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Are You Subject-Obsessive?

By Michel Gilbert & Danielle Alary

Michel suffers from Amphiprioninae syndrome. No matter where he is, if there is a clownfish near by, he will snap a few pictures. Photo: Sub Images

We must confess, we both have a ‘problem’― an incurable addiction really―that impacts our underwater photo work. Danielle doesn’t smoke, drink alcohol, or any other liquid than milk, juice, or an occasional soda. I have one coffee per day, never drink outside of social gatherings, and I’m too cheap to spend money on cigarettes. However, despite our best efforts, it appears there is no cure for our addictions and we suspect that you may have the same problem.

Her case

Many years ago, when Danielle took up underwater photography she began to exhibit a very peculiar behaviour. A kind of infatuation. It began almost imperceptibly, occurring once-in-a-while during a Caribbean dive trip. Since those were film days, we only spotted it on occasion and didn’t pay too much attention, just like a small dark dot on your skin. As time went by, I realized that the problem was growing, as if the mundane dark skin spot evolved into something more serious, worthy of medical attention.

Despite my observations I did not act upon it until digital photography came into our life. Upon returning from our very first all-digital assignment things became very clear: she had a problem.

Almost every memory card where reef fish were the main subjects was affected. It was so prevalent that we came up with a name for it: Gramma loreto syndrome!

His case

Michel took a while before telling me I had a problem. It may have been because he had a similar issue. I spotted it when I began to edit our images. At the time, each useless photograph meant $$ thrown in the garbage can. At least with digital, the marginal cost of an image is almost zero.

I suffer from a single syndrome; Michel has a more severe probem. He suffers from both Amphiprioninae syndrome and Cousteau Posts syndrome. (The former involves clownfish; the latter, well, let’s just say it’s complicated.)

The problem

We eventually found out that a vast majority of underwater photographers are affected by similar disorders. So much so that there is a need for a more generic term for this type of obsessive-compulsive condition. We eventually coined a term: Subject Obsessive-Compulsive Kinetic Syndrome (SOCKS).

Those affected feel an uncontrollable urge to repeatedly press the shutter whenever a specific subject happens to be in the vicinity. In its early stages the disorder is almost imperceptible. Just a few repeat images of the same subject once in a while. However, as the disease progresses, the number of repeat images increases. Repetition may manifest itself in the form of a series of consecutive photographs of the same subject during a dive or, in its more severe form, the subject appears over many dives, many days, or many dive trips.

We have seen occasions during a trip where, almost inevitably, the same subject is photographed on every dive, during safety stops for example.

If someone is afflicted, it may even prevent him or her from pursuing other subjects than the obsession-related ones, missing the shot of a lifetime to catch the zillionth image of the same fish
or critter.

We have a dear friend, world-famous photographer, who is so infatuated by lobster pictures that his wife must give him severe warnings before some dives: No more lobster pictures Mr X! (Name withheld due to our utmost respect for our hero.)

I do the same thing with Michel. In his case, anywhere in the world where a clownfish swims by, he must photograph it. He has more clownfish pictures in his portfolio than the total number of clownfishes found in the oceans of the world. Mating manta rays…naaaah, the trigger-happy junkie is lying on the bottom somewhere making the ultimate clownfish picture…for the millionth time!

The cure

Let’s be frank: there is no known cure for SOCKS. In the best case scenario, one may control it and limit its devastating effect on a portfolio.

There are a few approaches that minimize the impact, but you must first admit that you have a problem:

  •  Repeat a mantra before and during a dive such as: Thou shall not photograph XXXXX subject
  •  Avoid diving in areas where the SOCKS subject is present or prevalent
  •  Institute a process whereby any picture featuring the subject of the obsession is punished by a fine paid to a spouse, companion, or, better yet, to an environmental protection group
  •  Leave your camera at the surface or use the smallest capacity memory card
  •  Quit diving and pursue chess as a hobby or a profession


Both being affected by SOCKS, we can say that, while it is a serious addiction, with perseverance and commitment you can control it. But as Michel would say: “There is no self-pleasing endeavour that compares to the belief that you are making the definitive clownfish picture.” 

Happy bubbles. 

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