Photographing Around Wrecks

The oceans are full of the wreckage of vessels that have either come to grief through wars, storms or simply bad navigation and more and more unwanted vessels long past their sell-by-date are being scuttled to provide artificial reefs that form habitats for young fish thereby helping the world’s fishing industry or simply to protect an otherwise unprotected coastline from storm surge.

Diving the Carnatic in the Red Sea Diving the ss.Carnatic in the Red Sea
In all parts of the world where we go diving you will find examples of such wrecks and although you may not be fascinated simply by rusty metal, the marine life can itself be interesting enough. On the other hand, underwater photographers find the structures useful in getting interesting compositions because they usually offer vertical shapes, features that can otherwise be few and far between in the natural undersea landscape.
Empty beer bottles stacked up inside the hull of the Rio de Janiero Maru in Truk Lagoon. Empty beer bottles stacked up inside the hull of the Rio de Janiero Maru in Truk Lagoon.
You don’t need to go all the way to Truk Lagoon in far off Micronesia although it is famous among wreck divers because a Japanese merchant fleet was sunk there by the American USAAF in 1944. Nor do you need to travel all the way to Bikini Atol where a fleet of war-surpus vessels was sunk by an atomic bomb in 1946. You don’t need to include a view of the whole of the wrecked vessel in your picture although this makes for a great image if the visibility is good enough. Photographing such a large vessel means that the sort of lighting equipment the leisure diver has available will be inadequate so this means you'll need to use colour-correcting filters or shoot in RAW mode and correct for good colour later.
Part of the Quarter Wreck in Grenada. Part of the Quarter Wreck in Grenada.
Instead concentrate on smaller features and if your diving buddy is prepared to hang around to model for you, so much the better. A diver in the picture lends scale and if they are equipped with a lamp that they can point in the general direction of your lens, that will offer a point of interest that otherwise might be missing. Once the rusty metal is lit up by your underwater flashgun or strobe-light or even your video light, you'll be amazed at the colours of the sponges and hydroids that now cling to it and if you look closely you'll see all manner of minutia of marine life.
p068Umbriacars Three Italian Fiats from 1940 still sat where they sank within the hull of the ss.Umbria in Port Sudan.
Don't forget that it is often the cargo of a wreck that can be the key point of such a wreck dive. The wreck of the Italian liner the ss.Umbria has three Italian cars that were destined for Abyssinia before the vessels was apprehended by the Royal Navy at the beginning of World War II and the crew scuttled her on a reef in Port Sudan harbour. They have become among the most photographs artifacts on any wreck save for the war materiel (correct spelling!) that was carried on the ss.Thistlegorm sunk in Sha-ab Ali in the Egyptian part of the Red Sea. You'll need a good diver's light with a broad beam if you want to see everything. However, if you go off looking for the remains of these cars within the depths of the hull of the ship that now lies in a disorienting way on its side, be sure to take with you a winder reel and lay a line so that you can find your way out again. Divers have got lost inside this wreck and although nobody has lost their lives (yet) it can be a very unpleasant experience.
Batfish schooling on a wreck at Puerto Galera in the Philippines. Batfish schooling on a wreck at Puerto Galera in the Philippines.
Remember, you don't need to venture inside wrecks to get good pictures. If the wreck is in the open ocean rather than within a harbour or sunk in a lagoon, there will be plenty of marine life that has made it its home. All you need is good lighting in the form of strobes or a video light plus a little patience to get good pictures. Wrecks represent more than simply rusting metal.

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