“Mountain Immersions” – An Underwater Look at Banff National Park

As a Banff-based landscape photographer I am able to spend a lot of time at the iconic lakes of Banff National Park. I’ve been fortunate to shoot them in a variety of conditions. Winter, Summer, nighttime, sunrise, midday, sunset, you name it. I enjoy revisiting those familiar locations and marvelling at how different they can look from one visit to the next. This spring, in an effort to “rediscover” those places yet again, I got an underwater housing. Since then I’ve been amazed at the possibilities of over/under photography in our area, and have devoted a considerable amount of time to wading in and capturing the underwater side of the famous lakes (and drawing a huge amount of attention from visitors at popular spots like Moraine Lake and Lake Louise!).

I am really just experimenting with this at this point but wanted to share my initial thoughts on that type of photography. 

First of all a few words about the gear I’ve been using. I got a used Ikelite housing that fits my backup body (5D Mark II) and the 17-40mm f/4L lens. The housing is not top-of-the-line but it suits my purposes. It is a LOT bulkier than I expected. But then again, my first dSLR was a LOT bulkier than I expected and I eventually got used to it! Because of my desire to provide an over/under perspective I sometimes wish I had a superwide lens. Since I would not have much use for such a lens outside the water though, the 17-40mm will have to do for now.

Next, the technical issues. It is a lot darker underwater than I expected. If the mountains hold bright white snow it is virtually impossible to encompass the tonal range within one frame, even during the middle of the day when more light enters the water. For that reason I’ve had to bracket everything and use HDR blending extensively. I’ve been shooting mostly at f/11 or so to get maximum depth of field the way I would above the water. The smaller aperture has forced me to shoot everything at the 5DII’s maximum usable ISO (1600 for my liking). I found that at ISO 1600 and f/11 I have been able to get sufficient sharpness. The housing is so buoyant that longer exposures are not really an option.

Compositionally speaking, I have shot mostly verticals simply because I wanted to provide that interesting above/under perspective. It turns out that underground foregrounds are not nearly as easy to find as I expected. The lakes of the Canadian Rockies are very high in silt content. This gives them their fantastic colour but also means that nearly everything further than a foot from the shore is covered in grey/brown silt and lacks colour. For that reason yesterday I tried to shoot in a fast-flowing stream and was pleasantly surprised. The velocity of the water prevents the silt from settling and preserves the array of colours of the rocks at the bottom.

Anyways, those are my thoughts early in the game, and here are the initial results. Despite the challenges, I am very excited about the possibilities of underwater photography in our area. Thanks all for reading and please let me know if you have any questions!


12 Responses to ““Mountain Immersions” – An Underwater Look at Banff National Park”

  1. Amanda Vago

    I signed up to this bloke a while ago because his photos were fab. cant remember where I first saw them. Sending to you. you might like them. xx

    On 29 July 2013 17:48, Paul Zizka Photography | mountain landscape and

  2. Marty

    Good stuff … welcome to the challenges of u/w photography: low light, slow shutter speed, wider apertures, high ISOs, and buoyancy. The first 4 you just have to accept as physical fact … for the last, find some thin metal plates (denser metal like stainless steel if possible) and attach enough of them to the bottom of the housing to achieve neutral buoyancy. Actually, just a bit less than neutral, in case you drop the rig … you want it to float to the top (don’t ask me how I know). But that should help hold the rig a bit more solidly.

  3. Kevin Simpson

    So original, so cool, so beautiful. Thanks for being one of the most forward thinking mountain photographers of our time.

    * * * * *Our Mission: Enhance our customer’s passion for cycling and fitness by providing them with professional & reliable service, products, and knowledge.* *We strive to be educators, not only suppliers. *

    Kevin Simpson

    Facebook – Rebound Cycle

    On Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 9:48 AM, Paul Zizka Photography | mountain

  4. Stephen DesRoches

    I bought an underwater house for my pocket camera a year ago and it has been a ton of fun but it’s limitations have me regretting not going for the full mkII house.

  5. Jens

    This is a great idea. When I look at your images of Lake Louise, I think about how many millions of photos have been taken from this location over the years. However, very few, have been taken with an underwater housing. I’ve seen some photographers use this same technique to capture beautiful images of spawning salmon in a stream. Maybe, you’ll be lucky enough to get an image of a rainbow trout.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: