I cut my teeth with a camera not much bigger than a matchbox. In 2013, a tiny GoPro was the only underwater camera I could afford.
My partner Anita, an experienced portrait photographer, looked at the little silver box with suspicion. She had mastered her bulky Nikon camera’s language — shutter speed, f-stops, and exposure compensation. To Anita’s horror, all these words were struck from her vocabulary when she began to experiment with the little GoPro.
Hell, she couldn’t even tell if the shot was in focus or composed properly as there was no screen on the back of the camera. It was not long before she passed final judgement on the device. “The GoPro sucks. I hate it!”
I was not so quick to dismiss the feature challenged camera. I knew nothing about photography, but I was determined to capture images during my favourite pastime — freediving.
With limited access to the GoPro camera’s functions, the only thing I needed to do was point and shoot. This was attractive to me. It seemed pure and untainted. I shot hundreds of images. All of them were terrible. Due to the wide angle of the device, my subjects were small and indistinct in frame. Undaunted, I took several hundred more images. These too were awful.
I’m not a naturally talented person. I need to set regular time aside before I see creative results. So, I kept shooting with the small camera until my images began to look half decent. I discovered two things that improved my shots when all I could do was point and shoot.
1) Get close to my subjects. The GoPro shoots wide, so your subject will be tiny in frame. If I thought I was close enough, I’d halve the distance again.
2) Shoot with the sun behind me. An underexposed GoPro image is usually unattractive. I made sure plenty of light illuminated my subject.
3) Choose a plain background. The shots most pleasing to me have simple backgrounds that do not compete with my subject.
When I settled into a job with better pay, I purchased a more sophisticated underwater camera. My partner was pleased. All the camera settings were now at her submerged fingertips. This time however, I was the reserved one. Some of my best underwater memories were documented with the slight GoPro. Did I really want to put it aside in a drawer, forgotten?
One such memory was a blissful day at the beach with Anita. She was excited about her new bathers and wanted to go for a swim. I wanted to capture her grace.
Refracted sunlight spilled onto her gliding form. I did my cumbersome best to keep up with her. I decided not to move around so much and let her come to me. It was the right decision. After a couple of hours in the water, I reached a point when I only pressed the shutter button when I could feel the shot.
Salt water, the backdrop to my partner’s stage. She twirled, dived, and held her breath until my battery was depleted. A beautiful afternoon, lost to time, if not for the little camera I could only point and shoot with.