Saturday, January 10, 2009
Henderson BlueWaterCamo wetsuits - The must-have accessory for spearfishing. And for underwater photography?
Earlier this week Joe Polak from Henderson Aquatics, http://www.hendersonusa.com/, asked me to shoot a product illustration on their brand new line of camouflage wetsuits targeted to spearfishing enthusiasts. In my desire to get authenticity in the images, I did not book a dive-fashion model who might know nothing about spearfishing, but instead asked for the help of a friend of mine, Alex Perera and his father Luis, a pair who are definitely "immersed" in the art, science, and philosophy of freedive spearfishing.
Spearfishing is more than a hobby for them, it is a way of life. Luis was the Cuban national spearfishing champion and Alex has been freediving and spearing fish his whole life. They are ecological sportsmen, who shoot only what they eat. They don't shoot fish on scuba, and typically work in 70 - 100 feet of water. I did make a concession to this particular photo shoot by choosing a shallow reef south and outside of the protected zones within the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, just so Alex did not have to make so many repeated breath-hold dives to significant depth and also I'd have more light and time with him on the bottom. As an aside, they offered not to shoot fish this day, leaving that task to me and my camera.
As for the wetsuit, Henderson did a beautiful job with this suit. Aside from the obvious, the trademarked cryptic camouflage design on the outside, the design features a lot of evolutionary improvements that come from 3 decades in the business. The surface is very "slick", all the better to reduce drag through the water my dear, yet extremely stretchy (important for ease of donning). There is a non-skid chest pad,important when pulling back the rubber tubing to arm a spear, and this suit is cut in a hooded farmer-john configuration favored by spearfishers. This one happened to be 5mm, so it was actually too warm for the work we were doing in 75-degree water here in Key Largo, but suits will be available in lighter weight neoprene as well.
Photographically, my challenge was kind of counter-intuitive. Usually, my job is to get a subject to stand out from the background by creative lighting, yet here was a suit designed to blend with a background. I obviously had to use strobe light to add color and definition, but even so, with a diver more than a couple of feet away from the lens, it was hard to make this suit "pop". I guess that's what it does for a living, and it does it well!
Obviously, this suit will be very popular with the spearfish crowd. But it also made me want one for underwater photography. Why? Well, the first shoot I'll want one for is my upcoming trip to Tonga this summer to photograph humpbacks. Not that I think a humpback won't see me coming just because I'm in a camo suit, but I will certainly benefit from minimized drag when doing breath-hold dives. I can imagine a 1mm or 2mm custom jumpsuit with an integrated hood being the right suit for this application.
I think the benefits to a scuba diving UW photographer in terms of surreptitious approach to marine life will be minimized by the sound of bubbles belching. Clearly, a rebreather is the more effective solution there (see http://www.stephenfrink.com/sf-tips/200506-uw-photo-rebreather/ for my limited adventures on a rebreather) but there is no downside either. If it gets me 6 inches closer and I can stay there for 6 seconds longer, that's an advantage. Maybe enough of an advantage to get a shot I wouldn't have otherwise.
I think the Henderson camo suit will make significant market penetration into the spearfishing niche, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it adopted by underwater photographers as well. Will it get us better shots? Only time and a few hundred dives will tell for sure.