Anything to Get the Shot: Aquatic Adventures

Water poses a particular challenge for cameras because like most technology, they prefer not to get wet. This fact doesn’t stop a determined photographer. The examples below offer up a number of ways to work under, through and over water – anything to get the shot!

What to do if your intended subjects live underwater? In the early 1900s, zoology professor and photographer Jacob Reighard developed a sub-aquatic camera to aid in capturing fish and other water creatures in their natural habitats. The photographer shown below immersed waist-deep in water used Reighard’s camera to sneak a peek under the surface.

Photographer in water using Reighard’s sub-aquatic camera. Photo by Bain News Service, August 9, 1909. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.04115

A 1911 flood in Austin, Pennsylvania brought this news photographer out into dangerous conditions to capture the destructive force of too much water. He waded across the rushing flow, bulky camera in tow, to document the devastation.

News photographer wading through water during Austin, Pa. flood, Oct. 25, 1911. Photo by Paul Thompson, Oct. 25, 1911. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a47914

Famed photographer William Henry Jackson, most well-known for his work documenting the American West in the late 19th century, also ventured into southeastern states such as Florida during his career. Jackson’s goal of photographing a waterway like Rice Creek with his large format camera meant mounting the camera to the bow of a boat called Princess, as seen below.

Brown’s Landing, Rice Creek. Photo by William Henry Jackson, between 1880 and 1897. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a03508

Detail of Brown’s Landing, Rice Creek. Photo by William Henry Jackson, between 1880 and 1897. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a03508

Whether embracing it, fighting it or simply keeping your head – and camera – above it, these photographers found a way to meet the challenges of water in their work.

Learn More:

  • Take a closer look at William Henry Jackson’s large camera in the detail at right. Explore views of narrow waterways such as Deep Creek and Rice Creek in Florida through Jackson’s photographs taken on this journey.
  • View the devastation to Austin, Pennsylvania when water burst through the failed Bayless Pulp and Paper Company dam as captured in these panoramic photographs.
  • In addition to a photo of the sub-aquatic camera, the Bain News Service collection contains a photograph of another Reighard-designed device called a water glass and another image showing it being used to photograph lampreys underwater.

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