Intimate Underwater Photography Captured with a 1980s Nikonos
Stirring film photos and the love/hate struggle of shooting film, in the ocean, with a 30+ year old camera
Andrew T Kearns
Andrew T Kearns
Fuji Natura 1600 (RIP), Kodak Tri-X 400, Portra 160, 400
I started off on the Nikonos IV—It was simple. Built between 1980 and 1983, the classic underwater camera has a small dot in the viewfinder that would either blink or remain constant. When the dot was constant, it meant exposure was even. I tend to overexpose my film, so I would go brighter until it started blinking. I would wait for my shot and shoot it. It was simple.
Then my Nikonos IV broke, so I “upgraded” to the V, which meters differently. I’m unsure if it’s because I suck at math (I do) or what, but something just doesn’t compute in my head when I’m looking at the blinking numbers, indicating what shutter speed to be at for even exposure. As you’re reading this you’re probably saying “If you wanna overexpose, drop the shutter, open your aperture, dumbass.”
It’s easy to remember as I sit here writing this. But, in the midst of waves crashing over, battling against currents, avoiding another reef wound, surfers whizzing by and diving under their fins, and (most importantly!) trying to not anger the locals, math just doesn’t come easy. Oh yeah, also in the midst of all of this you have to zone focus everything.
I dodged, swam, pissed off some locals and apologized to make these shots. They weren't easy to create. More than anything shooting the Nikonos like playing the lottery, and I feel lucky when I get a few I like.
"It’s a complicated and expensive relationship, but I think I love it."
Out of all my cameras the Nikonos is the hardest to operate—it’s a challenge and that’s why I love shooting it, and it’s also why I don’t shoot it as often as I should. It’s a complicated and expensive relationship, but I think I love it.