Underwater photography can quickly become horribly expensive, with good hard DSLR housings costing thousands of dollars, and bad ones resulting in even higher repair bills, so here is the story of how I've been playing in the local swimming pool on the cheap.
My pocket camera bag
Here's one you can buy for 99 Kr in Sweden, with a built-in toilet roll : http://www.kjell.com/?item=58000
The flashguns I wrapped in double, lubricant-free condoms, after taping
over any sharp corners to avoid damage. The unlubricated ones have
powder on them - keep this away from your camera, as you don't want it
to get on the sensor. Yes, it's fun asking the
chemist for a large number of the biggest, strongest, least lubricated they have,
and a tip - don't try to explain your choice to the nice lady in the
chemist's by saying that you want
to do something unusual with them. And if your hobbies include building
your own camera gear, I'm guessing that you don't have much experience
in using condoms, but maybe your mum can help.
I put the double-condomed flash in another zip lock bag, which are not terribly waterproof, but protect the condoms from external damage, and reduce the amount of water going in if you should have a failure.
To stabilise the guns on the floor of the pool I screwed a GorillaPod into a metal plate that rests on the bottom, and then use the arms of the Gorilla to hold the flash. The packed flash and mounted.
I was using a Nikon SB800 flash, which has an IR filter over the
optical sensor, and it seems that so much IR is absorbed by the water
that firing became erratic, especially used fully automatic, where the
flashguns need to have a complicated conversation involving many weak
flashes. I wanted to swap this for a conventional white-light triger,
but mine happened to have sharp edges and kept puncturing the condoms.
So maybe radio triggers are the way to go, but they are big and bulky and will also be hard to get into the condoms.
Maybe there is a better rubber product to use for waterproofing. Gloves ? Thicker condoms, even if they all happen to be lubricated. Maybe I can have a plastic bag inside and out and try to wash off the lubricant. Maybe more transparent too ? Synthetic ?
I worried about the stiff plastic casing for the DSLR damaging the popped-up flash when it moved around. Radio triggers would solve that problem too, along with backscatter from residual light from the on-camera flash. The extra power from the radio-triggered slave should be able to trigger other flashes optically.
To keep the nice blue ambient light, I need more sensitivity than my D70/f4 lens combo could manage without noise. I don't think I dare to use the D700, but maybe the D300. A faster lens would probably be bad, given the problems of focussing through the bag and with my eyesight. Maybe this is a job for liveview ?
Swimming in deep water whilst hanging on to a camera turns out to be tiring, especially when you keep wanting to dive. Maybe it's better to wear bouyancy, and only shoot downwards from just under the surface. Or maybe have a life belt that you can rest in but easy get out of.
Maybe fix the camera on the bottom, and remote trigger ?
This cage for the camera weighs
about 1kg, but could obviously be weighted more. Pro tip - remove the
lens cap before sealing the camera in the bag....
It might also be worth tying a piece of string to the cage so it can be pulled up from the bottom without having to dive down.
A huge problem for me was my eyesight. Normally I need glasses for distance, and peer over them to see the camera controls and display, but at the pool I either had to have corrected goggles or contacts and clear goggles, but either way I couldn't easily swap between distance and close up. I'm guessing Woolworths don't have bifocal swim goggles on the shelves, so I'm thinking about wearing just one contact lens next time.
There is hardly room for the radio shutter-release remote control in the UW housing I'm using. It either covers one of the screens, or jams the lens focus movement.
The D300 is bigger than the D70, and so the pop-up flash doesn't have room to open properly in the housing, so often failed to fire.
My optical flash slaves slide out of position when handling the flashguns in their plastic bags. Not sure how to fix them better.
Optically slaved flashes need to be within about one meter of their trigger, regardless of the intensity. This is presumably caused by the light taking multiple paths, thus softening the sharp edge that the slave is looking for. It was even worse for radio slaves, which failed after about half a metre. And the radio shutter trigger failed after a few centimeters, so plans to trigger a remote camera that is fixed to the bottom of the pool are out.
Even extra strength condoms aren't strong enough - I had my SB800 in two of those, and then in a zip-lock bag, but the condoms split, and the zip-lock let in enough water to destroy the flash.
I'm now looking at femidoms - much bigger, seem to be stronger, but less elastic. And tupperware boxes are looking very interesting. They leak a bit, but probably a zip lock bag inside will be enough to keep those drops out, since there will be no water pressure on them.
I bought a couple of simple flashguns from the Red Cross shop for 20Kr each, which is cheaper than a femidom, so I'll probably use those in regular plastic bags.
Maybe the best way to position lights is with long poles from the
poolside : light pole
I was so busy fixing techie problems that I didn't notice the crappy backgrounds I was getting, with the dirty painted walls being hard to remove in pp. I should have shot more out away from the walls, and upwards, though holding myself down and shooting up was really difficult.
Here are the results.
Next time : Model with parasol or umbrella.
Worried that that little case won't protect your camera ? This one spent 5 years floating from Hawaii to Taiwan : hardy UW case.
I started off with two external flashes, but one was unreliable, so I took it off,
at which point I found I hadn't put the lid on the box properly, and
it had drowned. RIP my Olympus T32, it made an heroic sacrifice for art.
There was also a splitter on the fibreoptic cable that was rather inefficient (seemed like it lost much more than half the light), But the whole rig was much easier to use with one light, so not really a problem.
I shot at ISO 80 and 1/250 at f2.2, which gave me good light to about 3 metres away, and I was less ambitious about shooting upwards, and just floated on the surface with a snorkel and mask.
Here's the result : http://frozentime.se/shows/fyrishov_show
This time I used a D300 in a Ewa-marine soft house with on-camera flash. Very bright sunlight on the surface made the light interesting enough : http://frozentime.se/shows/underwater_show
I loved the Canon S90, but the shutter lag was a problem under water, so now I have upgraded to
a Sony RX100 M, which also happens to have significantly better image quality.
The UW house from Meikon is very similar to the one for the S90 from Canon, but has lugs
for attaching flash sync cables, which makes connections more reliable.
On the other hand the RX100 doesn't allow manual flash control, and always sends out a preflash. It was hard to find a slave that could trigger an external flash, and the one that did was 10 years old and no longer on the market. The popular SYK-5 does not work. The flash also always fires too bright, so takes several seconds to recover.
Test shots work, so just waiting for models and ideas now.
D300+12-24mm and S90 cameras Uwa-marine soft house for D300, dedicated hard case for s90 (may not arrive for volcanic reasons) Spare soft case for compact camera Selection of condoms, femidoms, plastic bags, map cases, tupperware boxes (Radio remote shutter release) (Radio remote flash slaves) Gorilla pod and assorted poles and stands String Wet-suit jacket, shorts, swim trunks Mask, goggles, snorkel Contact lenses, glasses case locker padlock Several towels