Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, November 15, 1999

Diving more fun
without photo gear

A couple of weeks ago, while searching for a screwdriver in a hall closet, an empty backpack tumbled down upon my head. The incident was not entirely harmless. It triggered a cleaning frenzy that soon had me dumping camp stoves, duffel bags and power tools to the floor for sorting and disposing.

That was the easy part. The hard part was deciding what to do with an entire shelf of expensive underwater camera equipment, dusty with disuse. Unable to resolve this dilemma, I moved the gear to my home office where the cumbersome cases, big orange strobes and unwieldy handles took up the entire sofa. And there it all sat, bringing back memories of good times past.

Oh, how excited I was when Craig and I first learned to scuba dive. Having an air compressor on our sailboat allowed us to roam the islands and dive anywhere the urge struck us.

One summer, we dove from Kona to Niihau, our little compressor chugging away frequently on the aft deck. While diving in Lanai waters that year, we moored in Manele Bay next to a crusty old angler. "I know your type," he grumbled. "First you spend a fortune on dive equipment to go look at fish. Then you have to take their pictures. Pretty soon you're out spending another fortune on underwater camera equipment."

He was right.

Initially, we bought one of those little yellow waterproof cameras. The pictures were mediocre. We blamed the camera, which led to the purchase of a waterproof camera housing with strobe light, lens ports and all the trimmings.

Taking pictures underwater was fun. We shot each other, friends and, of course, fish and invertebrates. The photos were better than those taken with the yellow camera but still nothing to write home about.

Gradually, we started flying to other parts of the world to dive, and lugging the bulky camera equipment became a chore. At the same time, our enthusiasm for taking underwater pictures was waning. We had come to realize that good marine photographers willingly sacrifice the dive for their art, staying an hour or more in one place to get that one good shot.

Not us. We darted, drifted and swam, taking turns to point and shoot at anything that caught our eye.

The beginning of the end was during a dive trip to Palau. We got there with all our photo gear and could not make the strobe light work. It was disappointing at first, but then we made a wonderful discovery: Diving was more fun without looking through a viewfinder.

A year later, we planned a trip to Western Australia to dive with whale sharks. Could we live with ourselves if we saw a whale shark and didn't get a picture?

We bought a new strobe. And once again, no matter what we did, it would not work.

Fortunately, the marine park there outlawed camera flashes around its whale sharks, so it didn't matter. But that was it. Disgusted with the fussy nature of the equipment, and delighted with the freedom of simply looking around, I put the camera equipment on the closet shelf and closed the door.

And that's where it remained until last week when I moved it to the sofa. It sprawled there for days, looking dejected. Finally, with mixed emotions, I packed it up and donated it to a charitable organization.

Over the years, I have come to know several outstanding marine photographers. I enjoy their work and like knowing what they do to get the photos. And now I know I can't do it myself.

When it comes to marine animals, I'll stick to writing -- and hope that nothing hits me on the head when I'm near our scuba gear.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears Mondays in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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