Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pictures from Below: The Development of Underwater Photography

Stephen Frink and I!
Hello there, my name is Denisse and I will be spending most of the summer working in the History of Diving Museum alongside Amber getting first-hand experience in museum operations and non-profit administration. I am very lucky to have joined such a welcoming, fun and knowledgeable staff here at the museum. (Not to exclude a small schnauzer named Simi and local house cat, Mrs.Snickers of course.) The first event in the many to come was the Seminar series that just occurred last Wednesday. It featured Stephen Frink who is a brilliant underwater photographer and got me thinking more about the subject of Underwater Photography. These days underwater cameras have a variety of uses. Underwater cameras can be used for archeological, scientific, building and even artistic purposes. They are also a method of documenting marine life, cave systems, and landscapes.


I decided to take a deeper look into our museum collection and found that it began with William Bauer, a German inventor during the Crimean War in 1865 who was the first to try and capture images underwater by taking photos through the portholes in the submarine. Also in the same year, according to the British Society of Underwater Photographers, the first underwater photograph was taken by William Thompson using a housed plate camera that was lowered to the seabed and operated from a boat. Thompson was inspired by the possibility of using underwater photography to assess the damage done to bridges in times of flood. However it wasn’t until 1893 that the first real underwater photograph was taken by Dr. Louis Boutan. An article by John Humphrey in Science states that Dr.Boutan earned a doctorate in sciences from the University of Paris and had his first diving experience in Banyuls-sur-Mer when they invited him to use the laboratory’s diving suit. He, like many divers, found himself fascinated by the underwater landscape and wanted to capture it. He proceeded to invent a camera that sustained the pressure of the water and had external controls allowing him to operate the camera underwater. Thus the first photos taken underwater emerged after a long 30 minute exposure and up to a depth of 50 meters. Here is a self-portrait of Louis Boutan I managed to dig up from the HDM photo vault, including one of Stephen Frink holding a replica of Boutan's design!

Stephen Frink holding a replica of the camera casing invented by Dr.L Boutan in 1893.
© Stephen Frink/

Now that the impossible had become possible there still remained the problem with lighting and “back-scatter.” Back-scatter refers to the reflection of tiny particles in the water. To diffuse this he invented a magnesium lamp to improve lighting and added a blue filter in front of the lens. And like all devices, underwater cameras have been improved upon and have developed enough to be used to film underwater. The first underwater films occurred in the early 1900’s by Jack Williamson who used a submersible sphere to create a film set underwater.
Submersible sphere by Jack Williamson

This would lead to the making of Jules Verne’s classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Other, more compact devices for filming developed in the 1930’s by Yves Le Prieur. Now that underwater housing for camera equipment had developed, it was time to tackle the issue of color. Let it be known that it was here in Florida Keys where the first color photo was taken! Dr. William Longley and National Geographic staff photographer Charles Martin captured a color photo of a hogfish in 1926. The next significant figure is Hans Hass whose special housings and other inventions in the 1940’s led to a higher quality and overall improvement in the field. It was not long before a consumer friendly underwater camera joined the market.
This photo features Hans Hass using one of his cameras.
 Nikon developed the first commercial cameras in 1960’s, the first of which was the Calypso followed by the Nikonos. Although it was discontinued in 2001 the museum has a Nikonos III which is able to take photos up to 50 meters in depth and is all weather proof!

The museum also has some of the camera housings used by Art McKee and a modern underwater camera by Amphibico Inc!
Art McKee's underwater camera housing
 Amphibico Inc

We hope you can join us as all of these can be seen as you tour the South Florida Room here in the museum!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'm trying to track down the source for one of the images you have posted here. I'm trying to find the original source for the self-portrait of Louis Boutan underwater. Any leads would be appreciated. Thanks!