|Sometimes, quite unintentionally, you take a picture under water which, for some reason or other, does not come out as expected, but nevertheless has a pleasing effect on the eye. It may be that it is too dark, too bright, blurred, misframed or has some other quality or distinction which somehow separates it from normality. You have just taken your first underwater abstract photograph - or have you|
The simplest definition of abstract is to separate, or take away. If a photograph is intentionally blurred or in silhouette, it is abstract, as varying degrees of detail line and form have been removed. A monochrome photograph is abstract because it leaves out an important visual element, colour.
A common misconception about colour photography is that it is an exact reproduction of an image. Because the photographic process involves slight distortion, colours of the final result are hardly ever the same as those seen by the photographer at the moment of exposure.
This difference, and differences in the colour emulsions and dyes used by film manufacturers, doesnt necessarily matter, because colours change anyway according to the light and their proximity to one another. But this is why even straight colour photographs are abstract, albeit to a minor degree.
At the end of the day, whether a monochrome or colour image is abstract or not is a matter of extent and opinion. The point is that to be considered abstract, an image must differ sufficiently from the norm to draw attention and provide visual appeal.
Compared with land-based photography, long-established with its picture libraries, books and periodicals depicting a wide range of styles, techniques and subject matters, underwater photography is still in its infancy.
The few abstract underwater pictures that appear in the diving media tend to be predominantly macro, or close-up images of coral or marine life, and always in colour.
Black and white, free from the realism of colour and with its long association with photographic art and the pure craft of photography, could be the obvious abstract choice. Much depends on your preferences and how your ideas are created and developed.
How we make photographs is guided by the kind of people we are. Our ideas are influenced by our parents, childhood, friends, genetic factors, lifestyle and personal experiences. Whether we choose to translate those ideas in black and white or colour is a personal choice - the main thing is to have an open mind.
Many photographers repeat a single idea over and over until it becomes a rigid formula. Too often, over-influenced underwater photographers are afraid to experiment. I see so many photographs in books and magazines which I appreciate as brilliant and beautiful, while aware that I have seen a lot of it before.
On a Red Sea liveaboard I mentioned in passing to the divemaster, a well-known underwater photographer himself, that I would be loading up with black and white film, as I wanted to capture certain aspects of a particular wreck using this medium.
He muttered: Whatever for and went off, shaking his head.
To this day, I have yet to see another black and white picture of the Thistlegorm, and considering the hundreds of thousands of colour prints and slides that exist of what is perhaps the worlds most popular wreck, it seems sad that in some quarters there is an unwillingness to accept an alternative viewpoint.
Macro photography can be a very effective route to abstraction. Close-ups allow you to find pictures within pictures. By going right into the heart of, say, a delicate soft coral, the result can have an almost artificial form and delicacy of texture, developing hues reminiscent of subtle hand colouring.
The diversity of life found beneath the seas offers countless opportunities for this type of abstract photography and it is easy to understand why most underwater photographers tend to favour this option.
However, silhouettes, part-images, blurring, isolation, creative lighting, the use of ultra-wide lenses, shooting from odd angles or capturing the strange contortions performed by marine life are just a few easy possible ways in which a picture can be made different.
And there are other approaches involving computer-imaging techniques and those associated with the chemistry of developing and printing film, although these are often better suited to the specialist photographer than the generalist.
Abstract has been done before, but with more and more divers taking cameras under water these days it offers an alternative form of self-expression.
To those willing to experiment, it offers the opportunity of creating an image which is unique and - dare I say it - even artistic.