Have you ever wondered what makes the difference between a fish ID shot and a really strong artistic image? Why is it that some people’s images always seem to turn out well and yours seem to be lucky shots? Do you want to take your images to the next level? The key lies in the overall composition of your images and here we explain the basics of good image composition and how to achieve it.
There are some general principles which, if followed, will give you a solid composition every time – and take your images from being okay to being great.
The Rule of Thirds
This is a well established and golden rule which is easily applied and makes for great composition. Imagine that your image is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section. The rule of thirds can also be used to balance your negative space and subject matter.
Shoot across not down
A common mistake is to position yourself and your camera above the subject and shoot down. This will give a very “flat’ image with no depth of field (distance from front to back of the image). When you are diving in muck diving regions such as Lembeh or Amed, all too often the subject will become part of the reef or bottom composition and you have to search for it in the image if taken in this way. Position yourself low down, at the same level as the critter you are shooting and shoot across it, not down on it. You’ll get a much more powerful image which has better definition and is more pleasing to look at. See the two whip coral gobies above – shot from the same level, from the side not from the top down.
Negative space is the part of the image which is not taken up by the subject. Negative space makes the subject “pop” out of the image even more. Negative space should be clear and not distracting, like the blue water to the right of the turtle (above), or the black background in the whip goby shot (above the turtle). Using the rule of thirds, aim for at least one third (either horizontally or vertically) to be negative space.
The eyes and mouth of the subject are the two most important features to keep in focus. However, when shooting macro, getting both the mouth and eyes in focus is not always possible. If you have to choose between the two then the eyes are usually the most important (see in the image below how powerful the eye contact is and how the eyes are in focus AND play into the rule of thirds. The photographer has also made good use of negative space, ensuring that the viewer is drawn to the subject and not distracted by the background.
Lighting is essential to any underwater image. Without light, your pictures will appear very blue to blue-green. There are two types of light, ambient light (or natural light) which usually comes from the sun, and artificial light which comes from your strobes or flash. In very shallow water, ambient light can be useful but as we go deeper the level of available ambient light decreases and we need to rely on artificial light. The lionfish image above uses the ambient sunlight to create a sunburst in the background. Without the addition of artificial light though, the side of the lionfish in front of the camera would be black and we would only see a silhouette. The strobe light (artificial light) has illuminated the lionfish so it’s details and colour are visible. Usually, a combination of artificial and ambient light will give the best effect.
Are you ready to try your hand at some underwater photography? Did you know that all Two Fish Diver’s Dive Centres and Resorts have facilities for underwater photographers? All Two Fish Divers boats carry freshwater rinse and cooling buckets, our guides are trained in handling cameras, our rooms have plenty of plug sockets and desks which are perfect for image editing AND there is nothing our team enjoys more than taking a look at your images of the day!
Have you heard of the Lembeh Strait in Indonesia? The Lembeh Strait is in North Sulawesi and is a world-famous mecca for underwater macro photographers. The sheer abundance of unusual marine life makes it a photographer’s paradise! Two Fish Divers Resort in Lembeh offers guided fun dives and PADI Courses in this phenomenal area. Why not combine your photography trip to Lembeh with a stay at Two Fish Bunaken – it’s just a short transfer away and you’ll be diving the world-class dive sites of the Bunaken Marine Park!
Want to photograph critters and enjoy muck diving in two world-class locations? Try combining Two Fish Lembeh with Two Fish Amed in Bali! Amed and Lembeh are two of Indonesia’s most iconic muck diving regions!
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