Apr 222013

Shadow diver

About the dive

With the back end of the main Weebubbie tunnel down at 40m, and the roof of the railway tunnel around 20m, long dives to the end mean a lot of deco back under the lake. After 90 minutes of photography, swimming and scootering in the depths Stefan and I had 60 minutes to kill up in the shallows. Rather than scissors, paper, rock competitions as the minutes crawled by, we decided it was time for some photographic experimentation.

One of the joys of cave diving is swimming through darkness and watching the walls light up with wandering dive light beams. If you lead the dive, you might see yourself in shadow outline, swimming along the wall of the cave. Light beams pointed at the wall ahead are there for signalling – circles for OK, flashes for problems, and a steady light to know your buddy is right behind you. I feel half blind when I dive in the ocean and have to turn around to check on my buddy. Of course, when you take a camera and light the whole cave with strobes these light and shadow plays are all flattened out in white strobe light in the images. This photo was a way to emphasise the shadows you might see on a cave dive that don’t appear in cave diving photos.

Shadow divers

About the photo

The right hand wall of the cave at the deco spot is large, white and flat – perfect for shadow puppets. Getting the set up right took a little bit of fiddling. I initially set up a pair of off camera strobes perched carefully on a rock, and then turned one of them off to turn the double shadow into a single shadow. By angling the strobe to point at 45 degrees up, I could keep the camera at the same depth at the diver and create the shadow up above on the wall. The key here was to get complete separation of the outline of the diver and the outline of their shadow. This meant dropping down to 8m to place the strobe, before returning to 6m for the photography session and continued decompression.

The first shots showed the off camera strobe still bungeed on to Stefan’s sidemounted tank was showing up in the shadow as a strange lump. I moved that, and the next issue was bubbles. They looked fine on the diver, but the shadow bubbles looked a little bit like a smoke eruption out of the shadow diver’s skull. A few shadow bubbles were desirable, but I needed a clear gap between the bubbles and the diver and that required good timing.

With the basics down the next step was refining camera to model to light source to wall distances. By putting the diver closer to the light source, the size of the shadow increased. Get the diver too close to the off camera strobe and the light (and the silt from putting it down on a rock) was in the picture. I moved the off camera strobe further back from the wall to give us more space to play with. Then instead of taking the picture flat on, I moved around to the front to capture the two diver outlines swimming towards the camera. My on camera strobes were turned right down so as not to interfere with the shadow.

Out of the whole photo session at 6m, and hundreds of photos with bubbles in the wrong place and shadows too small, the one up top is my favourite. I like the way the leading shadow catches the eye first, and then you look back to see the diver. Stefan has turned to look at the camera, creating an alien outline in the shadow diver’s face. This is also a technique for beating the curse of the black dive gear. If you can’t persuade your models to buy drysuits in reasonable colours, this is a photo setup that doesn’t require being able to see the details of the diver. And if you are thinking of buying a new suit, red is a lovely colour!

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