TECHNICAL TALK

Serious underwater photographers and the intellectually curious may be interested in how we capture such technically unique underwater pictures and how the technology for Aquacolor® photography and viewing through water came into being. Following is an overview. . . .

PHILOSOPHY FOR DEVELOPING CAMERA FILTERS:

All of our work has been shaped by two facts. The first is that no film or videotape exists that is capable of reproducing true colors of subjects illuminated by light sources of different color temperatures. The second is that for wide-angle shots of entire divers and coral reef scenes, we have believed all along that man cannot make lights that can equal the intensity and omnipresence of sunlight. So essentially, all of our work has been to develop subtractive filters to place in front of the cameras' taking lenses - and lights too, if any are used - in order to strive to achieve the maximum utilization of available sunlight and color.

Apart from some experimentation with unique underwater movie lights, all of our movie films and videos have been shot with sunlight as the only light source. The results are even more breathtaking than anything we can show in print or on this website.

SOLUTIONS:

Aquacolor® filters are scientifically derived to reduce each color component of the visible light spectrum to the level of the most attenuated color for various water paths. In other words, no single camera filter can correct for all water paths. Working with natural light requires a different filter for every five feet of additional water path. (When working with underwater movie lights as the only photographically significant light source, it is necessary to change the filters on the lights for every six inches of additional water path.)

The Aquacolor® filters hold several patents and are the only underwater filters in the world capable of reproducing true colors through water with scientific accuracy. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers has awarded the Aquacolor® team an international gold medal for significant technical achievements related to the production of documentary motion-picture films.

HOW WE MADE THE PICTURES THROUGHOUT THIS WEBSITE AND IN AQUACOLOR® PRINT ADS:

It's really simple. Any novice can do it. We now use two 35mm Nikonos cameras: the Nikonos V with its 15mm lens and the Nikonos RS with its 20mm - 35mm zoom lens. For natural light photography (no strobes) we simply place the correct Aquacolor® filter over the taking lens and use the camera's daylight auto functions. The correct filter is determined by the water path the light must travel through, which equals surface-to-subject-to-lens. Many of the Aquacolor® pictures on this website were shot that way, without any artificial lighting, as in the ones that follow . . . .


If we want to use artificial lighting (strobes), we use a standard Nikonos setup with two Nikonos 102 strobe lights on the standard Nikonos bracket with the first, short arms only (no flexible joint or second arms). For even illumination and to eliminate flare on divers' mask faceplates, we aim the strobes straight ahead. We also use the Nikonos diffusers on the 102 strobes to illuminate the entire scene. What we don't do is attempt to use the strobes as the key light source, which remains the available sunlight.

To the Nikonos strobe diffusion filters we glue Tiffen professional underwater strobe filters UW 2-7. To offset light loss, we drill a series of holes using a 1/2" plexiglas drill bit (thank you, Stephen Frink, for showing us how you use holes in your diffuser). The strobe lights operating through the Tiffen blue filters produce the same color temperature light as the in-water ambient daylight. Now the strobes serve as fill lights in the shadow areas of the reef, dive masks, etc. As a bonus, the lights are effective through far more water than ever was possible while using them conventionally. In the foregoing manner the strobe lights and the ambient light are the same color temperature for the Aquacolor® filter over the taking lens to color correct. The results are as seen throughout this website.


Picture taken with Nikonos RS,
20mm lens, and two 102 strobes,
but no filters

Picture taken with same camera, lens and lights,
but using the Aquacolor® and
Tiffen blue filters as described above

FILMS USED:

Subtractive filters cost f-stops and therefore depth-of-field. So we have to work with higher speed films than usual. The positive film we have preferred to use has been Kodachrome 200. Mostly now we work with whatever is the warmest professional Kodak negative film with an EI of 400. With the advancements in crystal halide technology over the past 15 years, our 35mm hi-speed slides and negatives blow up better than pictures made on fine-grained films with the 2¼ x 2¼ format camera that we started with 34 years ago.

ADAPTING AQUACOLOR® TO DIVE MASKS:

What is not possible for color-correct photography through water is entirely possible for color-correct vision through water. Film has relatively little latitude, and requires specific filters for specific water paths. The eye/brain combination, however, has great flexibility and can do extraordinary things with the right filter.

We supply perfect color correction for 20 - 40 feet of water path. The marvelously adaptive capacity of the brain takes it from there so divers can see great colors at two or more atmospheres of depth. Of course, just as in photography, move close to the subject to see the colors the best, no matter what the depth.

BIMONOCULAR®:

The amount of filtration it takes to produce scientifically accurate color correction through water can cause psychological and even very real problems for divers. Until the eyes have time to open up to the lower light levels, underwater can seem darker than normal, which psychologically may not be wonderful for beginning divers. Or, if a diver should find himself in a truly dim lit space, such as a wreck or cave, that would not be desirable for anyone.

Through years of experimentation with special masks we built, we discovered that the brain takes the best information from each eye and integrates that information into a single image. In other words, one eye could receive the full color-correction and the other the full or almost full light intensity, and the perceived image on the brain would be color-correct without apparent light loss. We call the process of supplying different information to each eye "Bimonocular®" and received a patent for the technology.


THE SCIENCE BEHIND AQUACOLOR® DEVELOPMENTS:

We were asked to present our work before the international conference of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers at the Los Angeles Convention Center in 1983. The presentation received the first standing ovation in the history of SMPTE conferences. The film we made for the presentation won a CINE Golden Eagle (qualifying the film for an Oscar nomination), the U.S. Industrial Film Festival Silver Screen Award, an IFPA Gold Cindy and Best Film at Southcon '86. The scientific paper we published in the juried SMPTE Journal received their Journal Award as the outstanding paper published in the motion picture field that year. In order to show the color produced by Aquacolor® technology, the SMPTE Journal went to color for the first time and featured an Aquacolor® picture on the cover.

Following is a copy of our scientific paper about Aquacolor® technology as it was published in the SMPTE Journal, March 1985:

Click Here for SMPTE Journal Article

Dive In Correct Color
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