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Pixel-peeper gets life in perspective

Dogfish with personality (Ross Mclaren)
Dogfish with personality (Ross Mclaren)

Diver ROSS MCLAREN enjoys photographing the marine life of his native Scotland, but for a long time he was dissatisfied with the results. Then a word from his dive-buddy led him to take a deeper look at his subjects

Social media is a fantastic source of inspiration for me. Being able to scroll through and see so many incredible photographs, especially from here in Scotland, is a huge driver in pushing me to progress my own photography

Photographers like James Lynott, Alasdair O’Dell, Mark Kirkland and so many more have had a massive influence on my own work over the years. Their images and many others have shaped my journey… and caused a massive dent in my bank account, too.  

However, there has also been a slight downside. I’m often my own biggest critic. I’m so guilty of “pixel peeping”, basically zooming into my own photos to check whether everything is in focus, sharp and without too much graininess.

That’s something I doubt many others would do to the same extent, but I have become adept at spotting flaws few others would probably notice. 

Pixel-peepers: Crab with anemone (Ross Mclaren)
Crab with anemone
Crabs with friends (Ros Mclaren)
Rakish headgear does make a difference

Quick to compare

I often look deeply at my own shots and then at other photographers’ work, and get down to thinking that in comparison mine simply aren’t as good. 

Recently I was having a wee clear-out of my hard drive and came across some of my old “proper” photos, taken with my first “proper” camera, and started to compare myself again – not to another photographer, but this time to myself. 

Once I had started to think about it this way, I realised that although I still have a lot to learn, and have yet to take that “perfect” photo, I have come a long way over the past five years.  

I have also realised that it’s not about the camera (though I do like shiny new toys!) so much as the photographer. When I first moved away from my GoPro the physical quality of the photos improved. They were sharper, clearer and less grainy.

At the same time, however, the actual “quality” of the photo, the impact it had when I looked at it, the wow factor, hadn’t really got better. I couldn’t quite work out why until Lauren, my long-suffering dive-buddy, pointed out that I was actually taking the photos “wrong”.  

It wasn’t about the camera, it wasn’t even about the subject, necessarily. It was about the “perspective”, the angle from which I was shooting the animal (it’s mainly marine-life images that interest me). 

Looking down on dogfish

Even the most common everyday creature can look more interesting if viewed from the right angle. For instance, early on I was so focused on getting an entire dogfish in the shot that I was taking the photo from above, looking down on it.

A dogfish from above (Ross Mclaren)
A dogfish from above

And, although this approach gave the viewer an idea of the size and even the impressive markings of the fish, it didn’t invoke any real reaction. Getting the right angle really changes your perspective. 

When Lauren suggested that I get “on the level” of the animal and shoot its face, at first this created its own issues. Even now my buoyancy isn’t perfect, but those first few dives were… cloudy. 

After a bit of practice, however, it started to pay off. When I compared the newer images to the previous ones I could see that it really wasn’t about the camera so much as the perspective. 

Moving the camera down onto the seabed or angling it ever so slightly gave the animals a sense of character. When I take a photo of a dogfish now, I rarely get the whole body in the shot, or in focus anyway, but I always try to get the face and the eyes.

These impart that sense of personality, and at times it can even look as if the fish is “smiling”, or giving me a suspicious sideways glance. 

Gurnard (Ross Mclaren)
Catching a gurnard's eye

I started to look at the critters and almost assign them human characteristics. It’s not the first time I’ve taken a photo and in my head imagined the crab giving me a torrent of abuse for shining my massive lights in its eyes. Funnily enough, Lauren does that sometimes as well. 

Whether it’s the physical angle of the shot, or comparing my images to those of others or myself, at the end of the day it’s all a matter of perspective. 

Diving

ROSS MCLAREN dives mainly at the many sites within easy reach of Glasgow. Also by Ross on Divernet: Big bad wolfie dives!, Why cameras don’t turn divers into vandals!, Nervous journey from auto to manual, Diving with a new babyThe long game and  Scottish star turns

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