Koh Chang

At Easter J was to finish his PADI Divemaster in Koh Chang. I didn’t fancy being left behind for two weeks so planned a couple of weeks of reading and assignment work for my degree course. When he suggested that I take a speciality course in underwater photography I wasn’t sure. Did I want to mix these two things up? BB Divers, our dive school, were really flexible so I expressed an interest and a possible day for the course.

To get back into diving I spent one day just enjoying it. We went to the Koh Rang National Park. The dive sites around here are quite shallow, and the coral was in beautiful condition. Slowly drifting past staghorn coral in blues and purples I knew I had to learn how to photograph underwater.

Shooting with a GoPro Hero 5

My instructor was busy with J for a couple of days, so I decided to persevere with the GoPro. Our first dive on the HTMS Chang artificial wreck, I couldn’t get it to work. It seemed that even the camera thought movies were not for me. On the next dive I managed to take stills, although somehow got stuck on burst mode which was a blow for my hard drive. The third dive and I was getting there. I dive slowly because I am constantly fascinated by every tiny little thing. My lovely instructor Hannah joked that she hadn’t met anyone who dived slower than she did before. As a girl who walks along naming the flowers in her head, the underwater world is like seeing the world for the first time.

I was surprised at the quality of the GoPro images. We were lucky at the beginning of the trip that the sea was clear and the light good. Later on, there was much more algae – and whale sharks because of it – which did cause more problems for the wide shots.

PADI Underwater Speciality course

The PADI Underwater Speciality course is a two-dive course. A lot of the knowledge reviews deal with using a digital camera, so we concentrated more on lighting underwater and the technicalities of buoyancy. It’s not easy to stay in control, not damage the reef, not stress the fish and get the shot you want. But it is possible.

Hannah lent me her Canon Powershot G16 and Fantasia housing. It felt a bit big to start with and I wasn’t sure about using the on-camera flash. But I was really impressed with its focussing skills. Getting something moving in focus while both of you are moving and the water is moving is not easy. I have a lot of respect for the time and patience it must take to get those award-winning shots.

My best shots

Of the shots I am most proud has to be the anemone fish. These much-photographed beauties are incredibly difficult to get in focus and I spent a long, long time trying. In this image the colours and the position of the fish finally came together in something like the picture I had in my mind. The porcupine fish was a curious little thing, who didn’t want to have his picture taken until I turned my attention elsewhere. Turning to the side while shooting the blue-spotted ray I saw him checking me out inquisitively, and I pressed the shutter.

It was really interesting to have to relearn something I have been doing automatically for so long. Going underwater really changes the parameters for taking photographs. I had to rethink everything, even just how to adjust the exposure settings. For now, I want to keep it simple. Some of the best images were shot by keeping my eyes open and having a great buddy who knew where to point the torch.

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