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What's In My Bag: An Underwater River Photography Kit To Capture Hidden Gems

Andrew Zimmerman (@andrew.zimmerman.photography) is a conservation biologist and underwater photographer in Tennessee. While most underwater photographers’ focus is on saltwater, Zimmerman's work documents the freshwater riverine ecosystems of the southeastern United States. "I love spending my time snorkeling in beautiful rivers," he says, "photographing wonderful fish, turtles, salamanders, macroinvertebrates. Even when I don’t have my camera underwater, you can find me in a snorkeling in a stream working as biologist for Conservation Fisheries, Inc., a non-profit that focuses on the restoration of threatened and endangered non-game fish. All my work as a photographer and a biologist aims to promote conservation of southern Appalachian streams by letting others experience the little gems that exist hidden under the surface of a healthy stream." We caught up with Zimmerman to learn more about his kit for capturing freshwater ecosystems. Keep reading as he shares what's in his bag.

Product Preview – In This Article You'll Find:
Sony Alpha 7R IV
Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G
Sony 28mm f/2

Andrew Zimmerman's underwater photography kit

Camera

Sony Alpha 7R IV: The Sony Alpha 7R IV is my main camera. I love the high resolution this camera offers. As an underwater photographer that often documents rare or endangered species or skittish subjects, I have to be conscientious not to disturb my subjects. The 61MP sensor allows me to crop in without losing image quality. Another aspect I love is the button customization of this camera. For use underwater, I have a Nauticam NA-A7RIV Housing with assorted ports for different lenses. These housings allow for full functionality of the camera’s controls but in a different layout than the camera body. The ability to customize so many of the buttons and dials on this camera allows me a lot of freedom in the button layout of the housing.

Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/80-sec., f/6.3, ISO 800

"This photo shows a minnows spawning congregation, a Redtail Chub builds a nest by picking up pebbles in its mouth and depositing them into a pile. The chub’s nest attracts other species of colorful minnows spawn together in large schools." Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/80-sec., f/6.3, ISO 800

Lenses

Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G: In underwater photography there is a general rule, get close to your subject and then get closer. This rule is to combat the effect of the water column which removes color, contrast and sharpness at a much faster rate than air. Many of my subjects are small stream fish perfect for capturing with the Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G lens. Its close-focus capabilities allow me to take super sharp portraits of small fish like darters, minnows and sculpin that allow me to get in close.

Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G. 1/320-sec., f/5, ISO 2000

"Pictured here is a federally endangered Candy Darter. A small but vibrantly colored benthic fish native to Virginia and West Virginia, USA." Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G. 1/320-sec., f/5, ISO 2000

Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G paired with Nauticam EMWL 130° Objective Lens: New to my bag is the Nauticam Extended Macro Wide Lens (EMWL) 130°. It is a wet lens designed to be used with several different macro lenses, including the Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G. The probe-like wet lens mounts to the macro lens’s port and converts the lens to a 130° field of view. This allows me freedom to shoot either macro or wide angle during a dive, an option that typically isn’t available once underwater. It is amazing to be able to go between the 90mm macro and wide angle while shooting the same subject. This setup is particularly excellent for close focus wide angle shooting. Traditional wide-angle lenses require large dome ports to maintain image quality, however this lens element is only a couple inches in diameter. This allows me to approach subjects which are often disturbed by large domes. Additionally, the long but small optic allows me to probe into subjects and create interesting and unique perspectives.

Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G. 1/200-sec., f/9, ISO 3200

"A large spawning school of Central Stonerollers and Tennessee Shiners cover the bottom of a Tennessee stream." Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G. 1/200-sec., f/9, ISO 3200

Sony 28mm f/2: This lens is my go-between for macro and wide angle. It’s a solid and inexpensive lens. It is compact which helps keep my rig as small and light as I can make it. This lens becomes particularly powerful when paired with my next lens.

Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/320-sec., f/6.3, ISO 2500

"A male River Chub tending to its nest while immersed in a dense school of Tennessee Shiners and Saffron Shiners." Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/320-sec., f/6.3, ISO 2500

Sony 28mm f/2 paired with Nauticam WWL-1: Another wet lens by Nauticam, this lens converts the Sony 28mm to a 130° field of view, similar to the Nauticam EMWL. Nauticam testing of this lens showed it works especially well with full-frame Sony Alpha cameras using the 28mm f/2. The ~5-inch lens element allows me to get close to subjects and when they get really close, the lens is capable of focusing on the glass. With an o-ring water can be sealed between the port and the wet lens, allowing for split shots (half in, half out of water). This has been my go-to lens combination for years, hardly ever coming off of my camera.

Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/200-sec., f/5.6, ISO 1600

"The cypress trees and knees lining the margins of a spring-fed river in Florida is the perfect backdrop for this Yellow-bellied slider." Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/200-sec., f/5.6, ISO 1600

Accessories

Nauticam NA-A7RIV Housing and Assorted Ports: This housing and assorted ports keep my camera dry and happy.

SmallHD 502 Monitor in Nauticam NA-502 Monitor Housing: In a housing, composing an image through your EVF or LCD can be difficult. A monitor makes it easy and when I’m working in shallow water, I don’t even have to get my head wet.

Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/200-sec., f/6.3, ISO 3200

Photo by Andrew Zimmerman. Sony Alpha 7R IV. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/200-sec., f/6.3, ISO 3200

Two Inon Z-240 Strobes: I use strobes to add a little artificial light into scenes. This helps add light, detail, and color that is removed by the water column.

Wetsuit, Mask and Snorkel: My bag is completed with a wetsuit to keep me warm, a mask to see and a snorkel to breath.

See more of Andrew Zimmerman's work on Instagram @andrew.zimmerman.photography.

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