The usual progression of things in photography is that we are attracted to the subject for a variety of reasons, sometimes just as a record of events, but often we have a need to express ourselves in an artistic and aesthetic fashion. What can be tiresome for some who already have an innate artistic sensibility is that they have to learn the technicalities before they can fully realise their vision. For those that relish the technical challenge though, it can often be the more artistic side that troubles them. And because of this I am going to do a regular slot looking at how we can inject a bit of artistic expression into our pictures. The good news is that art is governed and shaped by various rules that are very easy to learn, and for millennia these rules have been shaped and decided upon by learned folk that have analysed great paintings, sculptures and photographs and come up with the reasons why one picture works and another doesn’t.
Sometimes though it becomes very personal, and you may find yourself loving a photograph for reasons other than the “rules” And this of course is absolutely fine, and its good to remember that once in a while, it’s worth throwing the rule book out of the window, and going with what you feel.
Pattern and Texture
Our first picture I am going to choose for this section is one which I took at a dive site called Jackson Coral Garden in the Straits of Tiran on one of our regular photo workshops. In the summer lot’s of fish start to congregate in larger numbers than you usually see, and in this case it was a school of Trevallies, I had seen them rushing about off the reef but wasn’t prepared for them to whizz past me when they did, so there is a certain amount of luck involved here. Luck because I had been shooting something else on the reef at the time and turned and seen these guys about a second or two before I took the shot. I had no chance to check my camera and strobe settings, and it really was just luck that the camera was set up fortuitously. All I could think of was I wanted to portray a wall of fish, so I waited for them to reach the correct spot to give this symmetrical effect and snapped off a shot. For me what makes this work is the uniform pattern formed by the Trevallies, each individual fish looking like a scale or a tile making up the picture. This sort of repetitive pattern resonates with us visually in the same way that a repetitive beat resonates with us aurally, and is one of the most basic visual rules we learn from an early age, drawing and repeating the same thing until we have something that makes a picture. Try it yourself with close ups of corals, or if you encounter a bait ball of small fish frame tighter than normal so that your viewfinder is filled with the pattern of silver shards across the whole picture.
So that’s our first lesson in composition, and it’s a really simple one to try, in fact composition is something which you don’t even need to get wet for or have a sophisticated camera at all, in fact sometimes it’s better if you don’t have choices of lens or zooms and strobes etc, this way you are forced into only making compositional decisions to make or break your pictures. You probably have just such a simple picture device with you all the time too, and I’m talking about your phone. So practice wherever and whenever you can, and go out and look for some patterns and textures, this will really help and inspire you for the next time you are shooting underwater.