Patrick Baker: The Evolution of Underwater Photography

Video | Updated 4 weeks ago

Today, underwater photography is an important aspect of any shipwreck recovery. It allows us to discover the sites without physically going there, records the intimate details of the site for future generations when the wreck may have been moved or suffered further deterioration, and allows scientific study away from the wreck site using high-resolution images.

The history of underwater photography stretches back 120 years. It took the ingenuity of a pioneering Frenchman for humans to see their first fuzzy images of the world under the water. He plunged into the depths with a huge camera swathed in cumbersome waterproof casing. Thankfully, technology has advanced a little since then. 
   
In the last 60 years, underwater photography has taken off. This has allowed greater interaction between maritime archaeology and a fascinated public.

Throughout that period, underwater photography technology has advanced rapidly. In the beginning, underwater cameras were housed in waterproof boxes that often leaked. Hans Haas is credited with the design of an underwater camera that marine photographers considered the best for many years. It was relatively easy to use and took good quality photographs. As with other underwater cameras at the time, though, it was rather bulky and difficult to maneuver.

This all changed when a smaller style of camera was designed to be both waterproof (to a depth of 50m) and easy to carry. This was to be the camera that ‘freed up underwater photography,’ and was the first of many impressive technological advances within the field.

In the last decade, digital technology has revolutionized underwater photography. Image quality is better than ever before, which means that even amateur photographers can capture amazing images that, as Patrick Baker mentions, can be of a better quality than professionals who have been in the field for over forty years.

In a professional sense, though, many marine archaeologists still use cameras in waterproof housing. One such device is the digital single lens reflex camera, which allows the photographer to use a range of lenses for a variety of shots, from wide angles to extreme close ups. These are considered the Rolls Royce of modern underwater cameras.

Despite these advances, some small digital cameras are starting to bulky again. This is due to their increasing functionality, which allows the user to capture extremely detailed shots using 3D technology. This involves the bulk of two small digital cameras joined together to give a ‘stereo’ capturing range. The Western Australian Museum Department of Maritime Archaeology has been recording 3D underwater images for 35 years, and the images they capture today are better than ever before.

Patrick Baker says that very wide-angle lenses allow images to be taken through great depths of water in extreme detail, and observes that the quality of the images ‘is like having a physical model in front of you.’  The model he uses for underwater photography for the Western Australian Museum is functional as well as techy, as the two cameras can be detached and used individually.

We will continue to see advances in digital recording technology, which will allow us to see more of the world hidden below the waves than ever before. When we compare the first grainy images of marine life to what is known about the world’s oceans today, we can certainly say we’ve come a long way in understanding this amazing environment – but we also have so much more to discover.   

 

 

Transcript

Underwater photography has a 120 year-old history in fact it goes back, and we actually have this pioneer Frenchman in the late 1890s who took a huge camera made a water-proof case and went underwater to take pictures of marine life but that was an inspiration for many people following and particularly in the last 60 years when free diving, scuba diving is developed photography is just sort of, carried on, it really is how we see the underwater world it's the photographer and the research worked link to the public to be able to photography, to be able to film the underwater world and show what it's like encouraging other people to visit of course, as well But for Maritime Archaeologists, and that's my speciality photography for Maritime Archaeology it's a way of bringing our past, our past of shipwreck excavation move forward in time, the fact we can revisit the wreck site through photography We, and anyone else for decades afterwards.

When photography began existing cameras were put in waterproof boxes not always waterproof, they would often leak but that's crux we have to bear as underwater photographers everything leaks eventually but we took existing cameras in housing and here we have several examples of these for 20 years this was the Rolls Royce of underwater cameras designed by a very well known pioneer, Hans Hass but a camera that was superb to use it's the camera which obviously now not in the housing but it made a bulky... bulky unit to have to work with and the underwater photographer could change when this camera came out camera that was waterproof to 50 metres, could just slung around the neck, carried with you always and it really, that freed up underwater photography although not freed up as much as the modern environments, which in the last ten years is digital, where we've gone from using film to the digital record and digital cameras have have freed up photography as never before now, the quality of underwater photographs from even a beginner is better than we who have 40 years experience could get in the past, so that's changed things enormously.

I'm still, many of us are still using cameras in waterproof housing this is a very high quality digital single lens reflex camera but this housing allows me to use a whole range of lenses allows me to do almost all things underwater that I can do above water that means very wide angle photographs, that means extreme close-up photographs, so that is the sort of, I guess Rolls Royce of use these days.

The thing that has really changed is small digital camera. Already it's starting to get bulky again, but here I have two cameras two identical cameras in underwater camera cases these are good level - high level but compact digital cameras and this is for doing stereo for 3D photography that's something that I have done, that we have done in the WA Museum department of Maritime Archaeology for 35 years now is record our wreck sites in 3D so that we can actually see a 3D view of the underwater world forever and into the future, and they are just two cameras that fire together this has a special viewfinder that I've added. Very wide angle lenses to cut through the water, for us to be able to see clearly in water and two are fired together as simple as that. I mean that gives the simulation of the left eye and the right eye they can viewed on a 3D television, or a 3D viewer, and it's like having a physical model in front you that you can see in 3D.

These cameras can also just be taken off and used, just like that. And that is really the model equivalent of the best of the film cameras so Nikonians camera there that was our main photographic tool for many years but now as superb as they are the quality is superb, that it's replaced totally now by digital.