GREEN ISSUE: A conversation with underwater explorer and photographer David Hall, author of Beneath Cold Seas
Photographing underwater is much more difficult than photographing in air, and photographing in cold water is that much more difficult than photographing in warm water. No one had ever published a good book on underwater photography from a cold water destination in North America before. There are plenty of field guides, and fish ID books for fisherman, but no one had ever published a photographic book that tried to show the character of the ecosystem in an artistic way.
The book required getting a lot of wide angle shots to include the scenery as well as the animals. Getting good clear, colorful photographs in cold water is difficult because of visibility issues. Also cold water filters out all of the warm colors in the spectrum (red, orange, yellow) so to see the colors you have to add light back. So I dive with a pair of powerful flash units that attach to the camera by way of articulated arms that keep my hands free.
SFBG: So there wasn't someone handling lighting for you?
DH: If I were a National Geographic contract photographer I'd probably have had a few assistants holding lights for me, but I wasn't so lucky. I had to do everything myself. And in most cases I was diving completely alone.
SFBG: People don't associate such colorful and exotic creatures with our coast. It's really wonderful that your book is changing that perception.
DH: I certainly hope that's what's happening. The book has been very well received, largely because nobody was aware of what was down there. I mean marine biologists and divers were, but ordinary people had no idea.
People tend to protect what they know and value. Most Americans and Canadians are familiar with the aquatic species that we eat, but there's a whole ecosystem there that the great majority of us are completely unfamiliar with. I hope my book will make people aware that these things exist and want to feel more protective toward that whole environment.