Free Diver and Air Ring
February, 2009—Cocos Island, Costa Rica
In February, I took my first dive trip with a brand new Nikon D3X—my first full frame DSLR camera—to Cocos Island, Costa Rica, a location many of you know to be famous for schooling hammerhead sharks and large numbers of several other uncommonly seen sharks. I had been shooting for five years with DSLRs whose image sensors were smaller than that of an actual 35mm film frame, so they actually magnified the image (Nikon's magnification factor was 1.5, Canon's was 1.6) beyond the normal focal length of the lens used. In simple terms, on a Nikon D100 or D2X, shooting with a 50mm lens was really like shooting with a 75mm lens on a 35mm film camera. I had gotten used to this in the five years of shooting cropped frame sensor cameras, and was eager to make the necessary adjustments to the full frame D3X.
|Shot with Nikon D3X and Sigma 15mm fisheye lens, in a Subal ND3
Housing with 2 Inon Z-240 strobes. ISO 400, 1/80 second @ f20.
The problem was that the "normal" onslaught of hammerheads, tuna, mantas, and other "megafauna" seemed to be missing, or present in only small numbers. This was my third visit to Cocos in ten years, and I truly noticed a significant difference in the amount of sharks. It is difficult to say whether this was a normal occurrence associated with seasonal water temperatures and currents, or if the illegal fishing activities in the area have really taken such a dramatic toll on the sharks of Cocos Island. Rather than spend all of my time trying to find and get close to the hammerheads, in 150+ feet of murky water, I decided to do some more creative shooting of what I consider to be more everyday subjects. Above are the results.
On a safety stop, after a relatively unproductive dive, I was watching the dive master practicing the art of blowing "air rings." If you haven't seen this before, it is pretty much like blowing smoke rings, but with air from your tank. You have to "aim" directly vertically in the water column, and, if you do it just right, the small ring grows wider and wider as the gas expands with the decreasing pressure of shallower water (remember Boyle's Law from your open water class?). The dive master was doing a great job, and I surfaced to the tender boat to ask the driver if he would be willing to do some modeling for me. He was game, and we spent the next ten minutes or so shooting as he free-dived through the dive master's perfect air rings. This image represents a pretty significant departure from my normal subject matter, but I find it to be pretty compelling. Of course, given the physical shape the "model" is in, it also makes me feel that I could stand to lose a few pounds!