Singapore Navy combat divers: How do we photograph a group of people underwater?

How do we photograph a group of people underwater, without making them look as blue as Smurfs?

That question stumped my colleague Alphonsus Chern and me. To find answers, we combed the Internet, reading everything the underwater photography experts had to say.

We realised that we needed a good, strong source of light, ideally, a huge torch of some sort that could go underwater.

That option soon went out the window for two reasons:

Firstly, bringing any bulky equipment underwater might interfere with the training of the Navy’s combat divers.

The second problem was the cost.

In the end, we settled for two torches that cost us $500 each.

Having spent that much money, we felt like better divers.

Eager to find out just how bright this torch was, I stood at my window the night before the first shoot, pointed the torch skyward, and turned it on.

I was impressed. The beam of light sliced through the darkness, like something out of a sci-fi movie.

I was getting a kick by panning it across the sky when I realised that people in nearby blocks were now standing by their windows, staring in my direction.

With our biggest concern now addressed, packing the rest of the gear needed for a shoot was a breeze.

For each shoot, I carried my Nikon D4 camera body, 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm (the large, f2.8 kind) and 35mm Nikkor lenses, a flash, an underwater slate board so we could write to each other in the pool, and a floppy underwater plastic casing for the camera called the DiCAPac.

Alphonsus brought nearly the same amount of gear, but added a couple of tripods, some microphones for the video recordings, and his GoPro camera that had gone parachuting on another assignment a year before.

We tried to rent rigid underwater camera housings with domes and strobes that might have made shooting in the pool a little more fun. But no one wanted to rent them to us, saying the housings came back damaged so often it wasn't worth the rental fee.

To buy one would have set us back thousands of dollars. So we settled for the DiCAPac – an industrial Ziploc bag, as some call it, which cost just $150.

The pressure underwater often caused the casing to stick to the camera, making it impossible to adjust anything most of the time.

Also, the torches we were so proud of turned out to be less than useful underwater, as we needed a third hand to hold them steady while shooting.

After two or three dives, we gave up pretending to be octopuses and resorted instead to sticking to the basics and praying for sunny weather.

By the way, our dive lights are now up for sale. Interested parties can email cchia@sph.com.sg or achern@sph.com.sg.