Shannon Switzer is an award-winning photographer, published
writer, and National Geographic Young Explorer whose work focuses on
The first time I took a non-disposable camera with me underwater, I was studying abroad in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef. I had a point-and-shoot Olympus that was confined to land. After my first dive on the reef, I got an itch to share what I had seen with my friends and family back home. A few days later, I bought a dive housing for my little camera. I loved my set-up. I took pictures of surly sea snakes, turtles, impossibly bright nudibranchs, anemone with their defensive clownfish residents, and candid portraits of my friends looking suave in their dive gear.
Six months later, when I returned from Australia to finish my senior year in Santa Barbara, I started bringing my camera and housing with me into the surf, shooting friends and strangers alike catching waves. I would shoot for hours, until my body was numb to the core and my claw-hands could no longer fire the shutter. A year after that, I bought my first SLR camera and a new (expensive!) housing to go along with it. Since then my equipment has continued to evolve (and get more expensive), but the same sense of excitement that brought me to the water then with camera in-hand is what continues to bring me there now.
Shannon carries her first SLR camera underwater housing while diving above. Photo by Morgan Hoesterey.
For this reason, I find all of the camera gear on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition fascinating and mind-boggling. On the sub itself, there are two “booms,” which are basically long metal poles. One positions a powerful spotlight and two 2-D cameras that combine to capture 3-D footage, and the other, known as the “manipulator arm,” positions two cameras, which are used independently from one another. One is a wide-angle lens that corrects magnification of objects in the water, and the other films macro footage of small sea creatures. They both serve as an extension of James Cameron’s body, which he moves using hydraulics while he’s confined in the sub. According to Dr. Joe MacInnis, who is on site with the team, these cameras not only record 3-D footage and take high-quality stills, but they also act as Cameron’s eyes to the sea floor. Without them, he is essentially blind.