Good composition is a very important aspect of underwater photography and videography, but once you have the basics down, where do you go from there?
There are a few different techniques you can try to give your underwater pictures a more dramatic or professional feel and to move your photography into using more advanced composition techniques.
The Rule of Thirds
The ‘Rule of Thirds’ is a concept in composition that dates back to 300BC and has been used in art for centuries.
The ‘Rule of Thirds’ has been proven to work and learning this rule will change the way you look at each image you compose, whilst helping you to create pleasing, well balanced images. Your images are likely to become more compelling to look at and go further in captivating your audience than just being easy on the eye.
The Rule of Thirds states that you should break your frame into nine equal parts using two vertical lines and two horizontal lines.
Where these lines meet and the lines themselves are the optimum points for placing the main feature of your picture. Placement of eyes themselves draw people in and can prove to be a naturally compelling aspect of an image; capturing the subject’s emotion and feeling. So, in composing a portrait shot, try to place your subject’s eye on or near one of the line intersections. If your picture has more than one element, then the subject which you want the viewer to concentrate on should follow one of these lines or intersections.
Some digital cameras allow you to have the grid on your LCD screen, a very handy tool for when you start out practicing with the Rule of Thirds. Once you get used to it, you will probably find if you switch the grid off you will naturally follow the rule in your pictures.
Using Lines and Diagonals to Add Interest and Direction
The use of lines in your pictures can be very powerful tool in creating strong composition in your underwater images.
Horizontal, diagonal and vertical lines can set the mood of the image and can lead the viewer into the picture. Different lines have different impacts and you can look for lines in every picture you take.
For example, using a diagonal line to place your subject can give very dynamic results to your pictures and make them more interesting.
Using the line of a subject is a composition technique that works very well with long, thin subjects such as Pipefish, Flutemouths, Trumpet fish etc, but it can be a fairly tricky technique to master and does take a bit of practice.
You can get really great results by trying to fit the whole subject in the the frame, putting the nose and tail at opposite corners, and using different depths of field for different effects.
Or you can concentrate on cropping specific parts of you subject into your frame and using this element of the fish (such as its snout) to allow lines to become a prominent part of your image’s composition.
Using Close-Focus, Wide-Angle Shots to Assist your Composition
Close-Focus, Wide-Angle underwater photography composition techniques can produce stunning images but can be hard to master at the beginning.
These types of shots require a distinct foreground subject, proper lighting, proper depth of field and are best achieved with your underwater camera system set in manual mode.
The ideal way to take this type of shot is to get very close to your foreground subject, so that it becomes the main focus of your photo, and takes up most of the frame. Light it using your strobe. Then adjust your camera’s shutter speed to balance the lighting in the background of the composition.
It usually helps to get down low and shoot up towards a bright, uncluttered background. However, adding a school of fish or a diver to the background will give particular impact to your image and can produce the ‘wow’ factor that transforms a good photo into a truly well composed shot.
Always ensure your foreground subject is in focus and properly exposed as this is the part of the picture the viewer will usually concentrate on.
Using Reflections in Underwater Photography
Underwater Reflections can be captivating and mesmerizing, and are best captured when the surface of the water is flat and calm and when there is little or no wind.
To achieve this type of shot, your subject needs to be close to the surface and the angle you select to photograph your subject from is very important.
You need position yourself and your camera lens so that it is at a maximum of 45 degrees from the surface for it to work. For example, if you are positioned below your subject and try to shoot up, from underneath the subject, there will be no reflection. If you move slightly away from you subject, and come up, a little closer to the surface, the reflection will start to appear. You may need to experiment with different positions until you get this just right.
Try to control your bubbles as they will disturb the surface and could ruin the reflection part of your composition. Consider snorkeling instead of using scuba to avoid this issue.
Composing ‘Artistic’ Shots
Shots are often considered to be Artistic when they employ unusual composition techniques or subjects. You can utilise this in your own underwater photography to give a different feel to your pictures.
Highlighting patterns, textures, colours and abstracts can produce really unusual and pleasing results. It may take a while to develop an artistic eye, but a good tip for your next dive, is to take a really close look at some of the corals and photograph them in macro or super macro mode, remembering to completely fill the frame. You may be surprised at the unusual images you create!
Completely Filling the Frame
Composing your underwater image so that you Completely Fill The Frame is quite a common composition technique and can give some dramatic results.
Pick your subject and have arrange your composition so that the subject (or even just a part of the subject) fully fills the frame of your camera.
You don’t have to place the entire subject in the shot, you can concentrate on particular areas such as the head or eyes, as long as your picture frame is completely filled by your subject.
This image of a Cuttlefish focuses on highlighting the dramatic eye of this amazing creature. The diagonal lines of the tentacles add interest, but are not fully within the frame. The image draws you in as your eye imagines as much about what has been left out of the frame, as what can be seen within the image.
If you want to learn more about underwater composition techniques and get some hands on practical training to hone your ideas, why not enroll on one of our Liquid Lense courses. We offer individually tailored courses in underwater photography and underwater videography.
If you have any other enquires or questions, please feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to help you.