Things are Looking Up

For all the years that we’ve been taking underwater photographs, one of the key pieces of compositional advice you’ll regularly hear is to shoot upwards.

And I would like to share with you what exactly this means and some examples of.

Shooting towards the surface, can mean anything from a few degrees from the horizontal all the way up to shooting vertically straight upwards.

 

 

 

Shooting up towards the surface may even be only by a few degrees, and may well stretch your diving skills to get into a good position to frame your pictures.

Shooting up towards the surface may even be only by a few degrees, and may well stretch your diving skills to get into a good position to frame your pictures. My missus Shelly here could have laid on the sand to get this shot, but there was quite a few partner Gobies and Shrimp living in the surrounding area, and a misplaced fin movement could have wrecked all their hard work.

 

 

You will often need to get down low to frame your foreground subject whilst shooting upwards as seen above, this will mean that you will need to watch out where your fins are, and if necessary bend into a position keeping you away from the reef or the sand. It’s usually possible but you’ll just have to work at it sometimes.

If your buoyancy and dive skills aren’t quite up to the task then you can always shoot from the hip, this is a valuable technique for anyone to use and allows you to place the camera into situations that may be difficult to get yourself into. With all the modern cameras with live view LCD screens its much easier to frame at arms length and takes a bit of the guesswork out of shooting from the hip I did a blogpost about Working the Shot where the last shot I used was a prime example of shooting from the hip. Click here

 

Shooting upwards gives us two key advantages, the first being it places our subject at a more dramatic angle, which gives more compositional weight to your pictures. Below is an example where I’ve tried to shoot upwards placing our subject within the context of the scene itself. I’ve “shot from the hip” to angle the camera upwards, framing was relatively easy with my fisheye lens, in the shallow waters at Gubal Island where the Barge is situated.This has allowed me to include my buddy and also the bow of the boat moored directly above us.
The last blog I did was about the Barge dive site itself and why us underwater photographers love it so much.Click here to see it

 

 

This Moray was down on the bottom of the sand so the only way I could shoot upwards was to place the camera at its level and tilt upwards, this was a whole lot easier, shooting from the hip, and tilting a few degrees upwards.

This Moray was down on the bottom of the sand so the only way I could shoot upwards was to place the camera at its level and tilt upwards, this was a whole lot easier, shooting from the hip, and tilting a few degrees upwards.

 

 

The second key advantage to shooting upwards is to position the subject against a nice uncluttered and usually blue (or green) background. This allows us to single out our subject and see it more clearly.
If you constantly point the camera downwards then your subject matter will often be lost against the background of the coral reef, or sand.
In fact many creatures rely on just that fact to camouflage  themselves from predators or to lurk in wait for prey.

 

 

If I hadn't pointed slightly upwards here the sandy patterns of this Crocodile Fish at the Barge would have been lost against the similar coloured rusty plate its laying on. By tilting up Ive been able to include the wreck itself and blue background making it a more interesting shot.

If I hadn’t pointed slightly upwards here the sandy patterns of this Crocodile Fish at the Barge would have been lost against the similar coloured rusty plate its laying on. By tilting up slightly I’ve been able to include the wreck itself and blue background making it a more interesting shot, and it’s still easy to see what the main subject is.

 

 

Of course your intended composition may mean that you point completely vertically, rather than just a few degrees, and with the next shot I’ve done just that. This is because when I was playing around trying to get a good angle on the juxtaposition of soft and hard corals here, I realised that both subjects were getting lost on the reef wall, as they were on a slight overhang. So the best solution was to hold the camera directly underneath, this of course meant that I had to shoot from the hip, but not because of the reasons outlined earlier, I could have easily got underneath the camera. No, it was a far more practical issue, it was because my exhaled bubbles would have gone all over the camera and the scene itself, and dislodge bits of sand and stones, which would have rained down on top of me to boot.
The resulting composition though is one that could never have easily been achieved without thinking outside the box a little.

 

 

 

Here I liked the beautiful soft coral, alongside the hard coral, the semi circlular shape against the more chaotic shape of the soft coral. It only works though in my opinion if there is some blue to balance things out along the top half of the frame, impossible without pointing directly vertically as in this case.

Here I liked the beautiful soft coral, alongside the hard coral, the semi circlular shape against the more chaotic shape of the soft coral. It only works though in my opinion if there is some blue to balance things out along the top half of the frame, impossible without pointing directly vertically as in this case.

 

 

 

In the next picture I was presented with some technical challenges, quite easily overcome if worked through methodically though. I knew at the time that I wanted a shot of a diver beneath the boat, so Gordon Reef where we were moored shallow, for our “Dappled Light”
dive at the end of a busy photo week.
I needed the boat to be illuminated by the quickly setting sun, and thought of the shot, before we had got in.
The overall ambient light was quite dim, so I needed to juggle around my ISO,aperture, shutter speed and strobe settings to suit.
I removed the sensor covers from Shelly’s strobes, so that they would fire in synchronisation with mine, and took a few shots tweaking my settings to suit. If you’d like to understand flash exposure with ambient light control please click here where I go into more specific detail about how to do this.
I needed to shoot up at an angle where I could see most of the boat above being lit up by the sun. Which is the main reason I shot like this as it puts the underwater photographer into some sort of context as my main subject matter.

 

 

Here Ive tried to capture the low light of a dusk dive, balancing my camera and strobe settings so that you can see the diver quite clearly, but also see the boat above. You may have even been able to see the name of the boat if the surface had been flat calm and free of ripples. I will just have to try again, next time!

Here I’ve tried to capture the low light of a dusk dive, balancing my camera and strobe settings so that you can see the diver quite clearly, but also see the boat above. You may have even been able to see the name of the boat if the surface had been flat calm and free of ripples. I will just have to try again, next time!

 

 

 

Close Focus Wide Angle, or CFWA is a technique used to show smaller subjects within their immediate surroundings, unlike traditional macro and close up photography, which tends to exclude everything except the subject, this technique which requires you to get very very close, in this case this Damsel Fish only a couple of inches long, is pretty much touching the front of my mini dome port. I’ve tilted upwards so that you can see our boat above on the surface, but you can also see the wreckage and immediate surroundings. There was a lot of luck in shooting this and I had to persevere for quite a while to get this angle. As I wanted at least some of the fish framed against the blue so tilting up was vital.
I then prefocused my camera, as autofocus kept focusing behind. And even with a fisheye lens at a smallish aperture, there was no guarantee I would get the eyes in focus as this fish darted about erratically.

 

 

 

This little Damsel Fish shot very close, around an inch away, but with my fisheye lens, is guarding its eggs. This type of photography is called Close Focus Wide Angle or CFWA for short.

This little Damsel Fish shot very close, around an inch away, but with my fisheye lens, is guarding its eggs. This type of photography is called Close Focus Wide Angle or CFWA for short.

 

 

The previous shot was planned and took some time to execute but the last shot in this blogpost, was very much grabbed on the fly, as this turtle finned past me, I could have shot downwards, but that wouldn’t have been the best composition, so finning alongside and slightly underneath I got off a couple of shots with the divers going up towards the surface making the background.

 

 

I've naturally shot upwards for this shot of a turtle, with the divers framing it. It's also worth waiting for its fins to be in the most aesthetic position before you squeeze the shutter release.

I’ve naturally shot upwards for this shot of a turtle, with the divers framing it. It’s also worth waiting for its fins to be in the most aesthetic position before you squeeze the shutter release.

 

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blogpost,and if you’d like to join me on a photo trip sometime then please check out my trips page. Click here.

If you’d like to read more blogs on underwater photography, then please check out my regularly updated blogpage . Click here

*STOP PRESS* Starting this year we are rolling out a great new itinerary called Red Sea Relaxed perfect for photographers or anyone who likes a slower paced dive trip. Check it out in more detail and click here.

Regards

Duxy