This blogpost is all about pushing yourself to achieve more.
This is part one covering wide angle shooting, with part two on elevating your macro from the mundane to the magnificent coming very soon.

I regularly get asked by our trip goers and in emails and on social media, how to take the next step in underwater photography.
And what I mean by this, is that after awhile of getting consistent correctly exposed, and focussed pictures, resplendent with colour, you maybe want to go to the next level and make your pictures stand out a bit, and take a leap in overall quality.

 

 

Shooting wide angle more often will give you the confidence to shoot wide-angle more often!!

Shooting wide angle more often will give you the confidence to shoot wide-angle more often!!

 

 

However, people are often reluctant to step out of the photographic bubble they are residing within, and don’t want to upset the apple cart. I mean you’re getting pictures that make you feel good, and you remember when you couldn’t get anything consistently right, and good shots came about by accident rather than design.
So now you’re happy to look around the dive and replicate this consistent quality, with the only thing changing being the subject matter.Mmmh? Fine if you are, but a lot of the questions I get indicate otherwise.

So you’ve now getting a slowly expanding portfolio of fish ID shots.
Nothing wrong with that of course, I’m a fish geek myself, and like nothing better than finding a new nudibranch or weird crustacean to record.
These shots though are normally only kept for my own purposes, and other than maybe sharing the odd one on social media, I’m not that interested in them as stand alone pictures in their own right.
So I want pictures that stand out a bit more, so what do I do?

 

 

You could always start by doing a few selfies, I normally pretend that I'm doing this to check out my strobe positioning and exposure, but I'm really just vain ;)

You could always start by doing a few selfies, I normally pretend that I’m doing this to check out my strobe positioning and exposure, but I’m really just vain 😉

 

 

Step away from the macro lens!!

One of the first things you can do is to jolt yourself away from the comforting results that your macro lens and strobes are giving you.
Many many underwater photographers, including me, love macro photography.
For many though it’s because, if they are really honest with themselves, it’s actually relatively easy, (I will look at upping the ante with macro in a little while)and if you are shooting with a high end Mirrorless or DSLR camera then its the most straightforward type of underwater photography there is.

 

 

Whilst I quite like this shot of what looks like a grumpy clown fish, it isn't the most interesting shot I've ever taken

Whilst I quite like this shot of what looks like a grumpy clown fish, it isn’t the most interesting shot I’ve ever taken

 

 

Many photographers I encounter, simply set up their strobes in a standard macro way, select a very small aperture on their camera, and then go subject hunting.
I reiterate there is nothing particularly wrong with this, it’s just if you want to broaden your photographic palette, then you’ll need to work a bit harder.

Be brave, and shoot with that rarely used fisheye lens and dome port you bought.
What happens though is that human nature will take over, and when the wide angle or fisheye shots aren’t as consistent or rewarding, giving you that nice warm fuzzy feeling inside, that your beloved macro lens gives, then you will reach a point on the steep(er) wide angle learning curve, and say “bugger this I’m going back to the macro”
At this point you’ve got to be a little tough with yourself and persevere, even when your feeling a bit demoralised with your wide angle attempts.
It is more difficult shooting wide angle to start with, until you practice and learn it, and then, like most things it becomes much easier.

 

 

Find something that isn't going to move to practice lighting and positioning either using available light or with your strobes.

Find something that isn’t going to move to practice lighting and positioning either using available light or with your strobes.

 

 

The trick is to find a single subject that is relatively inanimate, a piece of stag horn or table coral surrounded on all sides by sand say. And then place it firmly in the foreground of your scene, and get your lighting right.
Move your strobes closer together or further apart dependant on your distance from it, change your background exposure, in short try dozens of ways to shoot the stag horn coral until you have remembered what did what.
Check this out and click here for basic lighting information.
And click here to understand the more advanced strobe positioning and methodology.

If you’d prefer then find something shallow like this table coral above and shoot using available light and custom white balance. Click here for more info on how to do this.

After you feel confident move onto something more animated, like a Scorpion Fish or a Crocodile fish, and try and shoot them in a wide angle scene.
You’re going to have to go slowly and carefully so as not to spook the creature, but thats all part of the fun and learning experience.

 

 

Here I've found a fairly common subject and tried to set off the colouration of it against the background of the reef, and part of the wreck of the Numidia in the background.

Here I’ve found a fairly common subject and tried to set off the colouration of it against the background of the reef, and part of the wreck of the Numidia in the background.

 

 

When you’re really comfortable with the lighting start really planning and going for the more compositional and aesthetic angles. I’d much rather take or see, an exciting shot of a relatively commonplace creature or scene, than a less than inspiring shot of a rare creature or scene.
Be brave and shoot upwards and into the sun, maybe hiding the sun itself behind a part of the shot, and only leaving those impressive beams.

 

 

Here I've tried to position the sun and the divers in such a way that the sun is partially obscured behind the boat, this is what helps to give those lovely sunbeams.

Here I’ve tried to position the sun and the divers in such a way that the sun is partially obscured behind the boat, this is what helps to give those lovely sunbeams.

 

If you don’t have a specific subject use your buddy to liven up the composition, either with them complicit, or just in the background.

 

 

Here shooting down because I was snorkelling has allowed me to include the freediver in the picture too.

Here shooting down because I was snorkelling has allowed me to include the freediver in the picture too.

 

After you’ve got some confidence boosting shots under your belt, then get a little more adventurous and start doing some close focus wide angle shots.

 

Or maybe try some other techniques like shutter dragging, (click here) or give some splits a go. (click here)

None of these techniques are easy first go, and you haven’t seen all the ones I shot that didn’t work out!!

So please don’t give up, and if you practice, you’ll be justly rewarded I promise.

I will be posting part two of this blog very soon, so keep checking back.
I have a regular schedule of trips and workshops all over the world at some of the most photogenic dive locations and if you’d like to join me for some hands on instruction, and have a load of fun too, then check out my trips page here.

Thanks for reading.
Duxy