Having flooded my camera while diving, I thought I’d try it again. And what could possibly go wrong when you go diving in sub-zero temperatures?
It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Someone mentioned on Thursday that they were diving on the Saturday, if anyone else fancied a dip. Ok, so it’s January and has been freezing all week. How hard could it be? Pretty frosty, as it happens.
I’d been diving back in mid December and the air temperature then was a bit lower – it was -3 in the car park and our wet kit kept freezing to the bench. The water was surprisingly warm – 7 to 8 degrees. This time the car park was a bit warmer at around zero, but the water had dropped to 5 to 6 degrees. It made a difference.
For a start, the camera battery kept fading. I’d take three or four shots and get a low battery warning. Turn the camera off for a few minutes, then back on and I’d get another few shots before it complained again. The camera wasn’t the only one complaining. When I got in, the water creeping into my neoprene hood was painful. All the shock of a brain freeze without the fun of a Cornetto. We all got very cold hands despite thick gloves – so cold that my fingers felt like they were burning. It was difficult to work the controls on the flash and camera because my fingers were numb. On the plus side, the cold had taken most of the algae out of the water and the lack of other divers meant there wasn’t the usual stirred-up silt. I’ve dived here before when you could barely see your mask. This was good conditions for UK diving, with visibility of perhaps 15 meters.
The fish were as frisky as ever. Odd when you think that their bodies must be at, or close to, water temperature. We were diving in fresh water in a flooded quarry, and it had been stocked with fish probably when it first opened. The trout are now big and partly tame. They get fed so often by divers with little bags of fishfood that they approach any diver on the chance of a meal. We found one old trout that was blind – it swam slowly along the bottom and didn’t recoil at movement. In fact it bumped into my dive buddy. There are usually sturgeon, but they’d gone off somewhere to be replaced by some large carp. The fish hang around in a shallow part of the site, so they are striped with bands of sunlight refracted into rainbows.
The good news though is that the camera didn’t flood. I was worried that the O ring seal might have been damaged by the screw that was stuck against it and caused the previous flood. It looked OK, but there’s only one way to find out.
I was also trying-out a new way to reduce the backscatter in my pictures. My camera is a digital compact, so it has a small built-in flash. There is a big diffuser panel to soften the light, but it’s close to the lens axis so lights up all the silt in the water. The way to reduce this is to use an external flash on an arm, so the light beam is off the lens axis. But I need the internal flash to trigger the external one. I’d tried reducing the power of the internal flash to its minimum but it still made every shot a snow scene. So I bought some adhesive plastic mirror film and stuck a piece to the back of the diffuser. So the internal flash is blocked from lighting the subject, but still triggers the sensor on the external flash. Did it work? Yes, once I’d moved the external flash forwards enough that the sensor that controls its light output couldn’t see the reflection in the diffuser. I got my best photos to date, in terms of clarity and lack of silt.
The diving itself was … an experience. It was the coldest water I’ve been in, to date. But all my kit worked, my body core stayed warm and we had a couple of nice dives. I’m not sure what I could do to make the camera warmer – there’s very little free space in the housing that could fit a hand-warmer. I’m not sure I want to chance getting iron oxide dust inside the camera, either. Perhaps I could warm-up the camera itself before I put it in the housing? That’s probably a better idea. I could even get the camera warm, but make sure that battery was hot. As it was I just swapped for a fresh battery between dives. Oh what fun we have trying to keep cameras working in the cold.
We had a great day though, and I got some good pictures. It has to be the most fun you can have in a rubber suit.