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Review: “The Underwater Photographer” by Martin Edge
By Matt Weiss, June 2, 2010 @ 04:33 PM (EST)

Martin Edge has updated his guide to underwater photography, “The Underwater Photographer” with a completely revamped fourth edition. In what has become the authoritative book on underwater photography, “The Underwater Photographer,” guides readers through all facets of what it requires to undertake the hobby at any level. From technical descriptions, of equipment to the proper mindset of a photographer, to suggesting settings for shooting bokeh and other specific techniques, Martin and the “guest” authors cover both the macro and micro concepts on more than just shooting photography—but what it takes to be an underwater photographer.

The Underwater Photographer By Martin Edge

Time for an Upgrade

If there is any doubt as to whether it was time for a new edition, consider the following statement from the introduction:

“I have disposed of the word 'digital in front of the expression 'SLR camera'...the photo community cannot indefinitely continue to prefix every reference to a camera with the 'D' word. Should film ever make a comeback on the underwater photo front we can all use the term 'F' - 'film SLR.’”

So much has changed since that period of transition in photography, and as a result, too much has really been re-worked in the fourth edition of "The Underwater Photographer" to call it a simple revision -- it's almost an entirely different book.

Missing in the fourth edition are pages describing the differences between film and digital cameras. This book is strictly dedicated to digital underwater photography and topics like choosing file formats or postproduction are organically intertwined into the chapters, rather than just being thrown into a section called “digital photography.”

Additionally, each of the 500 pages is completely different from the 3rd edition, as it seems, basically every image replaced by a new one.

The Body of the Book

The “Underwater Photographer” is an informational book written to help the reader improve their underwater photography by explaining the technical requirements as well conceptual topics necessary to execute the techniques correctly and at a higher level. Martin writes the book in a very informal tone, often sounding more suggestive than authoritative on a particular subject. He even warns in the introduction that “ the book is underwater photography as seen through the eyes and mind of Martin Edge” and that there are “books by other great photographers whose view may differ from [his] own.”

However, Martin has a competitive advantage over other potential authors in that he is able to both clearly articulate and explain underwater photography techniques as well as demonstrate his mastery of the techniques through the images that accompany the text.

Martin is able convince the reader of his belief’s validity through the images which serve as visual demonstrations of the text. They are not randomly chosen pretty photographs, but carefully selected images that illustrate Martin’s point.

Martin has an exceptional ability to clearly articulate complicated theories and concepts in simple terms. It’s clear from the start that the book is intended for photographers of all levels, and the informality of his writing style helps to make much of the technical areas of the book much more accessible to the novice. Martin does a good job on ensuring that technical chapters are not dry, convoluted or boring. However, he never compromises thoroughness for simplicity. Every concept, theory and tip is described in complete detail.

In places where Martin thought another writer was more suitable to author topics, he reached out for their help. For example, Keri Wilk who has gained relative fame for his super macro photography, was pulled in to write the super macro chapter, and Alex Mustard, one of the most creative photographers, writes about finding your own underwater photographic style.

There are chapters dedicated to equipment requirements for using both an SLR or for using a compact camera. Edge explains which camera features are useful for underwater photography and what to look for in a housing. The equipment chapters shine in there specificity. For example, the compact camera section , written by "guest author” Mark Koekemoer, goes into depth about how to choose an appropriate wet lens while the SLR chapter explains in detail how to correctly read a histogram. After giving all this valuable advice on how to select a camera and housing, “The Underwater Photographer” overlooks a crucial next step—a thorough explanation on how to maintain the equipment. Maintenance is one of the most important aspects of being an underwater photographer, and there is very little mention of it throughout this otherwise thorough edition.

At the heart of “The Underwater Photographer” are the technique chapters. organized into 6 chapters: Lighting, Composition, Macro and close-up, Wide Angle, and Underwater Photography in Temperate Waters. Within each technique section, Martin goes into depth on the theory of each topic and also how to execute these concepts. Far too often in technique guides, we are told what to do without any guidance on how to do it. Martin, however, is able to clearly explain how to put all the theories into practice.

For example, in the chapter on close-up and macro photography Martin discusses depth of field in fish portraits and explains that the eyes and mouth of the subject are the two most important features to keep in focus. However, anyone who has ever shot fish portraits with a macro lens knows that getting both the mouth and eyes in focus is not always the easiest task. Martin provides tips on solving this predicament, such as focusing on a point between the eye and the mouth or, taking a few different shots with varied focal points to have the best chance of getting both in focus. It’s this kind of practical instruction that is particularly useful to improving your photographs.

The book is not completely technical, and there are a number of articles dedicated to the more conceptual facets of being an underwater photographer. These chapters are more about the internal processes of the photographer’s mind and vision rather than the processes of the camera. They are why the book is called “The Underwater Photographer” rather than “How To Shoot Underwater Photography.” One chapter, for example, is completely dedicated to the mindset of the underwater photographer. In this chapter Martin preaches his “Think and Consider” system that serves as a mental check-list when taking shooting. Another chapter, written by Alex Mustard, is all about strategies on creating your own photographic style.


The layout of the book is fairly similar to most “how-to” books. Most of the pages contain images, and many of them are ‘diagram-esque” with descriptive captions used to illustrate a point made in the text. There are even times when Martin engages the reader by asking how he achieved certain images. He requires the reader to call upon the knowledge they have learned in the previous pages and reveals the answer a few pages later.

There are pages that contain full size images and these are usually particularly striking examples of techniques. This certainly adds an aesthetic appeal. One could easily just flip through the pages and treat the book as photographic collection—but it makes the already long book even longer. It’s not the length that bothers me, but the fact that the length leads to a thick and heavy book that is cumbersome to travel with. Given the fact that most of the book is practical advice, it would be ideal to have this book with you while shooting, which usually means that at some point needs to be packed and carried.

Our Bible?

It’s hard to classify this book into a certain genre—it’s partly a how-to book, it’s partly the author’s personal opinions on taking underwater photographs and partly a photographic gallery. However you may classify it, the fourth edition of “The Underwater Photographer” is, in my mind, the quintessential piece of literature on the subject. No other publication comes close in terms of being as comprehensive or as well executed. 

In his discussion of surface detail in underwater photographs, Martin claims that his “thoughts could be classed as technical, visual and perhaps touching on the spiritual.” I believe that Martin extended this approach to the entire book, providing the reader with technical information, visual inspiration, and spiritual guidance. After all, are there three better words to describe an underwater photographer with than technical, visual and spiritual?


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