Although records date the first underwater photograph to have been taken in 1856 by William Thompson, who used a pole mounted camera, the world’s first official underwater photographer, Frenchman Louis Boutan, began his work in 1893. Boutan was first interested in biology, graduating in 1879 with a Doctorate of Science from the University of Paris. In 1893, he became a professor at the university’s marine biology lab at Banyuls-Sur-Mer. After encountering untouched underwater landscapes up-close, Boutan was inspired to find a way of capturing them and bringing what he saw to the surface. To create his concept of capturing underwater photographs, he contacted his brother Auguste.
Auguste was an engineer and drafted a plan for an underwater camera that allowed for underwater adjustments to the diaphragm, plates, and shutter. The first design even included a method of changing the buoyancy of the camera through an air-filled balloon. Eventually, they produced a smaller design of the camera box, small enough to be lost in seaweed when dropped and able to be lowered to the seafloor by hand. After further experimentation, Boutan became one of the principal – and perhaps one of the only – underwater photographers of his time.
In 1898 he published a book detailing his work with underwater photography titled La Photographie Sous-Marine (Underwater Photography). He included several of his illustrations in the book, plus many photos that he had taken over the years.
Being a photographer is all about giving back in a way that all peoples can witness our fantastic landscapes of wonder, both above and below the waves
– Ernest H. Brooks II
French underwater photographer Henry Broussard is widely credited with designing the world’s first underwater housing in 1947. Tailored to the French Foca camera, the housing was commercially produced in limited quantities by French company Beuchat under the name Tarzan. Georges Beuchat had already made a name for himself as a pioneer, having invented the underwater speargun – also named Tarzan – so his company was the natural choice to market the first underwater housing.
In the years to come, amphibious cameras like Cousteau’s Calypso, Nikon’s Nikonos and Sea&Sea’s Motor Marine line would become popular, but Beuchat’s Tarzan housing had set the stage for the rise of the dedicated underwater housing. These days, amateur and professional underwater shooters alike rely on a dozen or more established housing makers in Europe, the US, and Asia to allow them to bring the latest and greatest cameras underwater.