Just to make it clear, I am not an underwater photographer. I have dabbled in it from time to time in locations of incredible marine life, such as snorkelling around coral reefs. The North Sea has a high abundance of marine life and the coast of Penzance is one of two places that you can consistently see blue sharks (the other is Cape Town). So when Danny Copeland, a fellow University of Sheffield Zoology graduate, spoke about his plan to go and see them with Charles Hood, a local charter skipper (http://charleshood.com), I jumped at the chance to join him.
Previously I have used DSLRs for underwater photography in a Ewa-Marine underwater housing. This time though I wanted to continue to push the X-T1 in difficult conditions so I put it in the same housing with the 10-24mm. Despite being dwarfed by the bag, the set up worked really well.
Thanks to Danny Copeland for this photo of me and the camera. Follow Danny on twitter to get the latest on underwater photography and marine conservation.
Once we reached 10 miles out to sea we started chumming using mackerel heads (yum) to attract the sharks. Once they were in the area the four of us that went on the trip were able to slip into the water. Once I had checked the housing was sealed I swam around to find some subjects and came across this large jellyfish surrounded by lots of little fish. This example highlights the benefit of using a zoom lens underwater as I was able to get two very different perspectives using different focal lengths.
Conditions were generally slightly overcast which actually meant there was a lovely soft light, which helped control the highlights that would have been a problem if it was a clear, sunny day. However this did mean that it was slightly dark in the water, even at the surface, so I shot at ISO 1600 to start and pushed this as the sediment levels rose throughout the day. Other settings I made sure I had set up on the boat were: continuous focus with focus priority, continuous high speed shooting (8fps), matrix metering and LCD only display. Generally I was using aperture f5.6 to strike a balance between a fast shutter speed and a good depth of field.
Because I was wearing a mask and the camera was in a housing I couldn’t utilise the wonderful EVF but instead found the LCD screen to be a great alternative. It allowed me to have a clear view of the shark(s) by not having my face to the camera and provided easy viewing of composition through the back of the camera. The advantage of the X-T1 is that I have not noticed any difference in focusing speeds between the EVF and LCD, which isn’t always the case. All of these factors meant that I could really take in this remarkable experience as one shark in particular became more and more inquisitive…
Rising out of the depth
Coming in for a closer look
Moments before bumping the lens!
The camera only helped to make the experience more memorable, with the shark showing interest in it. With an animal like this it was so interesting to witness its intelligence and curiosity, the term ‘spaniels of the sea’ I feel is very apt. At one stage the shark photo-bombed a picture of Danny!
Despite coming very close, it whole situation was very calm and meant that the interaction was an absolute joy. The shark even seemed to show a happy expression.
Overall, the X-T1 and 10-24mm set up exceeded my expectations. I knew it would follow subjects well but I thought that shooting through water would probably lower the hit rate. However, the only factor that affected this was human error. With a specifically designed underwater housing, this camera and lens set up would be a brilliant choice for any underwater photographer, with its small size, clear controls and superb image quality.