Underneath the amazing innovations and the vivid photographs that make up the surface of underwater photography are the milestones embedded in its history.
For one to have an understanding of the art and science behind the craft, it is but fitting to take a dive into its 160-year history and know the great men who paved the way for its inception.
Here’s everything you need to know about the history of underwater photography and the summary of the significant events that led the way to its series of breakthrough innovation.
1. When the World Took A Glimpse of the Underwater World for The First Time
The first underwater photograph was taken by an Englishman named William Thompson in the year 1856 in Weymouth bay, Dorset, southwest of England. Thompson took a great interest in marine life which led him to build a metal box housing for a camera to capture its beauty. Its shutter was known to be activated using a line from the surface. He produced a black-and-white image of the waters of Dorset on 4” by 5” glass plates.
This image was believed to be taken less than 20 years since the first known photograph in the world was taken.
2. The World’s First Official Underwater Photographer
French biologist and diver Louis Boutan captured the first known diving photograph which earned him the renown as the world’s first underwater photographer.
Boutan at work (left) and one of his cameras (right)
In 1893, Boutan’s work put the spotlight on the unknown world beneath the waves. After being awestruck by the sight of the marine landscape, Boutan was the first to capture and show the world an image of the underwater world. He also discovered the concept of using a flash to capture a region of the underwater where natural light cannot penetrate. He made it possible by using an alcohol lamp fastened to a barrel and puffing off magnesium over it to produce a strobe of light.
3. The First Known Underwater Portrait
The first underwater portrait is the photo of Emil Racovitza, a Romanian oceanographer and biologist, which was shot by Louis Boutan in France in 1899.
It took Boutan about 30 minutes of exposure time to capture the image since he had to wait for the proper amount of light to get through. The photo was taken at a depth of 164 feet.
Diver Emil Racovitza at Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls-sur-Mer, France
4. Underwater Photographs in Colour
Still with the aid of magnesium to produce a flash, botanist W.H. Longley and photographer Charles Martin were the first ones to capture the first coloured underwater photos. They photographed stationary underwater creatures like corals, anemones, and sea fans. Their breakthrough images were published in the pages of the National Geographic magazine in July 1927.
The first underwater color photographs appeared in “National Geographic” magazine.
5. The First Camera Housing in 1950
Beuchat produces Tarzan, the first commercially available camera housing, which was designed by French underwater photographer Henry Broussard for the French Foca camera. The Beuchat company was established in 1934 in the south of France by Georges Beuchat, an avid diver.
6. The Development of The First Still Underwater Camera
The CALYPSO-PHOTO camera, the first underwater still camera, was crafted by Jean de Wouters and was released in Australia in 1963. Its main features include a maximum 1/1000 second shutter speed.
It paved the way for the production of a series of underwater cameras known as Nikonos which sold out like pancakes at the time of its distribution.
Underwater Photography Today
Hugely driven by continuous advancements in technology, underwater photography has evolved massively through the years to perfect user experience, refine the visual documentation of the underwater world, and to penetrate deeper into the waters to see more of its hidden wonders. Underwater photography enthusiasts worked hard in manufacturing top of the line cameras that give an honest recording of underwater creatures and sights. Various camera accessories were also developed to help achieve this goal.
One notable achievement in the history of underwater photography is the real-time image review which enables one to view about six images in seconds time. This is made possible by the wireless integration of a camera to a large screened device preferably an iPad. An application can also be installed in any mobile device to allow for easy viewing, transfer, and storage of photos from the underwater camera.
The craft has also become an excellent tool to record a human being’s personal encounter with the underwater world and to express this experience in creative ways. Thus, the birth of swimming photography, underwater photo shoots, and even underwater baby photo shoots which have gained popularity over the years. These services are offered by professional swimming photographers with solid credentials like diving training and photography education under their belt. And with just one call, one can instantly jump into a photo session whenever.
With the depth of history and continuous innovations that underwater photography has gone through, it is without a doubt that the craft is on its way to a promising future.
Take your knowledge about underwater photography up a notch and learn more about this craft. To drop an inquiry or book a photo session, feel free to contact us. You may also browse through our portfolio to get a glimpse of how we capture and preserve beautiful moments underwater.