Daily Photos: Mark James’ underwater journey

Mark is a friend of 2 Guys and sent us these images and story of how he got started in underwater photography.  As someone who thinks an excellent scuba experience is watching “Jaws” with a large bag of popcorn, I found Mark’s images and narrative fascinating.  Enjoy!

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For most of my life I was never really a photographer. Like most Americans I had a camera and took pictures on vacation and Christmas but that was about it. After doing a discover scuba dive in Mexico while on vacation in 1997 I was hooked, and as soon as I got back home I enrolled in a open water course and booked my next trip to Cozumel. A couple of years later I bought a camera and underwater housing. It was then that I started to look at photography as more then just a way to capture a moment but as a way to capture an emotion or feeling. It was the ability for me to take people to a place they had never been.

Orange tropical fish photographed at Laulau by Mark JamesI have found that underwater photography has many challenges that most people take for granted when taking pictures on land. I’ve spent a few years now improving my skills to overcome these challenges as well as learning to shoot in manual mode and upgrading my equipment. In underwater photography a flash is called a strobe and I use two Ikelite strobes and have my Panasonic GH2 in a 10Bar underwater housing. Light does not penetrate water very far so the deeper you go the more colors you loose so bringing your own light is critical to getting a good shot. Most water is organic and by that I mean there is a lot of stuff floating around and by stuff I mean fish poop ;-). The strobe tends to light this “stuff” up and cause scatter in pictures so it important to get as close to your subject as possible. I’ve found the two best lenses for this are macro and wide angle.

blue tropical fish Napolean Wrasse by Mark James

The above shot is of a Napoleon Wrasse. They can get up to 400LBS. and are the largest of the tropical reef fish. They are a gentle giant of the reef and are shy so getting close to one is a challenge in itself. This shot was taken with my now deceased Olympus 8080 using a 22mm equivalent wide angle lens and 2 Ikelite DS125 strobes. Like most wildlife photography the key is to not spook the subject. Underwater this often means holding your breath because the bubbles are loud to fish and tend to spook most of them.

Big eyed blue tropical fish underwater by Mark James

This big eyed little guy was a challenge and at about 6 inches long required macro. Getting a fish to look at you and not turn away before you can take the picture is a combo of skill and luck. With you, the water and your subject almost always moving it can take some time to hone your skills. The shot is soft and is a good example of how my personal expectations have changed over the last few years. I would not keep this if I shot it today but Ed saw it on our web page and liked it.  (Note from Ed: You bet I liked it — if I saw that while diving, I’d be on the beach in 10 seconds!!  Of course, that’s before I knew it was six inches long!)

Small pink tropical fish swimming in the Grotto by Mark James

On the other hand, this shot was taken at The Grotto on Saipan with the M4/3’s Panasonic GH2, Lumix 45mm macro lens and Iklite DS161 strobe earlier this year and is an example of how my own personal expectations have increased as I have improved my photography.

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to move closer to the water and maybe someplace a little warmer, I was thrilled when my employer had an opening on the island of Saipan. My friends were all very jealous when I told them that we would be moving to Micronesia. Now at 50 years old, I get to dive every week and can take pictures as often as I like. My wife Tammy is great at finding the small stuff and helps me all the time. You can look at more of my work at http://www.underexposed.us

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Thanks Mark for contributing to 2 Guys Photo.  Mark has many more images on his site so please be sure to visit.  Please feel free to leave your thoughts and constructive comments on Mark’s images below.

If you’d like to be featured on 2 Guys, please email us your images with commentary and we’ll do our best to get you published !

And thanks for visiting 2 Guys Photo.                               Posted by Ed

About Ed Spadoni

www.2GuysPhoto.com "Thoughts and opinions, resources and experiences… for emerging photographers everywhere."
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11 Responses to Daily Photos: Mark James’ underwater journey

  1. Kara says:

    Wow, these are really impressive shots! Fascinating to read about.


  2. Mark says:

    Hi 2 Guys,

    Thanks for the interest in my work. I’ve had a lot of fun learning how to improve my skills in this very challenging art form, and have learned some good stuff from following your website. It is far more difficult then I would have thought but I love the adventures that come with photography.

  3. Ian Soliva says:

    The “big eyed little guy” is amazing! Great capture, Mark!

  4. Tammy says:

    I am Mark’s wife Tammy and am very proud of his work. He has taught me quite a bit, and I admit, I have a lot more to learn! Great Job Honey, keep it up!

  5. Rodney Daly says:

    Great photos Mark. I am a scuba diver (not for a few years though) and these photos take me places I have never been! And I want to go scuba diving again now. Thanks for sharing them with us and the world. PS…. some of your above water shots on your site were pretty good too… particularly the one with the water reflection and “arch” in the photo!

    cheers, Rodney

    • Mark James says:

      Thank you very much. It wasn’t until I got my first M4/3’s camera that I even started taking it seriously and now I’m having a lot more fun, and frustration with my underwater work. I recommend you dust off your mask and get back in the water, it’s good for the soul.

      Thanks for the complement on the top side shots. I have set out to improve my skills in this area and have a ways to go but am having fun trying. I think the photo you are referencing is a shot of our pool at sunrise. It was one of the first shots I took with my Lumix7-14mm lens when I got it. The 7mm is 14mm equivalent with no distortion and I love, love, love the lens. It makes for some amazing shots if used properly. My GH2 has a multi-aspect sensor so when I shoot 9:16 it is even wider then that. It’s a challenging lens but that is part of the fun.

  6. Terrific work, Mark. I’m glad you included the big-eyed little guy. It’s an incredible image. As someone who doesn’t know how to swim, I depend on photographers like you to show me what I’m missing beneath the sea.

    • Mark James says:

      Thank you. That is part of why I started taking underwater photo’s. So many people I know had no clue as to why I enjoyed diving so much and this was a way to show them what they were missing.

      One of the reasons I chose “Underexposed” for our website is it refers to photography and also to being exposed to what’s underwater.

      It’s never to late to learn. 😉

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