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Interview: Michel Roggo’s tops tips for freshwater photography

January 27, 2014

We conclude out three part series with freshwater photographer and explorer Michel Roggo. Many readers of the Biofresh Blog are freshwater scientists who want to take better pictures of freshwater life. We asked Roggo for his top tips. This is what he had to say.

Good photography is all about emotion

“Oh my goodness, this is not an easy question! In photography, it’s all about emotion. It’s the same as in music or painting. What I do to improve my photography is working on my sensitivity for the beauty in general: by visiting exhibits, not only of photography, by listening music, and a lot of classical music. When I was working with the Brown bears of Kamchatka, I couldn’t really sleep at night. I was just to excited. So I was listening Tchaikovsky on my iPhone. I’m sure it helped me to go out to the river the next day and to make better photographs – it was really all about Russia!”

Brown bear fishing, Kamchatka, Russia

Brown bear fishing, Kamchatka, Russia

Digital cameras make photography much easier today

“In underwater photography, you need some basic technical knowledge. With the digital technology it’s much easier than it was in the film days. You can shoot a lot, control the results on location, and change the settings of the camera. And you can shoot even without flashlight on higher ISO (which refers to how sensitive a camera’s sensor is to light, with higher), with good results.”

The water can never be clear enough

“Specific to freshwater photography is the need for clear water. It can never be clear enough. I waited for weeks and weeks for rivers to clear up after heavy rainfall. And even with clear water, you can never be close enough to your subject, and you need a wide angle lens. It’s easy for plants or stones or some insects like caddis fly larvae, but not easy for fish, and close to impossible for let’s say a beaver or a big saltwater crocodile. Take a look at the image of the sockeye salmon: they where touching the housing all the time, I was really extremely close, working with a 15 mm lens.”

Sockeye salmon, Adams River, British Columbia, 2010

Sockeye salmon, Adams River, British Columbia, 2010

You don’t have to travel far

“But there is some good news for the keen freshwater photographer: you don’t have to travel a lot! Try first the creek or pond or lake on your doorstep. You can do this without diving. I do a lot of underwater photography in small creeks or springs without entering the water, just by holding an underwater housing into the water, without seeing what I’m actually shooting. That’s fun, and sometimes you get great results, as for example these autumn leaves in a small Swiss river.

Autumn leaves in an alpine river, Fribourg, Switzerland.

Autumn leaves in an alpine river, Fribourg, Switzerland.

Take an underwater photography class

So there are some simple ways to start underwater photography. But if you really want to do this seriously, one of the best ways to build your skills is to attend an underwater photography workshop or take a class.

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