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WET & WILD : Snap Decisions Made Underwater

September 23, 1993|DAVID HALDANE | David Haldane is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff.

Though it might not sound exciting on the surface, a group of Orange County scuba enthusiasts recently viewed 18 slides of boat bottoms. And loved it.

Some of the slides showed big boats with divers hanging off their ropes or ladders. Others depicted tiny vessels with seaweed-encrusted bows. All the pictures had at least this much in common: They were taken underwater by divers aiming up at floating boats, and they were entries in the Orange County Underwater Photographic Society's monthly photo contest.

"We try to vary the theme each month to keep it interesting," said Ben Petty, president of the 37-member group.

While past contests have called for pictures of nudibranchia, toothy creatures, sea fans and invertebrates, this one called for images of floating boats as viewed from underwater. And the winner: Barbara Jones' artsy picture of an outrigger canoe taken from six feet beneath the surface during a recent trip to Indonesia.

"I like the composition and the texture," said Jones, an elementary school teacher from Anaheim Hills. "It has a nice movement to it."

The monthly contests--which result in a trophy awarded each December to the club member deemed the year's best photographer--is only one of the activities sponsored by the society, founded in 1985.

The club, which meets on the second Tuesday of each month at the Sunkist branch of the Anaheim Public Library, offers regular lectures and demonstrations by experts in various aspects of underwater photography. Several times a year, the group sponsors underwater photographic expeditions to Santa Catalina Island or the outer Channel Islands. And each year the society's best work is exhibited at the annual scuba show held aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach.

"We try to relate to all levels of photographer," said Larry Thompson, the society's membership director. "We have a tremendous range, from novices who just bought their cameras to people who've been doing it for years and have published photos."

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Anyone active in underwater photography has to be motivated, of course, considering the high cost of getting into the hobby. Beyond the initial cost of scuba equipment and training, Petty said, underwater photographers pay anywhere from $350 to several thousand dollars for cameras, strobes and camera housing setups. And given the vagaries of the marine environment, with its shifting currents, light patterns, shadows and clarity, a great deal of practice and technical expertise is required.

Members say it is precisely the club's diversity of experience that is its greatest strength.

"The (people) here are a wealth of knowledge," said Steve Guest, 50, a Yorba Linda dentist who is a new member and considers himself a novice. "Seeing other people's work, I've learned a lot. My pictures have gone up about two notches; (the club) gives you a standard to shoot for."

Said Westminster resident Gary Cissne, 39, a member since 1988: "Somebody who's experienced can really teach you the ropes. I've made a lot of friends in the club and learned a lot technically. It saves a lot of effort and expense."

Some effort and expense were also saved at one of the club's recent meetings when Bob Niklewicz, a representative of Kodak, spent more than an hour promoting the company's latest product: a film designed especially for the submarine photographer. The kicker: 20 rolls of the new film donated to the club for use by its members.

"I thought it was great," Petty said of Niklewicz's presentation and promotional gift. "We'll get a comprehensive report back to him on how we like the film. (It's nice) when they leave samples."

For more information on the Orange County Underwater Photographic Society, call (714) 661-9781.

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