I’ve had to learn a number of lessons over the years: from the technical aspects of photography in a medium that’s not entirely friendly to complicated electronics, to the less immediately obvious, such as predicting the behaviour of a school of fish, or judging just when a shark will change direction and disappear into the blue.
Capturing the right shot sometimes comes down to being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing with the camera.
While this might pass for a superficial definition of what makes an adequate photographer, taking a series of usable underwater images requires a little more. I realised that my wildlife and reef shots were fine, but that I needed to put people in the frame.
Commercial underwater photography is a business, after all. Magazines want to shift copies or drive online traffic. Everyone from liveaboard operators to tourist boards want to attract income and might require a suite of images to use on social media, brochures or to accompany press releases. Images likely to get the most use are those that say to the audience: “This could be you!”
It took me some time to learn this lesson. For years I would curse through my regulator (it’s surprisingly easy) at other divers getting in my way. My buddy and I would aim to be the first in the water or even the last, to try to get the reef or shipwreck to ourselves.
I wanted pristine shots of reefscapes, unsullied by other humans, long atmospheric vistas of submerged hulls and quietly rusting deck guns.
I longed for the perfect macro shot with undisturbed sand that wouldn’t leave me with hours of post-processing to remove all the backscatter.
I’d get the high-resolution RAW images, and when I got home spent days correcting colour balances, removing backscatter and tweaking sharpness, only to see the picture appear at one-16th of a page or smaller, used perhaps as part of a series of shots surrounding something the editor judged to be more attention-grabbing.
Photographing people brings a wealth of new challenges. Diving buddies are often, and quite understandably, less than interested in spending their dives as your model. I’m lucky to have a few friends who don’t mind taking a few minutes out of their dive to pose for me.