Practice + Time = Peaceful Perfection

Patience is Virtue

 

 

Taking pictures underwater is equal measure fun and frustration.
So i’m going to share with you a few tips and some example shot’s where my patience has paid off, hopefully to inspire you to persevere and not get too downhearted when things don’t progress quite as quickly as you’d like.

 

You’ve no doubt been on the receiving end of the phrase practice makes perfect ? and felt like giving the person delivering those sage words of advice both barrels as it’s usually being dealt at the exact moment in time when you really don’t need reminding because you already damn well know!

Well anyway they were probably right but the timing was off.
  

I had spent an entire dive fruitlessly trying to find subjects, and then when I did they weren't in the right position, but just before I had to surface I found this Scorpion Fish and I couldn't for the life of me, get a good original framing, so almost as a throwaway I decided to take a selfie, with my arms stretched and just guessing the framing this was my favourite shot of the whole dive. Funny how the universe throws you an odd shaped bone sometimes !

 

Proper planning etc etc……

 

Try and keep these words in mind, but make your life easier by preparing properly beforehand.

What do I mean by this?


Discuss and plan your dive with your buddy beforehand, if you’re both photographers then decide upon some goals, it needn’t be too detailed and will no doubt be informed by the dive site and potential subject matter.

If there’s something that may take a bit of time that is on the cards let them know your intentions.

If you’d like them to model have a series of signals agreed upon that work for you both re positioning and placement in the water, torch on or off, look at the lens, that sort of thing.

 

Above all though underwrite your photo intentions by making sure you’ve got the safety issues boxed off.
 

Particularly if it’s a new or unfamiliar buddy, I’d even go so far as to say if it’s your first time diving together maybe leave the camera behind, so you can get the measure of each other without any added stress.

 

Base your plan on the least experienced and capable of the pair of you, and try and leave ego’s behind.

Factor in things like Nitrox, might sound crazy but i’ve seen pairings where a very selfish diver on Nitrox, has partnered up with a much less experienced buddy on plain old air, and left the novice buddy to clock up many minutes of deco, all I can say to that is see you next Tuesday !

 

Stick to your plan. And have a plan B and a C ready to go if things down below don’t work out for whatever reason.

 

I had explained to my buddy that I wanted to shoot a pair of Whip Gobies, a personal challenge almost tailor made to frustrate. They aren't difficult to find but getting a pair of them in juxtaposition is a lesson in patience. Not just for me, this took over 20mins in situ, but also for my buddy. We were on a photo trip though so time on subject was positively encouraged, no following around a guide like aquatic sheep for us.

 

 

 

 

Positive Mental Attitude

 

You're only taking pictures underwater, if the dive doesn’t deliver up the competition winner you were dreaming of, it really doesn’t matter.

Global warming matters, third world debt matters, but underwater photography is for most of us a hobby that is cool and fun, often spent in beautiful parts of the globe being waited on hand and foot getting pampered, so please don’t sulk and stomp about like a spoilt brat if your other half happened to get the shots and you didn’t.

It never helps and will just make your own life harder to get the results you want, as you’ll be in the wrong frame of mind.

If you are the sort that takes this thing we do super seriously, then maybe get your solo ticket, it’s an absolute boon, will give you skills and confidence, and in those parts of the world that allow it for photographers, it will afford you great freedoms, just remember to make sure you let everyone know that matters, your dive plan.

 

Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and take what comes.

 

This type of Nudibranch, a wonderfully named Wart Slug, was very prolific at the dive site we were at, but despite finding them in abundance, I got super annoyed that a lot of them didn't have their horns aloft. After about 10 mins of inner turmoil and rage, I realised the ridiculousness of the situation and my petty anger.
Here I was in a bath water warm paradise location, getting upset because a sea slug didn't have it's horns out so I could get a photograph, a photograph that's all.
Once i'd put my bottom lip back in and had a laugh at myself, I found this beautifully positioned, horns erect, wart slug that meant I got the shot I wanted, even though I didn't deserve it.

 

 

 

 

Patience Padwan

 

The best shots aren’t necessarily planned beforehand, but there’s usually an element of persistence, particularly where marine life is concerned.

So especially if you’re shooting macro you may have everything else lined up, you’ve got your background exposure sorted, and if you’re using fancy pants kit like snoots, you’ve got your strobe and snoot in zen like alignment, but the damn shrimp, or goby or nudibranch isn’t playing ball and isn’t posing like you’d want.
So what do you do?

 

My buddy Phil has written a couple of articles about getting black backgrounds and snooting. Please check them out.

Black Backgrounds

Getting Snooty


You wait is what you do, you don’t give that Frogfish a little nudge, or let the guide ‘encourage’ the Whip Goby into position, or hound the poor Octopus until everybody in the group get’s exactly the same picture.

What’s the point of that? It stresses the marine life, gives non photo divers a reason to moan about us.  And where is the achievement?

If you’ve got a shot in mind but the creatures aren’t playing ball, waiting is often all it takes, and that might mean 5, 10 or 20 mins or maybe even longer.

 

The big reward of all this though is that whilst you may well get a pay off with the shot you want, the real benefit is watching the natural world play out in front of you live, unedited, and all just for you to witness and appreciate.

 

This was an absolute privilege to watch and enjoy this pair of Octopus on one of my photo trips at the Barge. I spent the bulk of my time underwater following these two around as the male, in the foreground, carefully wooed the smaller female on the right.
I gave them plenty of time to become accustomed to my presence before getting some pictures of their intimate and ultimately tragic act.
Octopus mating is tinged with sadness, as it is the last life event they will both participate in so I guess it has to be worth it. As the female will give her life to her clutch of eggs and the male will die shortly after in most cases :(

 

 

 

Use it or Lose It

 

I encounter lot’s of underwater photographers that only ever take pictures on their dives, but as manual photography is one of those pesky skills we need to learn, and even in these days of incredible automation, there’s still a bit of a learning curve to taking pictures underwater, half the fun in my eyes in all honesty.


So it really pays to keep those skills fresh by shooting on land too.
Take the camera out and about with you, shoot some landscapes, shoot some flower and insect pictures in full manual in your garden.
Use some day time off camera flash for a bit of portraiture, it’s all useful skill building and experiences that can translate to underwater upon your next dive, and you’ll have removed another layer of unnecessary task loading.

Improving your hit rate by leaps and bounds.

 

Taken whilst enjoying my brekkie at the Marina Paraiso Hotel on Isla Mujeres in Mexico. Just taken with my compact camera, and edited in LR and PS after the fact to create the bokeh foreground and background. I also enjoy and take pictures a lot on land, and most types of photography interest me. I find it helps enormously to have kept my skills and understanding of the photographic process fresh, as like most im not underwater as often as I would like.
So practice everywhere it helps a lot.

 

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

It might have annoyed you a bit for me to try and dictate whether or not you should take your underwater photography seriously or not, how dare I eh ?

If you are annoyed, why not take that irritation and be patient and turn it into passion and perfection, it’ll pay off in the end, and please don’t speak that last sentence aloud or you’ll spray your keyboard with spit.

 

Paul Duxfield

 

My final shot of this blog was taken under a jetty in Ambon, Indonesia, and we spent over 90mins in less than 5m of water shooting the variety of creatures there, with the atmospheric background of the jetty legs to place them against.
I took exactly three pictures, well you would think that from the ones that I ended up being happy with. And this was perhaps my favourite as it justified me spending some time making a snoot from a discarded bottle, and it also justified the sheer bloody mindedness I had to have to combine holding my snooted strobe freehand in my left, and the camera rig in my right.
Trying to get a narrow beam of light to only illuminate the Lionfishes head was frustrating but ultimately rewarding. You will get pay offs, but there's no such thing as a free lunch, and even if you do work hard theres no guarantee it will actually pay off.
So try and be mindful that you're only taking pictures at the end of the day !

If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our courses or workshops (dates are on our Events page). Anyone with an interest in photography is welcome to join the Alphamarine Photography Q and A