Deep blue vision
Kevin Palmer has been diving with his camera for more than 30 years. He loves the oceans’ blue vastness and fascinating animal kingdom, every bit as much as he loves the people whose lives are so closely intertwined with the sea. His motifs are as diverse as the oceans are deep.
For Kevin Palmer underwater photography is more than a profession; it’s a downright passion. “It’s still a peripheral area of photography, but the community is growing. And that’s a great development because it means more and more people can have the pleasure of being exposed to this fascinating genre. I also work for one of the world’s largest sellers of underwater photo equipment. Just recently we had a workshop on the Philippines with 34 participants from around the world. For one week, they focused on nothing else but underwater photography. It was a dream.”
Other people go on photo safaris in places with attractive landscapes. But Palmer travels to where the water is clear so the beauty of the underwater world can reveal itself to its fullest – for example Indonesia. “In the south of the country there are islands that are very different to the developed areas around Bali. Here you’ll still find traditional societies intact that organize their lives entirely according to the ocean, for example on Pura Island (Pulau Pura) near the larger island of Alor. More or less from the age of two, the locals paddle around in canoes they have made themselves and dive – sometimes with diving goggles carved of wood. A wonderful motif.”
For his short photo story about the traditional divers of South Indonesia, Palmer uses a mirrorless system camera (Sony NEX-6) and the ZEISS Touit 2.8/12 in an underwater housing with a dome port and a semi-spherical ancillary lens.
“I had a brand-new Touit 2.8/12 and no experience with it yet. In that sense, the pictures from Indonesia were technically like taking a dive in cold water — even though the ocean there is, luckily, perfectly warm. Concerning the optics, I was equally surprised and enthusiastic: the Touit 2.8/12 demonstrated a very high performance under water. It delivered really sharp images with a balanced, rich color rendering which I really like.”
As a result, Palmer was able to take underwater shots of a very different category – pictures where the main subject is not the fish, corals or plants, but rather traditional ways of life that still endure in the 21st century. The children — especially the boys — learn to free dive initially in a playful way, but still as a game with a clear objective: catching fish. To do this, two people in the boat hold the net while two others dive under and drag the net toward a potential catch. “They can hold their breath for at least a minute and dive five to eight meters down. When we photographed them, they had lots of fun showing us their underwater tricks.”
The divers of Pulau Pura were a welcome diversion for Palmer, whose focus is normally on the ocean’s animal and plant life as well. During his two-week boat tour through the pristine nature of southern Indonesia, numerous motifs presented themselves. “The most interesting pictures can be taken at a depth of up to 65 feet (20 meters), where sufficient sunlight still penetrates to use for the image. Like this picture of the sea turtle: in shallow water you can play with the sun rays shining through to create interesting effects.”
Taking pictures under water, you are confronted with different problems than on land. Many pictures require balancing artificial and ambient light. But photographing under water without a flash is also a challenge, because a camera’s automatic exposure has been optimized for very different conditions. In the deep blue you need to think differently about how to create images (see “Optics take a dive” for more technical insights).
But if you know the challenges underwater photography presents, and have the right tools at your disposal, like Kevin Palmer, you can simply dive down and get on with it. “With the Touit 2.8/12 I already achieved fantastic pictures the first time around. An important reason for this was the superb sharpness and high contrast, the latter being one of the big challenges under water, where motifs quickly lose their contours. There’s also the high-quality color rendering: due to the refraction in the water, the proportion of saturated colors in the light decreases, so the image can quickly get a bluish or grayish cast. But with the Touit 2.8/12, the colors look attractive and warm. I’m really looking forward to the Touit 2.8/50M and hope I can try it out soon.”
About Kevin Palmer
Kevin Palmer has been diving and taking photographs since 1973. For the last 20 years he has worked as a freelance journalist and photographer, specializing in seascapes. His images and texts appear regularly in well-known diving, travel and water sports magazines. Kevin lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. He is the chief equipment specialist at Reef Photo & Video located in Fort Lauderdale. His photo expeditions and workshops regularly take him to the most beautiful corners of the planet’s oceans.