1. Hone your buoyancy skills and choose easy dive sites.
If your main objective for the dive is to take pictures, it's better to stay shallow where you'll have a lot more light. Current makes it more difficult to compose your shot and narcosis is unlikely to boost your sense of creativity! Good buoyancy skills are a must to avoid damaging reefs or hurting yourself on a wreck.
2. During the dive, concentrate on one small section of the site. You’ll see just as much, if not more.
If you try to swim long distances, you will overlook some very interesting smaller subjects. Speak to the dive guides before the dive to let them know you may stop frequently to take pictures. Very often, they'll be able to find subjects for you and may even double-up as models.
3. Take your time. With a bit of patience, shy subjects will often get accustomed to you and let you get close.
Underwater photography is not just about snapping away. It's a great way to observe the marine environment and understand more about animal behaviour. One day, Linda Pitkin & I were photographing a very inquisitive octopus in the Red Sea. We were so intrigued that we just put the cameras down and watched him for half an hour!
4. Get as close to the subject as you can. When you think you’re close enough, get closer.
Now we're getting technical. The water between your camera and your subject acts as a very thick blue filter which absorbs light. Make that filter thinner by moving closer to the subject and you'll be amazed at how much more colourful your pictures turn out to be. Light from a strobe doesn't travel as far underwater as it would on land.
5. If you use an external strobe with a wide-angle lens, move the strobe out so that it doesn't point directly at the subject. This will reduce backscatter.
Imagine the light coming out of your strobe as a cone covering roughly a 90-degree angle. Try to aim the strobe so that the subject is only lit by the edge of the cone. By not illuminating the area immediately in front of your lens you will avoid the distracting shiny particles in the picture.
6. Filters work a treat if the light conditions are right.
Auto Magic Filters are not just a cheaper way to take great pictures with a compact camera down to about 15m. On a bright day, they will bring out the colour of the reef even in the distance. Since you're not using a strobe to light the scene, backscatter won't be a problem. When using filters, try to keep the sunlight behind or beside you rather than in front of you. Shooting down often works well in this case.
7. Animals swimming away and fish tails seldom make interesting subjects. Try to show some eye contact in your images.
This can be tricky if your camera has a long shutter-lag. However compact digital cameras have improved dramatically over the last few years and shutter-lag problem should soon be a thing of the past for most of us. If you're new to underwater photography, it's easier to stick to stationary subjects before moving to free-swimming fish.
8. Avoid placing the main subject in the middle of the frame. Move it slightly towards the side of the image.
Conventional rules of composition often mention the rule of thirds. This means the main focus of the picture should be placed on imaginary lines dividing the image in 3 horizontally or vertically. Using diagonals also works very well.
9. Watch-out for cluttered backgrounds.
If you're positioned above a fish and shooting down onto the reef, the subject will often appear squashed against a messy background. A good way to avoid this is to shoot upwards with strobes and try to position the fish against blue or green water to make it stand-out better.
10. The best images are often the simplest ones.
Don't try to cram too much into a picture. It would distract the viewer. Keep it simple.
and finally... Join BSoUP!
The meetings at Imperial College every third Wednesday of the month are open to all and are a great source of inspiration. For more information, why not check-out www.bsoup.org