Scaling the depths
An exaggerated sense of scale is the stock in trade of the underwater photographer. We tend to favour using very wide angle lenses when we are shooting underwater and the natural consequence of this is that we end up with an enhanced sense of perspective and depth, and i’m not talking about our depth underwater but the sense of three dimensional depth from front to back in our shots.
Getting to grips with the wonder of it all
This is one of the first things that newcomers to underwater photography struggle with.
What they can see and are experiencing and feeling is often at odds to the results that they are seeing on their cameras LCD screen or upon reviewing their pictures on a computer.
Success starts to come when they start thinking, framing and shooting their images with the experience of exactly how the camera sees things compared to how they are seeing things in real life and not as a result of looking through the viewfinder or at the screen.
I mentioned the word feeling earlier, because in my opinion, when we are taking pictures underwater we are trying to convey to the viewer what the experience was like, which is a very human thing, and we are trying to display this with a method that is bound up in technicality, even with modern point and shoot cameras people will still ask me questions where they are expecting answers that are based upon them pressing some button or accessing some mode or another.
So we need a way to translate our experience into the cold technicality of the picture taking process.
This is why reefscape and wide angle underwater photographs often look quite similar. with a splash of colour in the foreground and then the shot recedes into the distance, with a diver or divers quite small in the background of the shot. As underwater photographers we are bound by the limits of local visibility and thus we nearly always use very wide angle lenses when shooting underwater.
This type of shot gives the viewer a sense of scale. And it becomes a
bit of a con too, but one which we don’t mind propagating, because the equipment that we are forced to use tends to exaggerate this sense of scale and forced perspective. Superwide angle lenses exaggerate perspective.
So if we know this we can use it to our advantage, think about the scene you are wanting to shoot, and then instead of trying to capture it exactly as you are seeing and feeling. which will probably be difficult because your very wide angle lens wont be showing the same image you’re experiencing unaided. After a while of shooting like this though you will find composing with this extreme angle of view becomes easier and you will become more attuned as to what subjects work best.
Find the main point of interest in your scene and place this in the foreground, you will no doubt have to get very close to it, closer than you think if you’re using a fisheye lens.
Then get you’re lighting correct and if you want any hints about doing this i’ve done previous blogposts covering lighting and strobe positioning . Get your background exposure correct first so it is giving you the correct darkness or shade of blue that you prefer. I prefer darker most of the time as this also heightens contrast in a scene.
Of course you could make your life a bit easier to start with and just shoot available light.
You still need to think carefully about your foreground, and put something prominent there to lead the viewers eye in,and these type of shots work well when you’re quite shallow in the first 10m or so.
I then find a diver to place in the scene usually quite small and just in the background, you can always plan this with your buddy, or what I do is just get ahead of a group of people shallower than me, set up my shot and was it for them to happen into the frame, this tends to look more natural than a posed shot of a friend.
And thats it really, on most wide angle dives there will be ample opportunity to do this.
So give it a try next time your in the water and struggling to get some scale and perspective in your wide-angle shots.
Check out the links
The scale conveyed in these shots happens when you put someone in them, another diver or someone on the surface, this allows the viewer, any viewer, not just another diver, to get a feeling of themselves being there. And importantly a sense of scale to what we do.
I am conducting regular workshops to the Red Sea and further afield. They’re very popular and we now have similar itineraries for all divers and not just the underwater photographers.
Keep checking back and there will be a new post very soon.