Diving with the Singapore Navy's combat divers

Camera? Check.

Lens? Check.

Underwater casing? No leaks.

Torch and spare batteries? Working.

Writing slate? In my pocket.

Dive vest with air canister? Test.

Air pressure check? Enough for an hour.

I put on my dive booties and struggle into my fins, then call for an instructor to doublecheck everything.

"Okay!" he says.

I pull on my dive mask and sink into the water.

It was exciting when my colleague Alphonsus Chern and I were given the green light to document the Naval Diving Unit's Combat Diver Course, because this was the first time any journalists were allowed to see the training - not just one day or two, but all of it.

However, photographing anything underwater is a completely different game from what I am used to doing on land.

To add to the challenge, neither one of us had much experience in the water.

My last pool shoot was more than two years ago, and a quick check with Alphonsus revealed that his last dive was nearly 10 years ago.

It also did not help that he had never handled a professional camera underwater before.

"We'll be all right," I assured the two of us. "I guess."

We cleared the medical check-up which certified us fit to dive with the divers in their pool.

Just the pool. The open sea was off-limits to us.

We later understood why.

The seawater was so cloudy that we would likely have got lost each time we submerged ourselves, which was why each trainee always had a floating marker to show where he was under the water.

It was not just the poor visibility that posed a danger.

"It's like a supermarket in there," an instructor once said to me.

I looked at him, puzzled.

"You can find almost anything in there," he explained. "We once found a fridge."

Over several weeks in those green waters, I met dead fish and birds, floating toys, rotting food, and packaging of almost every sort possible.

After encountering the treasures of the sea, I found the pool much more appealing.

On our first dive, instructors had to help us into our gear.

I had forgotten how heavy dive equipment could be, but my memory was quickly refreshed after I had suited up.

I felt like a tree - rooted to the ground.

Struggling to maintain my balance, I inched towards the pool, while a hundred trainees and instructors curiously watched our antics.

I wondered if they were intrigued by two photographers interrupting their training, or if they were secretly amused by our clumsiness.

Thankfully, our first underwater shoot went by uneventfully.

All our gear remained dry, which was a relief, since no one from our department had ever tested the rather primitive-looking underwater camera case to a depth of ten metres before.

Made of thick, PVC-like material, it was no more than a fancy Ziploc bag, which could tear if carelessly handled.

That first dive reminded me of how slow I was underwater, magnified by the fact that I was trying to keep up with some of the fittest men in the navy who were more than a decade younger than I was.

As I bobbed around, encumbered by my gear, I had to take extra care not to collide with the trainees.

Fumbling with my camera while keeping myself in the same spot to get a picture took a great deal of effort, far more than it would have on land.

Eventually, we got the hang of things for our shoots over the next six months.

The only hiccup happened when a small tear in the camera case went unnoticed, flooding my camera with pool water. It was put out of action for the day, but thankfully, there was no other damage.

Despite having spent hours in the pool, I find that there is always a sense of uncertainty taking the camera underwater with me.

I am never quite sure how the photographs will turn out, although there are often pleasant surprises.

At the end of the day, finding a gem amongst a hundred, sometimes more, photographs, makes all the hard work worth the while.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.