The adjustment required isn’t a big one, but for me at least it demands a conscious change of mindset.
These reefs are packed with excellent subjects for close-focus wide-angle, but we have to resist and instead look for bigger scenes where there are several subjects (fans, corals etc) that work together. The next step is to inject the energy of life into our scenic shots, making fish, not corals, the top priority in our scenic compositions.
There are two types of fish that I try to incorporate: the foreground hero fish and background schools.
A hero fish is any medium-to-large reef fish that we can incorporate in the foreground of a scenic shot to provide a focal point for the picture.
In Misool there are many options, but I regularly use angelfish, pufferfish and coral grouper in this role, because they tend to hang around the most attractive scenery.
Ideally, we don’t want our hero fish right in the middle of the frame. They are best placed off-centre and facing into the composition.
I seriously doubt that a hero fish has ever posed for a photographer in exactly the right place, just as they have perfected their composition and lighting. Instead, they’re normally there when we arrive and move away just before we press the shutter!
This means it is important to arrive with settings ready, as often our first shot of the scene will have the best-positioned hero fish.
Similarly, even in the rich reefs of Raja Ampat you can’t rely on schooling fish conveniently swimming into your backgrounds on cue, although it will happen.