You will see it time and time again on internet forums, blogs, how-to website, etc. The basics of underwater photography are a set by a few constant rules:
- Don’t damage the reef.
- Get close.
- Shoot up.
- Get on or below eye level of your subject.
- Be aware of the background. Isolate your subject.
- Think about the composition, ‘rule-of-thirds’.
- Just enough strobe lighting.
- Generally, Shoot in Full Manual. (See points 1-4 below).
- Know your current settings and check the histogram.
- Avoid hungry sharks :-).
These are not anything like a closely guarded secret, so why do new photographers not follow the rules and become frustrated with their photography?
I think the answer is that poor technique is actually a more comfortable and natural action as a diver. It’s more natural to keep a bit of distance, its definitely more comfortable to shoot down. And in the excitement of finding a special subject you often forget about composition and background. For me, it took probably the first 6-years of taking photos underwater before I started to stop and think “hey, that really doesn’t work, so leave it alone and look for something else”. Lately, I have come out of a dive and taken less than 20-frames. Not due to lack of subjects, but based on poor ambient light or poor visibility in the water, I have just not bothered because I know from experience that it just doesn’t work. You start to approach taking photos with more thought and planning.
I know following the rules is hard sometimes, but when you do, you will start to see a big shift in the quality of your images.
There are some other essentials that you need to get clear too when shooting in manual:
- Understand the relationship between ambient light and shutter speed.
- Understand the relationship between strobe light and aperture.
- Understand the disconnect between strobe light and shutter speed.
- Understand the relationship between aperture and depth of field.
I will get into strobe/ambient/shutter/aperture relationships in future posts.
Above all, just enjoy your sport, don’t let frustration discourage you. Ask questions and try things out. You will get there.