Read our review of ‘Glass and Water, the Essential Guide to Freediving for Underwater Photography’ by Mark Harris, and discover what sets this book apart.
In his introduction, Mark Harris refers to a model he calls the ‘Freediving Actualisation Triangle’ constructed of Equipment, Technique and Training. Apply all three and you will turn from a swimmer into a competent freediver. What I find so accessible and refreshing about Mark’s approach is contained in the next paragraph:
‘Should this in fact be a tetrahedron with a fourth element of ability added? My view is that it shouldn’t. Ability is by and large a product of training and technique. Of course some people do adapt better than others, but the significant gains that are there to be made emanate from the three aforementioned principles.’
Outline of Glass and Water
Glass and Water is divided up into three distinct parts, with a glossary and an index at the back. The sections are also colour coded, which means that it is easy to flick through the book to the section you want to read.
Part 1 – Equipment and Basics
Part 1 is divided up into: Freediving Equipment for Underwater Photography, Photographic Equipment, Underwater Photography Basics and Challenges and Opportunities for Freedivers.
These chapters are clear and informative. I know a great deal about freediving equipment and found the content in that section fantastic. I know relatively little about photographic equipment so was fascinated to be taken through the chapter on Photographic Equipment. Here he explains the four forms of camera, from small to oversize, how to choose a housing, and what accessories you might want to add to your set up.
In the chapter on Underwater Photography Basics there are some useful ‘before and after’ shots to show the benefit of shooting in RAW and then colour correcting using a computer. Taking photos underwater as opposed to in air is a complicated business, as light and colour are affected very quickly with depth.
In Glass and Water, Mark takes you step by step through balancing colour, dealing with exposure, and the backscatter effect, where tiny particles in the water bounce light back from the strobe to the camera.
In Challenges and Opportunities for Freedivers, Mark takes the reader through adaptations for the novice and expert underwater photographer. Shallow water photography has more opportunities for freedivers than scuba divers, a wide angle lens is the best choice for deeper diving, and macro images are also possible just using ambient light.
Part 2 – Technique
Part 2 is divided up into: Lungcraft, Finning, Descents and Ascents, Neutral Buoyancy, Hydrodynamics and Safety.
Lungcraft is an excellent chapter in Glass and Water that describes as well as shows through pictures, correct diaphragmatic breathing prior to freediving. The dangers of hyperventilation are explained, and yoga and joining a freediving club are recommended as ways to improve.
In the chapter on finning, Mark explains why a monofin is not suitable for underwater photography and how to select the right pair of bi-fins. The ‘flutter’ kick is analysed, with suggestions for adapting it for different conditions and phases of a dive. He also explains clearly how to relieve cramp, and how to prevent it.
In Descents and Ascents, Mark talks about how ‘task loading’ increases during descents and ascents. To help, he suggests using a guide line and float, to help with orientation as well as a good point to rest on. Techniques to solve equalisation issues are covered, as well as how to descend whilst carrying a camera.
Chapter 8 of Glass and Water is devoted to Neutral Buoyancy, the ‘nirvana’ that Scuba divers aim for. Mark explains how when the state of neutral buoyancy is achieved, the dive becomes more effective. he talks about how to achieve this through weighting and choice of suit, and also how to make sure that you are weighted safely.
In Hydrodynamics, Mark teaches us how to be like a fish. From the choice of wetsuit and camera, to style and technique, many different factors influence our hydrodynamics.
The final chapter in Part 2 of Glass and Water is devoted to safety. Having a camera will usually be a distraction and so it is important to be aware of safety issues, how to deal with them and how to prevent them happening in the first place. Mark discusses hypoxic episodes, baratrauma, the risk of boat traffic, as well as not mixing scuba and freediving. The main take home message is that you must have taken a recognised course and be diving within you limits, and with a buddy trained to rescue you if anything were to go wrong.
Part 3 – Perspectives
Part 3 is divided up into: Creature by Creature, A Virtual Dive, and Behind the Lens.
In Creature by Creature, Mark outlines the habits of sea creatures, from sharks to manta rays, and how best to capture them on film. From using robust fins when dealing with seals who might like to take a bite, to being vigilant with sharks to notice if their behaviour changes.
The chapter A Virtual Dive is fantastic, providing a real synthesis of the whole book. It takes you through a dive, from location, to planning, to implementation, and shows you just how to put everything together.
Behind the Lens is a fascinating series of interviews with underwater photographers Shane Wasik, Danny Kessler and Laura Storm. We discover what equipment they use, and how freediving skills have enabled them to take iconic images.
Glossary and Index
The Glossary and Index from Glass and Water are comprehensive and instructive, neatly completing a master work.
Review of Glass and Water
It is clear that Glass and Water is a well thought through book that has been years in the development and writing. Mark has an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject and a clear and easy way of imparting his experience.
The book is well laid out and designed and should be a must for anyone wanting to take pictures underwater.
Biography of Mark Harris, author of Glass and Water
Mark Harris is a former UK champion freediver, record-holder and instructor who has also coached and judged at freediving competitions. He has consulted on and taught students how to freedive for roles in both television and film. He ran London’s main club, London Freediving for almost a decade. He is a member of the British Society of Underwater Photographers.
Buy a copy of Glass and Water
The paperback RRP is £16.95 / $24.95. Ebook version from £9.99 / $15.
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