Rod Klein

How long have you been doing underwater photography and video and where did you learn?

Well, I’ve been diving for over 12 years but I actually started doing photography in 1967 and video in 1971. I studied photography and design and Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, and then went on to UCLA’s Art Department where I studied photography and video. I received my Master of Fine Arts degree in 1974. For many years I worked in the television industry as an editor, special effects graphics designer, and director. I also taught photo and video courses at UCLA and Immaculate Heart College. When I started diving in 1990, I bought my first underwater video housing.

Can you name some of the destinations that you have photographed and which is your favorite and why?

I’ve been diving all over the Caribbean, the Pacific, New Guinea, and Indonesia and I don’t have just one favorite place. Most of my diving is done on liveaboards and that makes a big difference in both the diving and photographic experience.

For the Caribbean I have to say Little Cayman is far and away the best diving. It has steep walls and great shallow areas and normally fantastic viz.

Cocos Island off Costa Rica or the Galapagos is awesome for big animals. Nowhere else that is accessible for the average recreational diver will provide the wealth of large sea life in these areas. Hammerheads are everywhere and there’s always a very good chance for at least one whale shark encounter.

Indonesia and Papua New Guinea form the center of the world’s greatest biodiversity. So if you want to see some of the most unusual creatures and the greatest proliferation of sea life in general then these are the places to go.

Finally, I like Palau, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands for different reasons, but if someone wants to make their first trip out to that area of the Pacific, I would have to say Fiji is the best all around choice. The diving is great, and the people are the best.

What has been your most unusual or incredible underwater photo experience?

I would have to say that one dive I did in the Cocos was probably both the most unusual and the most incredible…and I have the photo to prove it. In July 2000 I was on the Okeanos Aggressor. My dive buddy and roommate on that trip was the well known photographer and dive operator Ed Robinson from Maui, Hawaii. There is always lots of current in Coco and Ed and I were separated from the rest of the group who were on our skiff. There were hammerheads, whitetips, and marble rays EVERYWHERE….and I’m looking down at this huge school of marble rays when I hear Ed in a muffled tone just yelling through his regulator from below me, Look Up! Look Up!! I finally hear him, look up, and there is this HUGE 30 foot whale shark right above me. I was able to get up to the whaleshark, get right on top of it and am able to just touch its dorsal fin as it swims by me. There must have been at least 10 remoras about 2 feet each on its tail.

A week or so after I got home I received a package in the mail from Ed. It was a photo of me almost touching the whaleshark.

What are the friendliest, deadliest, most fascinating, most inquisitive, and most elusive marine animals you’ve photographed?

I haven’t really encountered anything I would consider "deadly" in all my years of diving and have never even come close to having any type of diving accident. Only the Great White Shark and the Tiger Shark would give me second thoughts about going in the water if they were in the area that I was diving. But as long as the proper precautions were made I don’t think there is any creature that would prevent me from getting wet. Actually, as an Instructor I would say that taking uncertified intro divers into the water makes me more nervous than any creature I’ve seen.

Since I find all underwater creatures to be elusive by nature, I would have to say that diving with Sealions in the Galapagos was probably my most rewarding dive experience with friendly, inquisitive, and fascinating creatures.

In the last few years you’ve become a convert of digital photography. Tell us about the transition from traditional photographic methods.

Well actually I had virtually given up traditional photography for video almost 20 years ago. When I started diving I felt that I wanted to marry the video skills that I had developed working in the television industry with my diving. Since I had worked with early computer editing equipment and really understood the technology taking video underwater was not a great leap.

You know that many well known film directors started out as still photographers and if you have a "visual sense" it doesn’t really matter what the medium is. When I shoot video I try to compose shots like a still photographer might. I try and let the underwater action happen "in front" of the lens and try not and move the camera too much. So for me the move back to still images was totally affected by the development of digital cameras and housings.

I always preferred video because of its immediacy, the ability the see the image in the viewfinder just like it will appear on the TV monitor. Also I found the instant playback was more "gratifying" than waiting for film to be processed. With digital cameras you have the "instant" feedback and the ability to make exposure and composition decisions immediately underwater. Also as a web designer I was able to get images directly onto my computer and actually work on websites and other projects while I am on location.

You are co-author to SDI/TDI’s Distinctive Specialty, ‘Underwater Digital Imaging’. What does this course encompass and how long does it take? Will you conduct any underwater photographic workshops or courses this year?

I co-wrote this distinctive specialty with the Aggressor Fleet’s Wayne Hasson. Starting this year we are offering this course as well as some demo housings and cameras from Light & Motion for FREE on a number of Aggressor Vessels. I’m also going to spend the month of November at Kungkungan Bay Resort in Indonesia, again offering this course Free to any of the guests.

I think that we are about to embark on a total revolution in underwater imaging and Wayne and I felt that we wanted to be the first to offer photo and video courses that were specific for digital stills and video. I will discuss some issues that are basic to photography in general but spend lots of time with tips and tricks for digital imaging and since the computer is a big part of digital, I will include tutorials in Adobe Premiere for video editing and Adobe Photoshop and Jasc Paint Shop Pro for still image manipulation.

The courses that take place on the Aggressor Fleet in Truk, Palau, Belize, Kona, and Cayman will take 5 days put will be individually tailored to each guests needs.

For a beginner in underwater digital photography, what equipment would you suggest to start with?

Well of course you’ll need a digital still or video camera (Hi-8 and VHS video cameras are old technology and are no longer being supported by most housing makers), and a housing that is compatible with your camera.

When making a decision which camera (either video or still) to get, the first thing to look for is the housing. Housings are designed for specific cameras and often people have a digital still or video camera and then later decide they want to use it underwater, but they find that there is no housing available.

For digital still cameras, I currently use an Olympus 3000 series. The newest version is the Olympus 4040, a 4.1 megapixel camera that gives outstanding results. Light and Motion makes the Tetra housing for this series of camera and is far and away the best choice. I also use a single Nikonos 105 strobe with adjustable power output. The price for the camera, housing, and strobe would be comparable to a Nikonos 5 camera and strobe system, but of course you would never have to buy any film. As a matter of fact, Nikon has discontinued making the Nikonos cameras. I think they see that digital is going to be the future.

By the way a good source of information of underwater digital imaging is Wetpixel.com

How do you utilize your images and where can they be seen?

I would consider myself a multimedia producer and designer specializing in the dive industry. I design websites, produce promotional videos, and streaming web video. So digital imaging is an integral part of what I do. I guess you could call me an "electronic producer." I do, however, make portfolios of my prints for display, and with the current technology you would be totally amazed at the quality of digital prints I can make from my computer. Here are a few samples:

Readers can see more samples of my work at: Wetpixel.com, Oceans.com, RHK/UW.com, Kungkungan Bay Resort, Pacific Aggressor Fleet

What projects do you have planned for the future?

As well as the Aggressor Fleet workshops, I’ll continue my website work and will probably be in Tahiti either the end of this year or early next year. The Aggressor Fleet is putting a boat in Tahiti during September and I’ll be doing some video and web work for that project. I’m also doing some video work for Light and Motion so this year is going to be pretty busy.

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