The inmersed bicycle
ow long does you take to take a picture? Is a question that I usually receive. There are images that occur very fast, as if the universe was collaborative in your favor. In just a few minutes the general idea of the shot forms in your mind, the light is perfect, the combination of visual elements is correct and as if by magic, you have the image you wanted.
However, the vast majority of images take much longer. This was the case of the image “The immersed bicycle”.
En el mes de septiembre del año pasado mi amigo y buzo Martín Guglielminetti me escribió para comentarme que ese día, mientras guiaba a un cliente por uno de los arrecifes de Cozumel, encontró casualmente una bicicleta. El hallazgo fue sorpresivo, puesto que había buceado la zona incontables veces y jamás la había visto. Dedujo que la bicicleta llevaba un largo tiempo sumergida, ya que su estructura estaba completamente cubierta por corales.
The sight of a bicycle in the middle of a coral reef was completly strange enough and he thought, correctly, that it would be a good photographic motive. He had not finished telling the story, that I was already doing mental calculations to see when I could go to Cozumel to photograph such an interesting find.
Luckily at that time I was finishing a basic scuba diving course and was planning to take my students to do their certification dives. We met and went to dive the site on Frida September 30th, just before my divers arrived.
Great was my disappointment the day of my arrival. Martin had the flu! The flu, although a common disease and without major complications, prevents the practice of diving during its evolution, as it can cause middle ears barotrauma. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the dive and wish we could have a new chance as soon as possible.
The new opportunity has just come this year. As Martin had decided to return to live in his native Argentina we decided to meet again on the island before his departure as a farewell.
Those days we would only be dedicated to diving and underwater photography without any pressure. The conditions were perfect to portray the famous bicycle. But before this we had to find it firstññña
Martin had a general idea of the place and the approximate depth, but not the exact location. To increase our chance to find it we decided to jump upstream from the approximate site and once at the bottom, let the current take us gently towards the bike. We went down. At the bottom we separated about 10 meters to have a wider tracking radius and we started swimming with the gentle current.
The clock was ticking and we couldn´t find what we were looking for. Time in underwater photography is critical as divers have two limitations: the gas supply to breathe and decompression time. For the type of dive we were doing we both knew that our tanks would be enough to dive for 60 minutes, maybe a little more. However, with every minute that passed without finding the bicycle the level of anxiety increased. We swam for an eternal 50 minutes seeing nothing but corals and fishes.
When everything seemed to indicate that we would not succeed, there it was. Despite the large number of corals over it, it still retains its unmistakable shape. It was lying on the sand and I could clearly see the frame, the pedals shafts and the rear wheel, although there were no traces of the remaining wheel.
here was no time to lose! My computer at that time indicated only 5 minutes to go into decompression. It was my first contact with the element to be photographed, so I quickly determined the best composition and positioned myself at one end of the bike facing the current. As we had previously agreed, Martin would model alongside the bike. While I was setting speed, aperture and flash power, my buddy tried, according to my indications, to position himself the best he could, which turned out to be a more complicated task than anticipated, since the current constantly moved him. However and despite the short time we had, I managed to do a dozen shots.
The time exhausted, we had to surface and wait to check the images. The waiting time between the moment of capturing the photo and the subsequent review on the computer is usually a anxious time for a photographer, even more if you know that you have a potentially attractive or quality image.
Unfortunately, the results were not the ones I wanted. The vast majority of the images did not cut it for one reason or another: ones were underexposed, others overexposed, many with backscatter, the position of the model was not elegant or had “cut” fin, etc. Of all the bunch only one shot seemed good to me, but I was not at all convinced with the result obtained. It was obvious that we would have to do a second dive to achieve the desired shot.
The next day, we headed back in search of the bike. The experience obtained previously and the exchange of ideas that we had during the previous night filled us with confidence about the high possibilities of success of this new photo session. That confidence made us forget one detail: the sea always has some surprises!
We jump into the water again upcurrent of the bike, but this time closer to not waste so much time to get to it and therefore have more room to make the photo. Big was our surprise when we got to the bottom. The current, which normally runs from south to north, that morning changed its direction diametrically, and headed south. We faced the dilemma of calling the dive or swimming against the current until finding the bicycle. The current was slight and we decided to make the attempt.
Diving against the current is always a strenuous physical job and this time was no exception. To make matters worse, the large volume of my underwater camera increased the level of resistance and I had to use all my strength to move forward. Inch by inch, we slowly progressed as close as possible to the bottom to reduce friction with the current. As time went by the level of resistance was lower, the anxiety greater and the hopes of reaching the bicycle were disappearing.
Revisé mi computadora. Nuevamente estaba a sólo escasos 10 minutos de entrar en descompresión. Revisé mi manómetro. Aproximadamente unos 8 minutos de gas. Por lo visto el dios Poseidón había decidido que esta tampoco sería la inmersión para lograr el objetivo.
gain, when everything seemed to indicate that we would have to return to the surface empty-handed, we found it. We take a moment to recover our breath a little and get to work to make the image.
And at that moment, the sea made fun of us again. A few seconds after reaching the bike swimming against the current, it changed and began to run as it always does. It seemed incredible, all the effort we had made to get to the site and now the current behaved again as we would expect it to do from the beginning. Those who have long been in contact with the ocean know the sea is this way. The sea has a personality, sometimes pleasant, sometimes furious and sometimes, like today, has a joking spirit. I looked at Martin and I could see in his eyes what he was thinking. I laughed for myself and started taking photos.
The experience of the previous dive was invaluable and this time things flowed better. Martin quickly positioned himself and that gave me an opportunity to make the shot more effectively. I made sure, with the little time we had left, to make several shots in order to get the final image I was looking for.
It was time to dive up. My gas supply went to zero. As we had anticipated this eventuality, we decided that Martin carried an extra tank so that we both had the mental ease to know that we would have gas to spare to complete the dive safely. So I started to breathe from that tank, we completed our long safety stop and we hit the surface with the happiness of knowing that we had achieved the proposed goal.
Underwater photography is extremely difficult. Not only it´s necessary to understand and apply the photographic techniques that demand any kind of photography, but prior to it and above all, one must always keep in mind that immersed in a complex and risky environment. Therefore experience, planning, mental and physical preparation and the knowledge of the technical aspects of diving and the environment are essential for an effective and safe operation. Fortunately for me I was with my good friend Martín, who has been diving for 30 years and with whom I understand perfectly.
Behind all nature and underwater photography there is usually an enormous amount of challenges that must be overcome to achieve it. I invite you to reflect, the next time you contemplate a photo of this type, not only on the aesthetic value of the image but also on all the work and effort that meant creating it.