In this review, I’ll cover the key chapters and tell you about the points I found most helpful.
Goal of the book: Glass and Water by Mark Harris teaches freedivers basic skills of freediving including the proper method and safety. It also points out the nuances that come with diving with a camera. At the moment, there’s no official course to teach freediving photography, so this book is required reading for those wanting to dive on one breath with a camera in hand.
Target audience: Beginner to intermediate freedivers and photographers. Expert divers and photographers might want a book that’s more specific to the skills they’re looking to fine-tune. Glass and Water is a great addition to a freediving course, and it will highlight what to improve on if you’re already a recreational freediver. It doesn’t – and never claims to – supplement a course itself.
Bottom line: There are many pieces of advice that are only known by an experienced freediver-photographer. Glass and Water helps you skip the pain points and shows you ways to be an efficient freediver-photographer from the get-go. This book is like having a talented and very British instructor whisper all his best tips into your ear. Mark knows what mistakes freedivers are prone to making and spells out exactly how to avoid them.
Part 1: Equipment and Basics
Glass and Water begins with the assumption that the reader may be a casual snorkeler. This is refreshing when you consider a lot of the dialogue around freediving is targeted towards competitive freedivers and can even come off as snobby at times. Thankfully, it’s not dumbed down either, so there is great advice for those already freediving and looking to invest in freediving gear.
The cost of this book pays off when you consider that many divers often waste money on the wrong gear.
I also enjoyed Mark’s emphasis on making do with what you have. He doesn’t advocate for investing in an expensive DSLR, the best gear, or only diving in the best conditions. I feel like this book acknowledges that the reader could be on a wide spectrum when it comes to their underwater photography journey. Maybe they’re experienced freedivers who’ve never touched a camera? Or maybe they’re a scuba diving photographer who wants to learn to freedive? Either way, you can choose the points that are most relevant to your existing knowledge and experience while using Glass and Water to point you in the right direction.
The first section of the book is targeted towards beginners, so if you’re already kitted out and ready for advice about technique, you can skim this chapter and focus on the rest of the book.
Part 2: Technique
Here, Glass and Water covers technique in both freediving and photography. This is where you can tell Mark has taught many freedivers in the past as he describes motions without skipping any steps – much like a yoga teacher telling you how to get into the right pose. This is great if you’re someone who likes to learn in multiple ways – through doing, reading, and watching. As an intermediate freediver and photographer, I found this section the most helpful.
This section covers breathing (lungcraft), finning, descents, ascents, and safety. In the mix there are tips to also help with photography and how to dive with the camera.
While the writing can feel a little overly-academic at times, it pays off when you discover that the word “bioprene” is one of the more creative ways of describing “fat.”
I was sad to see this gem of a word left out in the glossary.
There are also not-so-obvious pieces of advice throughout this section. For example, I’ve always had an issue with my underwater photographs looking too blue. Glass and Water points out that this is likely a white-balance issue – a small piece of advice that could save pictures I would’ve deleted in the past.
While many of the sections in this chapter have helpful sketches, pictures, and graphs, there are a few points that could’ve been illustrated better — like the chapter on finning and what a proper fin kick should look like. This way, readers could compare videos of themselves to how he describes in illustrations. Maybe I’m high maintenance, but I often wished that Mark created a complementary video series that we could follow along with as a supplement to his writing. Maybe we can strong-arm him for them? Bribe him? Threaten him? I’m not sure what the best strategy is for making this happen but I’m willing to test out a few ideas.
You’ll learn roughly how to set up a “Submersible Optics Underwater Platform Assembly” or “SOUPA.” I have no idea how Mark came up with this acronym but after you read a little bit into how he thinks, you won’t be surprised that he did. Mark seems to have a penchant for describing things as properly and accurately as possible. If I were writing this book, I’d probably say, “the thingy that sinks your camera so you can go ‘n’ gittit.”
It’d be helpful to have a step-by-step guide on how to replicate his SOUPA rig. Hey, that could be a brilliant video!
Glass and Water makes a valid point that finning is often worth focusing more on than breath-holding. While this is an obvious case for some, it really stood out to me as a work-smarter-not-harder piece of advice. My finning technique can use some serious fine-tuning, so it’s motivated me to focus on that the next time I hit the water.
This section features a handy camera checklist that you could print out, laminate, and affix to your buoy if you want. If you don’t believe in the power of checklists, this podcast from Hidden Brain might convince you of otherwise.
You’ll also learn the basics of buoyancy and the book makes a strong case for why we should try to set up a camera system that’s slightly negatively or neutrally buoyant. I’ve heard that scuba divers often like a positively buoyant rig, so this was interesting to me. I found his recommendation to keep the rig light also telling and considered it when purchasing my set of camera gear.
Perhaps surprisingly, I found the chapter on hydrodynamics to be one the most valuable in the book. It makes sense to swim at the surface, and then drop to intercept your moving target (an animal), right? Or should you swim diagonally to the target? When you account for equalization, swimming straight down and across is the most effective. This goes against what I tend to do, but Mark’s strategy makes sense after having it spelled out.
The safety section is another great chapter to have on hand. I’ve met a handful of self-taught freedivers (cringe) who have no idea about the safety basics. Principles that are obvious to divers who’ve done a course are not intuitive to those teaching themselves by ‘what feels right.’ This chapter is great to really solidify the safety basics and should be a real eye-opener to self-taught divers.
Part 3: Perspectives
The tone of the book shifts from reading like a somewhat cheeky academic textbook to as if you’re sitting and talking to a friend. Glass and Water covers strategies for interacting with different animals all while being respectful and non-threatening. You’ll learn some tips for interacting with whales, dolphins, sharks, manatees, jellyfish, and mantas.
Mark advocates twisting and turning underwater to engage dolphins (if they’re up for it). I’ve had this theory for a while now after swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, and now it’s been confirmed. I wish I’d known the advice about swimming with manta rays before reading this book – an expert weighs in on how to keep them at ease and close by.
You are taken through a virtual dive that does a wonderful job of describing what it’s like to be there. This would be a great chapter for those who haven’t done a course yet – it gives you a little taste of what to expect during a dive. For photographers, it also solidifies the strategies that make a dive most efficient when you have a camera rig. He highlights the little things that happen on a dive that you don’t plan for (heat, outside noise, unexpected animals) in a very perceptive way.
The book ends with three freediver photographers about their top diving and photographing strategies.
I was happy to read an interview from Laura Storm, a familiar face on The Salt Sirens, who shared her advice and observations about taking pictures as a freediver. What’s fascinating is that she states almost half of her award-winning and published pictures were taken while freediving. This is strange when you consider how many more hours you can spend in a day scuba diving compared to being photo-ready while freediving. It shows how much of an advantage freediving has over scuba in many ways.
Glass and Water in a nutshell?
One of the main themes of the book is, “The harder we work, the sooner we need to surface; the sooner we need to surface, the fewer photographic opportunities we make.”
Every little bit helps when it comes to streamlining our freediving and becoming more efficient, and this book has many tips to advance your freediving and photography strategies.
Glass and Water was not necessarily what I expected (I thought it would be a very technical book on underwater photography) but after reading it, I’m glad that it wasn’t. I’ve made a handful of notes to help with my freediving skills and it truly felt like you’ve just been in a class with one of the industry’s best teachers.
You can buy Glass and Water: The Essential Guide to Freediving for Underwater Photography on Amazon or from Divedup.com.
Disclosure: The Salt Sirens is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. The Salt Sirens was provided a book copy for purposes of review. All opinions are our own.