A few weeks ago we posted the first part of our series on underwater photography…well here is the much-anticipated follow up. The following are some tips, tricks, and techniques I’ve learned over the last 9 years and how I’m able to capture the images I do.
How light and color behave underwater
In underwater photography light acts differently than it does on land; it refracts. Think back to 8th grade science class when you put a pencil in a clear glass of water.
Before you even lift the camera in front of your face, the light has refracted twice: once from the surface of the ocean/lake, then again from the water to your mask. This causes everything to appear ¼ closer and ¼ larger than it really is. Now add a camera to the mix and the light refracts for a third time. So if you think you’re close enough, you’re not. Get closer.
Color is also absorbed by water. Think of the color spectrum you learned — R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. Water absorbs light in that order, with depth. Red is absorbed from the surface to 60 feet, meaning at 60 feet a red sponge will appear black. This is why we have to bring our light source with us.
(image from NAUI Master Diver textbook, page 98, figure 3-13)
With a regulator in our mouths, we divers can’t talk to each other all that clearly underwater. So getting other divers to cooperate for a photo requires a delicate display of hand signals.
When you stop to photograph a subject, other divers may come over to investigate what you are looking at. Many times this can ruin your shot by being bumped out of the way or scaring the animal away. For example, the below photograph was taken as I was being pushed out of the way of this huge Green Moray Eel while he was getting cleaned by gobies.
The focal point is the center of interest of your photograph. This is the part of the photograph this going to draw the audience in. In underwater photography you want to make this the animals eyes and mouth region as that is where the most interesting detail is. Case in point — the oyster toad fish.
Animals? Unless they are trained, they will NOT cooperate; they require a great deal of patience and time. Don’t chase the animals. No matter how strong of a swimmer you are, you cannot swim as fast as whatever animal you’re going after.
If you wait, and anticipate where that animal is going to go, you’ll get your shot. Trust me on this.
When you don’t have something for the untrained eye (land lubber) to compare too, a 6” reef squid is going to look like a monster from the deep or a massive shipwreck is going to look like a child’s toy. Having something in the frame as a size reference will make all of the difference in the world. What could you possibly put into your frame underwater to do this? Glad you asked, why, your dive buddy of course. People know people and can easily use a scuba diver as a nice frame of reference as to the size of the animal or ship wreck.
A lot of major underwater publications (which shall go nameless to avoid upsetting anyone) emphasize this tip and it drives me insane. Many articles encourage divers to shoot up at all costs, without taking into account the surrounding environment. Shooting up gives the subject an appearance of largeness. This is great in some cases and not so good in others.
This tip is really about angles, you need to get the best angle you can to get the image you want, period. However, you need to do this in a nondestructive way to the environment. The tip should really be: Shoot up only when the situation readily presents itself and you aren’t doing damage to the surrounding environment to do so.
So there you have it, what is going on in my crazy brain when I’m photographing underwater. Hopefully you found this helpful. Now get out there, get wet and get photographing…coming up how to properly care and maintain your housing to prevent flooding and ruining your dive vacation.