Diving into Underwater Imaging

Published Apr. 29, 2010

In ocean depths up to 100 feet, RIT students discovered a whole new world and sense of confidence while imaging some of the sea’s most beautiful creatures. The group of 10 students traveled to the island of Bonaire in the South Caribbean, known for its pristine reefs and protected marine life, to do a series of dives as part of a study-abroad program in advanced underwater photography and videography.

“I had never been to the Caribbean and being thrust into that world was an eye-opening experience,” says Reed Nisson, a second-year film and animation student. “It was a whole new ecosystem.”

The seven-day trip to Bonaire this past December exposed them to navigation techniques and night, deep, wreck and naturalist dives. Once completed, the students earned their advanced diver certification. Rene Piccarreto, an RIT adjunct professor and member of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, led the underwater excursions.

“The idea behind the study-abroad trip is to take students from various majors and put them on a team together,” says Piccarreto. “Each type of dive requires a particular set of skills. It was incredible to watch these students conduct 25 to 30 dives and evolve from novice to excellent divers.”

Piccarreto divided the students into two teams with each one producing a multimedia project with the video and still images they shot. They photographed tarpin, octopuses, sea turtles, seahorses and coral, to name a few.

“When we were diving at night, the tarpin fish would use our flashlights to hunt for food. They dart around you going about 25 miles an hour,” says Stephanie Johnson, a second-year physician assistant student.

Adds Nisson, “You expect the fish to swim away, but they are accustomed to the divers.”

The group actually rang in the New Year underwater. When they resurfaced in 2010, the night sky was ablaze with fireworks.

Before heading to Bonaire, some of the students earned their basic scuba certification through underwater imaging courses offered in RIT’s School of Film and Animation and RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences. Piccarreto and Nanette Salvaggio, lecturer in RIT’s imaging and photographic technology program, developed the course.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students,” says Salvaggio. “It opens up job opportunities for them because they have the skills needed to complete underwater shooting assignments. They are also qualified for jobs with dive shops in tourist areas that need a photographer or videographer to document tourists while scuba diving or snorkeling.”

RIT teams up with the Aquatic Center of Rochester to provide students with reading materials, diving equipment (mask, fins, dive hood, gloves, boots and wetsuit) and wetsuit and tank rentals, for an additional course fee.

With little or no previous diving experience, they initially navigate below the pool’s surface at the aquatic center, followed by several dives at a quarry in Livingston County where they learn how to safely dive in an open-water environment while holding and operating camera equipment.

The classes will be offered again in summer and fall quarters. And Piccarreto plans to take another group of students to Bonaire this December.

Would Nisson and Johnson go back?

Nisson says: “No question.”

Johnson: “I want to go back so badly.”