A CALL ARRIVED JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS that promised to fill the normally dormant early January days with some much-needed excitement. A UK ad agency had a very large American client that wanted a conceptual image of two divers descending to some coral. A wide-open seascape was thought (rightly, in my view) to be the best way to illustrate the campaigns main theme - discovery.
The sun was to appear large and in the middle of the shot as a visual anchor, said the agency. Coral was to appear bottom left, with the divers shining their lights of discovery into unknown depths. Finally an ellipse shape (to be fashioned graphically afterwards) had to be added top and bottom of the page, so I would have to ensure that acres of neutral space were left for the designers.
With budget enough for four diving days, I needed to find the exact coral outcrop and rock formations to match the visual layout and shoot the whole thing to completion. The plans had been drawn up in a comfy office on a dank (and probably freezing) November afternoon in Windsor.
I had recently finished an assignment shooting with my trusty Nikon F90 X in an Aquatica housing, and as far as I was concerned, that was it for film.
I had known that it was time to change to digital while shooting the Christ of the Abyss, an underwater statue and major Catholic icon, in Portofino, Italy, and suffering my first major professional flood in eight years.
It was perhaps a message from above, similar to when I was 18 and strolled into a temple in Athens in a cocky manner. Against the rules I had been wearing shorts, and my nose had suddenly poured forth torrents of blood!
So I decided to rent and try out the new Seacam housing I had heard so much about at the British Society of Underwater Photographers (it costs around£3400).
Inside would be the Canon EOS 1DS Mk 2 (2800),
a technically excellent camera I reckoned capable of producing the results I would need. A Seacam flash with almost limitless F-stops up its sleeve would give the light.

WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN used to the challenges of shooting with film cameras under water for years, digital photography comes as a revelation. Underwater photography has undergone a massive change with the advent of high-quality digital SLRs over the past year or so, and housing manufacturers have been quick to take advantage, turning overnight what was a massively difficult discipline into a far easier one.
I have to pinch myself to remember that until recently I would have to wait until I flew home and processed the film before I could call the client with the good or otherwise news. The thought of viewing your work instantly under water could only have been a drug-induced fantasy in those far-off days.
The last time I worked in Cayman Brac, I travelled with a good friend and we returned from our last dive to watch Arsenal win the double while sipping cool beer in a beachside bar with the warm sea lapping at our ankles (both of us were Arsenal fans).
The celebrations continued long into the night and left lasting memories. A return to the Caribbean island seemed a good idea for the ad shoot.
I booked a local skipper, Jason, and his girlfriend Vicky as models, and aboard the sturdy aluminium dive boat Reef Divers II, we were soon speeding out to sea for our scuba adventure.
Jason and Vicky would be crucial to the success of the operation, as local knowledge is always a key factor. We were guided to various underwater options, where rapid choices had to be made.
The first benefit of working digitally emerged as I was able to show the non-diving creative director waiting on the boat instant recce pictures from the various sites.

ONCE THE LOCATIONS had been agreed, we started shooting the dive sites with our models. This is a process of two-way communication and depends on good briefings topside and clear, concise hand signals under water.
Each shooting opportunity would last from 45 minutes to an hour and we usually did three dives a day, gathering all the imagery we could and reviewing it on my computer in the evenings over a beer. The brilliance of digital is that you know if you have the shot almost immediately. Pictures can be viewed at 100% for sharpness, while composition can be checked against the brief or layout at any time. So we knew when we were fulfilling the agencys brief.
Probably the hardest thing working in the open sea is the unpredictability of the conditions. Currents would often sweep the models away from the exact spots whereI needed them both to be.
Often when one model was ready the other wasn't; then, when both were ready, the sun would disappear behind a cloud. No criticism of the models - this is just the way it is when nature takes a hand in proceedings.
When we felt that we had the crucial shots, we decided to try as many other combinations of compositions as we had time remaining. Each extra variation gives the client a bigger comfort zone, and the flight back across the pond can be a mighty long one when you know you could have achieved more with your time.

WE EXPLORED GULLIES, swim-throughs and as many different coral formations as we could. All the time I was thinking about the divers body attitudes with relation to the legs, arms, fins and head positions, culminating in the exhaust bubbles being blown at any one time. These, I always feel, can make a composition extra fine.
Finally and after a days rest, off-gassing and some imbibing, our mini-circus packed up and flew home to complete the final part of the job. It is always preferable to get the shot first time and in one, and that should always be the objective, but it is not possible on every occasion.
My attitude is that post-production or digital retouching is merely another tool in the armoury, not a substitute for poor photographic technique. Thinking like this is quite enabling and makes many more things possible - as long as the retouching is done very well.
In the end, the best overall shot was selected with one diver shape approved and the best of the second diver added to the original. Then the coral was slightly coloured and it was agreed that a torch halo would add more impact to the final result.
Thankfully not too much retouching was needed, and the client was delighted with the result.
As for me, I dug deep, ended up buying the Seacam and Canon combination and haven't looked back.

Divernet Divernet Divernet
Just a few of the sequences that were rejected in the end - the movements of the divers and changes in the light at any one moment make capturing the perfect shot a challenge.