Thursday, September 15, 2016

photo by Cathy Church from

photo by David Doubilet from pinterest
When you look at great pictures by legendary photographers like Jim and Cathy Church, David Doubilet or great amateur photographers like Faithe Evans and Steve Judd you won’t notice they all have one thing in common. For example: they all enjoy different subjects or they all frame their pictures differently.
 They do have in common well composed photographs that center on the important subject that is well framed and well positioned to capture the essence of the subject. So why is it that they don’t take blurry photographs of fish butts that are so far away that you have to squint to even see them in the picture?

by Faithe Evans from Facebook

The answer is great buoyancy. While I will address some of these other issues in another blog, I would like to take a stab at the most important aspect of great photography… being in control of yourself.

Last Friday the divers following me noticed that a school of Blue Runners got into my shadow and followed me for a good portion of the dive as if I was a large fish myself. I used this example as a lesson that the calmer, smoother, and more naturally you move non-threateningly through the water the more you become a natural part of the environment. If you are non-threatening then the sea life will come to you instead of you chasing it.

by Steve Judd from facebook
The amateurs I mentioned are great examples. Steve and Faithe are capable of approaching their subjects smoothly, naturally, and SLOWLY. They don’t hold on to rocks or worse yet coral or a sponge to hold position. They use a skill we were all taught in our Open Water training… Hovering.

Back to Basics

Neutral Buoyancy Check.

If you want to improve your photographs go back to your basics. Start with a neutral buoyancy check. Holding a normal breath of air you should be able to completely deflate your BCD and sink to eye level.  NO HANDS NO KICKING. Once you are in that position the surface of the water should cross the bridge of your nose. If you continue to sink you are wearing too much weight. If you can’t sink to eye level add a little. When you exhale you should sink.

Fin Pivots

Laying on the bottom you should take a deep breath and continue to inhale until your torso rises off the bottom. As soon as this starts to happen, exhale until you sink back to the bottom again. NO HANDS NO KICKING. If you can’t get off of the bottom drop a few pounds until you can.


Hovering maybe the most important of all of these skills to good photography. Start in any position you are comfortable. Take a deep breath to rise off of the bottom a foot or two. Then control your breathing by exhaling if you feel you are going up and inhaling if you feel you are sinking. NO HANDS NO KICKING.  As you improve at this skill practice it in other positions until you are comfortable holding your place in any position.

Continuing Education

If you continue to have problems managing these skills see your local dive shop and take the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty course. This course also covers things like. old wetsuit vs. new, 7mm full suit vs. 3mm shorty, steel tank vs. aluminum, 80 cu. ft. vs. 63 cu. ft., and full tank vs. empty tank. Did you know that 80 cu. ft. of air weighs about 4 lbs. Therefore, if you are down to 750 psi. you are 3 lbs. lighter at the end of the dive than you were at the beginning.

Another option is to ask a dive guide or a diver you respect as having good buoyancy control watch and advise you. I have been an instructor for 21 years and I have yet to stop learning.


As you continue diving if you have a few minutes on the bottom before the group gets down or at the end of the dive when those low on air are ascending…practice. I practice every time I am working with students and sometimes while I am leading dives and no one even notices.
Faithe and Steve exhibit good buoyancy skills
Let me challenge you with some goals.  I only need 6 lbs. of weight to stay down with an aluminum 80 and a 3mm shorty. When I guide I wear 12 lbs. so that I have a few extra in case someone needs it. First, I never have to add air to my BCD to control my buoyancy. Conservatively I suggest, if you are adding air you are at least 4 lbs. too heavy. Second, when you have good enough control, try moving through the water by inhaling, exhaling then changing your body position. You can actually swim without using your hands or feet albeit slowly with this technique. When you reach this point you too will be able to close up on the subjects you want to photograph in a non-threatening manner and get that cover shot.

Always make your total number of ascents equal your total number of descents.

Your really cool blogger,


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