Taking Interactive Photos- When Divers Meet Aquatic Life
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Taking Interactive Photos- When Divers Meet Aquatic Life
Taking great interactive photographs is a special challenge. You have the task of working with both a model and an underwater creature. Sometimes neither one is willing to pose for that perfect image. Although, through the use of hand signals, it is relatively easy to communicate with models to place them where you want them, the animals are not as cooperative. With the right recipe of skill doused along with healthy portion of luck, anyone can achieve dramatic results.
The first tip is the most obvious. Take lots of pictures. Even the most respected underwater photographers throw away more than two-thirds of the pictures they take. For those that shoot digitally, their thumbs can get sore from hitting the dump button of their cameras after a dive. For those of us that still prefer to shoot "old school", a trash can is never far away. When I get my pictures back, I create three piles: keeper, needs a second look and discard. The discard pile is a trash can. Although there is something to be said about being in the right place at the right time, you have to play the odds and go where the animals are routinely found to have your best chances for photographing them. For example, most of the eye-catching shark pictures you see were taken at locations where shark feeding dives regularly take place. This is because most sharks are skittish. Even though they will investigate divers in the water, they rarely come in close enough to fill the frame.
Even at feeding dives, unless you've made prior arrangements with management, it is unlikely that you will get close enough to the feeder to use an ultra-wide angle lens. The sharks are reluctant to come in really close to anyone but the feeder. I prefer using a lens at 20mm to 28mm on these dives because sharks fill the frame better at 4-6 feet away from me. Also, this cuts down on the number of snappers, grunts, chubs and grouper that like to enter the frame just as you're taking the picture.
Things happen at these feedings very quickly. When you first arrive on the bottom, take a reading from your light meter, make your adjustments, put it away and shoot accordingly. You aren't going to have the time to constantly check it. In this situation, there is nothing wrong with setting your camera to its automatic mode. Most beginner-intermediate photographers are doing this anyway. Also, with all the fish and diver activity concentrated in such a small area, you will notice that visibility drops as the bottom temporarily gets stirred up. Be sure to position your strobe as far from your lens as possible, and fire it at an angle. This will cut down dramatically on the back scatter and your pictures won't look like the dive took place in a snow storm.
Feeding sites can be outstanding locations on their own. Sharks, eels, sting rays, grouper and angelfish tend to be more willing participants at these locations. The sea life is much more familiar with divers. They seem to not only know that bubble-blowing aliens pose no real threat, but if they hang around, they may get a delicious treat. In fact, although I usually encourage photographers to enter into the water ahead of a group of divers, well visited sites as a whole tend to increase the odds of taking a dramatic interactive photo. Ask your local dive shop or charter operator about locations that have a pet moray eel, grouper or nurse shark. Most know "just the place". Always remember, even though these specific creatures may appear tame, they are indeed wild animals, and can deliver a nasty bite if molested. Model placement is very important. You should always have your models facing the camera, but never looking directly at it. Unless you are shooting macro, your photos should have a majority of their face in the frame. This way, you increase the drama by showing viewers facial expressions. Your model should be looking directly or indirectly at the animal featured in the photo. This will draw the eyes of the viewer to the animal as well. Although a little more difficult to achieve, photos where the animal and diver appear to be swimming together toward you can be dramatic.
Don't be afraid to put your model to work. For example, try having your model circle around behind your subject, then swim toward you. If you can sit patiently, the subject, more often than not, will swim right past you. You'll find it a real advantage to always work with the same models. What a great way to include a significant-other in your diving adventures! Be sure, especially when working with someone new, that you are patient and your signals are precise. Also, provide some type of positive feedback after good shots. I usually clap my hands. These tips will save wasted film or disk space on shots where the model is giving you the finger before swimming away.
It is important to get both you and your model extremely close to the underwater creatures you are photographing. This will allow for the best color saturation. You need to be within six feet of where the action is taking place; any farther and the reds to disappear. Think of where your light source is. Knowing that reds disappear at 13 feet, the light needs to travel six feet from your strobe, then six feet back to the camera. Wide angle at close range will result in better, more colorful photographs. You can get away with shooting at 28mm when dealing with angelfish, snapper and some eel shots, but if you want a shot that includes both the model and a large animal like a shark or sea turtle, you'll need to use a wider lens, 15mm to 20mm should work out well.
One of the most common mistakes I see novice make is chasing after a fish. In the ocean, big fish eat little fish. As a fully suited diver, the average male is seven feet long, with the girth of an animal over 400 pounds. That's a pretty big fish! To a smaller animal, this is threatening enough, but then to have this large, noisy, bubble-blowing creature chasing after it. All your going to get is pictures of fish's tails. Be patient and make your movements slow and deliberate. Once a grouper, sea turtle or shark realizes you're not going to try to eat it, they often get curious, and will swim to you in order to check you out.
Another common mistake I see is divers shooting down at their subjects. Like in most underwater photography, you want to position yourself lower than your subjects so that you are shooting slightly upwards. These shots are much more interesting. If this isn't possible, at least shoot at either the subject's, or model's eye level. Finally, you should avoid any shot considered politically incorrect. If people see photos of divers "riding" a sea turtle or manta ray, they may be inclined to think such activities are OK. As divers, we know that we could injure the animal or ourselves pulling such irresponsible stunts. Or worse, think they could ride a sting ray because it looks similar to something they saw pictures of being ridden. This could have a harmful, or even fatal outcome.
In summary, go to places where the sea life is used to interacting with divers. Be patient and move slowly. Take LOTS of pictures and most importantly, have fun. With a little luck, you can be showing off dramatic pictures of sharks, rays, eels, goliath groupers and sea turtles in no time.
As seen in Scuba Sport Magazine
Scuba Sport Magazine is a bi-monthly magazine that caters to the recreational diver. The magazine is written in a loose, conversational style. In additional to covering diving news, destinations, liveaboards, equipment, photo tutorials by industry experts and topical issues, the magazine also features activities that keep non-divers engaged while you're out blowing bubbles. The magazine is published in both digital and print formats. To subscribe, please visit their website at www.scubasportmag.com.