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History of Underwater Photography

The first underwater photograph was taken in 1856 by an Englishman named William Thompson.

He didn't actually dive to take his photographs, he lowered his camera to the bottom and operated the shutter from the comfort of a boat anchored above the site.

His camera was placed in a reasonably watertight box with a plate glass front. Although his results were somewhat  foggy they certainly were inspiring. 





The photograph that most people think of as the first was taken by Frenchman Louis Bou­tan of a hard hat diver  in 1893.  

Boutan was a marine biologist and needed help in developing his underwater camera. He called on his engineer brother Auguste to complete the design.

The next hurdle was to improve lighting which eventually led him to hire Joseph David who created a flash that sat on a barrel on the ocean floor and blew magnesium powder into a burning alcohol lamp. Later carbon arc lamps were developed making his system more portable. 

He also published a book in 1900 that featured his photographs and inspired many others to explore our oceans.







1914 - John Ernest Williamson shot the first underwater motion picture (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) in the Bahamas.

His sea Captain father had earlier invented a ‘tube’ to allow air and communication down as far as 250 feet to assist in underwater repair and salvage work.

John Ernest got the idea to design an observation chamber with a 5 foot diameter glass window allowing him to bring down cameras to shoot in the clear Bahamian waters. 




1926 - William Harding Longley and Charles Martin take the first colour photos using magnesium powder flash. Longley was a botanist studying the protective colouration of reef-dwelling fish. he despiretly wanted to photograph fish in their natural habitat, in colour. Enter Gilbert Grovenor, the President of the National Geographic Society who wanted to keep his magazine in the forefront of photography.

The chief of Nat Geo's photo lab, Charles Martin, was assigned to concoct and apply a hypersensitive solution to their photographic plates cutting exposure time from one second of daylight to 1/20 of a second and create a flashbulb using highly explosive magnesium powder. They loaded up a pound of explosive and sparked it frrom a surface battery creating an explosion equal to the light of 2,500 flashbulbs and illuminating the sea down to 15 feet. 

1940 - Bruce Mozert spent 30 years as Silver Springs Florida's official photographer, and his whimsical underwater images, and the complex way he captured them, earned him a place in photography's history books.

He designed and built an underwater camera housing made from sheet metal, soldering wire, Plexiglas and a few nails and screws.

Mozert first made the waterproof box-shaped casing in the 1930s while visiting Silver Springs during the filming of the “Tarzan” movies.





1957 - CALYPSO-PHOT  camera by Jean de Wouters featured a 1/1000 second shutter speed and waterproof casing making it the best on the market.

He created the camera for Jacques Cousteau under their La Spirotechnique company name and named it after Cousteau's research vessel.

In 1962 it was licensed to Nikon becoming known as Nikonas.