If someone was to ask us what the best way to improve their underwater photography was, this is what we would say:
Get in close, Get in level and fill it with light.
That’s a straight forward as we can be. For the benefit of this article though – let’s spend a few minutes and understand why these three concepts are so important.
Get in close
Underwater photography is one of the few photographic situations in which you can actually discard some composition rules. Well, ok, don’t discard them… but believe or not your underwater photos will look better when you get in good and tight with your subject. Remember your old photography teach who said never center your subject in the center of your shot? Well you can do that in underwater photography and get away with it. We are not saying to always do dead center shots, but let’s explore why this is ok.
Center focused subjects are ok because the farther away from your subject you are, the more detail is lost, or diffused, in the water that is between you and your subject. If you want details and colors that truly pop, get within a couple of feet of your subject. Shoot in a macro mode and fill that frame up with your subject. Use the rule of thirds and the shell composition rules, but fill that frame up.
Get in level
Let’s face it, the top of someones head doesn’t really make a good portrait. The same applies for underwater photography. The same rules apply for underwater subjects. A lot of fishes have an element of camouflage to hide them from predators above. Other fishes are skinny by nature to make them fast and more adapted to water. Whatever to reason, the truth stands out to us that fish and most marine life look better when we capture them from the same perspective (or from a lower perspective).
Get on the same level with fish to capture the brilliant colors on the sides of their bodies. Get underneath sea turtles or manta rays to capture them swimming across the ocean. This is not to say that 100% of your photos should be taken level with your subject, but do your best to capture subjects from perspectives that will lend the most detail and color.
Fill it with light
The deeper you get while taking underwater photographs, the less light you will have available to you. To compensate you will need a strobe light or flash setup. Keep in mind as well that the farther away from your subject, the less effective your strobe will be.
If possible, use and external strobe light that is mounted to the sides of your camera instead of using the cameras built in flash. While the built in flash is handy, it causes a situation known as backscatter to occur in your photographs. Backscatter in it’s basic sense is the illumination of the pieces of debris in the water between you and your subject. This creates a spotty behavior in your pictures.
Attach a diffusing unit to your strobe light. This will help to soften the light coming from the strobe allowing you to get in good and tight with your subject.
Wrap it all up
Well there you have it – some of our quickest and easiest ways to improve your underwater photography. Get in good and close to your subject – fill them up in the frame. Get in level with your subject looking at them from the side. Fill the subject up with plenty of light to allow those colors to shine.
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