The Giannis D wreck off Egypt: “One of the most attractive backgrounds for a photo taken inside a wreck are lightbeams shining in through portholes.” (Credit: Anders Nyberg)
“When you dive on a wreck that has lain on the seabed, sometimes over a hundred years, it’s like time stood still,” says Anders Nyberg, a freelance photographer from the Swedish island of Gotland.
His favourite technique is to showcase familiar objects in the strange, other-worldly setting of the deep.
A British WWII BSA M20 motorbike in the hold of the Thistlegorm. Credit: Anders Nyberg
A British WWII BSA M20 motorbike in the hold of the Thistlegorm, which lies off Egypt in the Red Sea. (Credit: Anders Nyberg)
“It may be a door handle, a vase or a binocular, furniture or a wall with a tool that hangs neatly left on the wall. It is so I like it, untouched, to get the best pictures,” he says.
Wreck sites like the SS Thistlegorm, one of the world’s best-known wrecks, are among his favourite to photograph, as the area’s diverse marine life and beautiful corals make rich, wide-angle photography subjects.
Nyberg’s most startling experience, though, was not one he managed to capture on camera.
Credit: Anders Nyberg
The SS Hornstein was a German cargo steamer that ran aground in the Baltic Sea in 1905. (Credit: Anders Nyberg)
He and his wife were diving SS President Coolidge, which sank in 1942 off the island Esparto Santo, Vanuatu, when the cargo rooms became flooded with blue flashing lights.
“Slowly we were totally surrounded by this glitter and I became completely disorientated,” he says.
The peculiar blue lights turned out to be the biolumiscent eyes of a school of fish. The phenomenon – thought to attract or illuminate prey – can only be seen in total darkness, so turning on a torch would have stopped the effect.
Nyberg’s advice for getting the perfect underwater shot is to master your diving and camera equipment before going into the water. For safety it is important to use a line to follow out, in case visibility is poor.
Diving on wrecks is both exciting and physically and mentally demanding, but it can also be “a form of meditation, to relax from the stress of everyday life and work”.
Photographer, designer, and author, Jennifer Idol is the first woman to dive 50 states in her native US.
“I particularly enjoy large intact wrecks that are historic and not artificial reefs. Each wreck tells a story,” Idol says.
She describes her experience photographing the U-352 in North Carolina – a WW2 German submarine sunk by the US Coast Guard Cutter Icarus, which rests at 35m (115 feet) below the surface.
“It feels like descending through time until you reach a boat much smaller than you expect.”
To take successful photographs, Idol advises focusing on recognisable features of the wreck.
“Wrecks easily appear abstract and unidentifiable,” she explains.
“The bow and stern are obvious exterior shots while a conning tower, wheelhouse, or unique feature to a wreck will work on the interior. Using models in an image helps show the scale of a wreck.”
Creating a powerful image takes planning. Idol says it is important photographers consider “orientation, condition, and depth” before a shoot.
“A ship can be too large to see on one dive, especially when setting up a photo. Usually, descent lines are set in place or boats are moored to a line from which you follow to the wreck.
“If you are creating images inside the wreck, it is important to first become familiar with the wreck and then also to follow necessary diving procedures for penetration. This may include setting lines or diving mixed gases and using redundant diving systems.”
Even to someone as experienced as Idol, wrecks can yield surprises.
“I am sometimes surprised to find schools of fish, invertebrates, and even eels deep inside wrecks,” she says. “The life inside a wreck is surprising because it feels remote, is dark, and evades currents.”