In an ongoing series, Scubaverse’s Underwater Photography Editor Nick Robertson-Brown talks to underwater photographers from around the world that he admires. In this blog: Charles Hood.
CH: I began my fascination with underwater photography when living in the Middle East in the late 70’s. After a brief spell at university I set off on any expedition I could find that was diving connected. The images I captured went on to win numerous wildlife and marine related photographic competitions, including being twice highly commended at the Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year and being named Underwater Photographer of the year in 2001. My work is now virtually all commercial. I have written and illustrated over 1000 published articles, dozens of books and manuals and had over 100 front covers including TIME magazine. Today I live with Sandra my scuba diving wife in Cornwall, England, where I can often be found miles from shore snapping blue sharks and anything else in our pelagic waters.
NRB: How did your underwater photography start?
CH: It began in the mid 1970s when I lived in the Middle East. My first underwater camera was a Kodak 126 roll film camera in a homemade Perspex housing. By today’s standards the images are terrible but at the time they were quite credible as there weren’t many marine images around at that time. I dived solo and my instruction was don’t go deeper than nine metres and you’ll run out of air before you get bent.
NRB: What is your favourite u/w camera equipment (past & present) & why?
CH: After my homemade affair I purchased a Nikonos III and 15mm lens. When the exposure was correct the 35mm Fujifilm slide images it produced would challenge even the most advanced camera equipment today, if not out-gun them when projected on a large screen. Today I use my trusted old Nikon D3 in Aquatica housing – usually with either a Nikkor 20mm or 16mm lens. In my opinion Aquatica produces the most robust housings, you really can chuck them around when the conditions demand. The D3 produces only 12 million pixels but on full frame those pixels are huge and contain so much colour information. I only use prime lenses underwater, as this guarantees edge-to-edge sharpness and without a zoom there is one less control to think about.
NRB: What would be your advice to anyone new to underwater photography?
CH: First, keep it simple and basic, don’t be tempted to become a ‘kitchen sink’ photographer. Next have a complete and comprehensive understanding of photography per se. It is also vital one fully understands camera settings and how all your equipment works prior to taking it underwater. I also work as a boat skipper come photo guide and can honestly say that on the majority of trips more people miss once-in-a-lifetime opportunities than capture them. This is nearly always due to either not being able to set the camera correctly or through simple component failure such as dead batteries or wrongly formatted memory cards; and don’t get me started on massive strobe arms, flimsy flapping fibre cables and huge floats – you are asking for trouble.
NRB: What, or who, has been your single biggest inspiration for your underwater photography?
CH: That’s an easy question. BSoUP’s Colin Doeg without question was the finest underwater coach I bounced ideas off in the 80s. His appreciation for new concepts was second to none. His endless patience and frank honesty as I showed him loads of near misses was inspiring. But importantly his commercial photography background always challenged my imagery for the better – 95 per cent there was not good enough for Colin. It is easy to be awe inspired by great photographers and even to successfully imitate them, however, if you want to claim an image truly as your own you need to have a great tutor to discuss concepts with. Sometimes Colin’s and my ideas would lead me to required bits of kit that at the time weren’t commercially available, so I also turned to Warren Williams who’s knowledge of optics and mechanical skills are legendary.
NRB: What image are you most proud of and why?
CH: And this is the most difficult question to answer. Probably the image I am most proud of is a silhouette of a diver at Silfra in Iceland that made the front cover of TIME magazine. After an initial day to get to grips with what Silfra had to offer we returned for another two days with a pre-rehearsed set of images in mind which, unless you are incredibly lucky, is the only way one can get stunning images.
NRB: Where is your favourite dive location, and is it for the photography?
CH: My favourite place for underwater photography is about 20 miles south of Penzance, Cornwall. Here the Blue Sharks arrive in July and remain until the end of October. Penzance is only a five minute drive from where I live so what better than to have sharks on your doorstep. This year we are also after some of the other more exotic animals that are visitors to our waters such as Bluefin tuna and the elusive Porbeagle Shark.
NRB: What are you views on marine life manipulation, moving subjects?
CH: Where does marine wildlife disturbance begin? Would chumming for sharks be counted as manipulation? Does having your buddy manoeuver around a critter so that he lines it up for you get a better shot count as disturbance? I’m not too sure. Physically poking or moving a subject definitely is on the other hand pretty invasive. I think it depends on, is one causing distress to the animal and critically, repeatedly so? When you see snapper after snapper queuing up or marauding around to photograph the same animal I would say this could be viewed as unacceptable, irrespective if you have physically touched it. On the other hand I don’t really view a few folk snorkelling with half a dozen chum-attracted sharks in mid-ocean as causing any harm to them at all.
NRB: What do you look for when you are making your images?
CH: For a photograph that no one else has taken. Yes sometimes it is nice to have a stock image to fulfil a story or article but for me it’s just a copy of someone else’s idea.
NRB: What motivates you to take u/w photos?
CH: Capturing new images. Showing the general public what lies beneath our waters, especially in Cornwall. I almost always have an idea in mind before I even configure my camera gear. This way I know well beforehand what lens, port, strobes and settings I am using. Sometimes I’ll photograph a subject for hours without changing anything except for composition.
NRB: If you could photograph any one thing/place what or where would that be?
CH: A Great White in UK waters.
To see more of Charlie’s work click here.