Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Constantly traveling and seeking the hidden seascapes that wait beneath the surface of the world’s oceans and seas, Eric Cheng has quietly become one of the top underwater photographers in the world
“Underwater photographers don’t have the luxury of using postproduction exposure techniques like HDR due to the limitations of the environment,” Cheng points out, “so they really must get the light right at the point of capture.” He adds that he does very little postproduction work on his images except for “minor tweaks to help the images pop.”
The obstacles facing underwater seascape photographers include focusing on a constantly moving environment that’s often in low light, limited options in usable lenses (you can’t use a telephoto lens underwater due to limited light and visibility) and the changing environment itself.
“In the South Pacific, where soft corals abound, the reef can appear very drab when the corals are closed,” Cheng comments. “Yet six hours later, the reef can appear vibrant and colorful because the coral polyps have opened to feed.” Unfortunately, divers can’t wait around on the reef for six hours.
Cheng adds that he knows many 30-plus-year veterans of underwater seascape photography who feel exactly the same way, even after all their time in the water.
Working photographers face many challenges, and that’s true of underwater professionals as well—and then some! Perhaps the most challenging aspect is travel. Exotic locations often require international flights and all the hassles that come with it. Cost, travel time, visas, language barriers and more all add up to the need to have a solid plan. Perhaps the most difficult is traveling with heavy, bulky dive and underwater photo gear. At 100 to 120 pounds for underwater photo gear and nearly 100 pounds of dive gear, the current luggage restrictions on most airlines can make getting to the location painful and expensive. The harsh environment and the added cost of underwater housings and special flash equipment add to the challenge.
There are limitations to the number of angles to a reef, but Cheng strives to make his work distinct. “I experiment with camera position, flash position and will even use a macro lens where most might go with a wide angle,” he says. All in the name of putting his take on the scene.
A distinct advantage that Cheng has as a photographer is his previous life as a web programmer. He fully utilizes a cadre of social media tools to share his images and get the word out on his activities. His images and postings are regularly found not only on the Wetpixel.com website, but also on his personal website and his blog, along with Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s a great time to be a photographer, with all the web tools available to present your work,” says Cheng. “I know some photographers worry about plagiarism and copyright issues, but I think the exposure value far outweighs those issues.”
Cheng hopes that, through his imagery, he can help the situation by heightening the awareness of the need for protection of the oceans and other waterways.
When asked what advice he gives to new underwater seascape photographers, Cheng is quick to point out that a real understanding of the environment, its animals and the effect the water conditions have on the light are the most important factors in creating underwater seascapes. And when it comes to the water conditions, often it’s a matter of luck! Sometimes he sees underwater photographers working on their images between dives on the boat, working them up and making corrections. Cheng’s response: “Hey, we’re still anchored over the dive site. Why not get back in the water and shoot again until you get it right!”
To see more of Eric Cheng’s photography, visit www.echeng.com/photo. Budd Riker has been an avid nature photographer and writer for over 30 years. You can see his work at www.lightinthesea.com.
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