There is an imbalance in the force.
Sorry I couldn’t resist making a Star Wars reference.
However I do find that amongst the bestrobed ranks of underwater photographers there is a bit of an imbalance in the types of photography that people prefer to shoot. And I do definitely hear the same thing time and time again out on the photo trips whilst chewing the fat with my growing band of photo buddies. That, “Shock Horror!!” people tend to prefer underwater macro photography to wide angle shooting.
Don’t fear the fisheye..
Now I know there is a significant percentage that do like wide angle shooting, but I hear more often than not,and for similar reasons, why on any given dive, a person will eschew their wide angle lens in favour of their macro set up.
So why is this?
The overwhelming reason I get told is “that if you get in the water with your macro lens then there’s always subject matter, but the same can’t be said for your wide angle or fisheye set up and I’m struggling to find a good composition”
I think this has a grain of truth in it, but sometimes I think people give up too soon, and reward themselves with the gratification of a macro shot, where the hit rate is higher for people getting acceptable shots.
I think that because taking a good macro shot often seems easier this boosts confidence, and so it cements the idea that macro is more rewarding, whilst the reverse can often be true with wide angle shooting, where you get in the water, and cast around for subject matter, get frustrated that it isn’t always there in front of you with the same frequency and feel let down with the whole affair and to add insult to injury you find loads of macro subjects.
Then the whole thing almost becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
Does this feel familiar?
Of course I may be wrong and these might not be the reasons why the numbers seem skewed in favour of macro photography, but I’m not getting much evidence for any other reasons that I can think of.
Go easy on yourself…
My usual advice is to force yourself to only shoot with your wide angle set up is often not heeded as it means that the cycle of immediate reward is broken, and that there is more of an uphill struggle to get the wide angle shots in the bag, so the advice seems flawed.
I can totally understand that with only a limited number of dives available on any given trip that people don’t want to waste time being disappointed so they stay well within their comfort zone of shooting subjects that they know are going to work well.
So in my opinion borne out of seeing this time and time again, people would rather not come out of their macro shaped comfort zone.
So much so that I see folk with awesome macro skills, getting fabulous shots, but next to no wide angle examples in their portfolios.
How do we solve this?
To be honest I’m at a bit of a loss, I know what can work but folk don’t like hearing it, which is to only shoot wide angle until they’ve got it worked out which is more of a bootcamp strategy and I do really want people to enjoy themselves at the end of the day.
So this is my thoughts about other less painful ways to get people shooting more wide angle, if you have any ideas at all then please feed back to me and I will definitely give them a go, I’m not so proud as to think I know it all.
When we shoot with super wide angle and fisheye lenses in underwater photography, we are told early on that the main reason for this is to reduce the water between us and the subject material, so that we get clear sharp pictures, to see a more in depth article I’ve written about this then please click here. We aren’t always told how to compose properly using very wide angle lenses though which I’ve experienced a lot of people having trouble with.
Work that wide angle
My idea is to suggest that people take a more gradual approach to wide angle underwater photography, and don’t try to tackle big scenes to start with.
Maybe have a go at some close focus wide angle instead.
Find larger close up subjects like Lionfish or Morays and get really close filling the frame with them, and learning how to get your lighting correct.
This will get you used to the handling and focus of your wide angle or fisheye lens, and just doing this will make you feel more comfortable. with the extreme angle of view.
Then maybe move onto clownfish in their anemones or soft corals which can also be great subjects for shooting with a fisheye lens close up. When comfortable with these try shooting some shots using your buddy as a model, but place something prominent very close up, to lead the viewers eye into the shot.
What you see is not always what you get
I think that sometimes what’s in your minds eye when experiencing a wonderful scene is often difficult to transfer to image sensor, and what I have learnt is that you need to almost force the perspective and framing of your pictures to allow for this. And rather than the scenes that appear to present themselves to you and that you think are going to work well, you need to learn what is actually going to work when viewed back on your computer screen.
So what you see is not always what you get.
Keep practicing with the foreground close up subjects, giving you confidence to move on to bigger and bolder subject matter.
Close focus fisheye fun
This next shot was just of the turtle on a dusk dive, I’ve also exaggerated its movement by using a slow shutter speed in conjunction with the flash, this has also allowed me to record some detail in the background which would be too dark using conventional methods.
There have been some great shots recently coming from the Bahamas on a shark trip with Alex Mustard posted on our Facebook page, and the participants where able to inject some drama into their shots using this slow speed technique, click the picture to go to another blogpost showing you how you can easily achieve these sorts of shots.
When you’re happier getting close focus wide angle shots like this then maybe move onto bigger foreground subjects . Here below I’ve used a small school of fish swirling around inside the Ghiannis D.
If you’re in a situation that looks like it could make a great shot with a great background, then be patient for all the picture elements to fall into place. Sometimes it pays off, but more often than not it doesn’t. I’m telling you this because if you thought it worked for me every time you’d be sadly mistaken. 😉 I wish.
Lead the eye into the shot
When you get really comfortable with your fisheye lens you’ll become much more confident and want to try and shoot bigger stuff like wrecks, but just start to apply the same principles and put something prominent into the foreground, this will give your viewer something nice and sharp and clear to look at and lead their eyes.
So you can start to see and feel how the shapes and elements go to make up your wide angle shots, you can start to play to their strengths and when you have a lovely wide angle reef scene, you’re doing exactly the same thing but you’re maybe just using a large coral block or a distinctive brain coral in the foreground.
Using a diagonal composition also works wonders with reefscape shots, and be careful to also include some of the surface water to pull everything together and show the viewer exactly how wonderfully dramatic the scene is.
It won’t work all the time so make sure it’s fun
The only way to get really comfortable shooting and using your fisheye and wide angle lenses is to use them more often, so why not give yourself a gentle push and persevere, it won’t always work out well, but its the same old adages, practice makes perfect, or try, try and try again. I promise if you do this you will have more success.
and will be able to master your wide shots as well as your macros.
Check back in soon for another blogpost.