Squirrelfish

Underwater photography should be considered as a creative process, not just an exercise in fish identification. With this in mind, I decided to try and gain greater recognition for my work in this field.
The Royal Photographic Society (RPS) encourages improvement in all types of photography. It offers a nature category for submissions and there are three levels to aim for: licentiateship, associateship and fellowship. If successful, paid-up members are allowed the prestige of putting letters after their name!
Each level requires a submission of images that can stand alone as stunning shots but also fit within a chosen theme. The so-called panel of images sent in has almost to tell a story, the theme and direction of which is decided by the photographer. The choice of shots, and whether they are transparencies or prints, is up to you.
The societys experienced and impartial judges give no credit for the amount of time it took to get the shot (I waited ages for that fish to do that!), the amount of money spent on equipment (This housing is bound to give me the best shots!) or the degree of endurance involved (Snapped this fish face in a five knot current while tumbling across the seabed!).
I decided to reflect my passion for macro photography in my selection of images. However, choosing photographs that seemed to flow through a natural progression took considerable deliberation.
Macro photography at its best gives me the ability to bring out the character of the underwater creatures I encounter, and I tried to show this in the first few images of my panel. The placid expressions of the rockhind, red-lipped blenny and squirrelfish could have come across as samey, so to liven things up I placed the goldentail moray next to a timid secretary blenny.
Red-lipped To show the incredible textures and minute detail macro photography can expose, I chose the bright red flaming scallop. The soft movement of the banded tube anemone seemed to follow the tentacles of the flaming scallop, and the anemone link continues into the next images.
Colour and fine detail are important to keep the momentum going through the panel, and my two cleaner shrimp shots and the brittlestar delivered what I needed.
I tried to show the subjects in proportion within the scene, while at the same time using negative space to create impact and contrast to the bright colours. I included a lot of strong colours in my panel and varied the position of the subject within the frame.
Red provides a strong background for the delicate hues of my lettuce sea slug, placed next to the balloonfish eye, which by contrast features spikes and earthy tones.
To bring the panel to a close, I returned to my original fish faces, using expressive, colourful shots. After delving to the extremes of macro photography (in terms of magnification), I tried to give a sense of pulling back from the creatures - the end of a brief journey into their secret underwater worlds.
Flaming My best critic, my wife Alison, was crucial in fine tuning the presentation. I laid out the images for several days and kept returning to them, replacing some and adjusting their position within the panel.
Eventually, I felt it represented a good demonstration of the capabilities of macro photography and at the same time showed my skill in selecting high-quality images.
If youre a keen underwater photographer, why not consider submitting your images to the Royal Photographic Society Its worth the effort and will give your photography a bit more direction than perhaps it already has.
  • Royal Photographic Society, Milsom Street, Bath BA1 1DN Tel: 01225 462841. David Cubbin offers personalised underwater photography tuition in this country and in the Caribbean. Tel: 0161 285 5389 Fax: 0161 285 3278 E-mail: cubster@mcmail.com

    Technique
    • Film: In macro photography I largely depend on my flashguns for light, so I can use a slower film to register the detail and colours. I find Fuji Velvia (40-50 ASA) or Provia/Astia (100 ASA) return good colour saturation for slides.
    • Camera equipment: I have used both the Nikonos system with extension tubes and framers, and a housed Nikon F4 SLR. The Nikonos is compact and easier to handle getting into and out of the water, but the ability to see what you are shooting with a housed SLR makes a big difference.
    • Flash: I like the small Ikelite MV flashguns because of their size. I have them mounted on flexi-arms to give me an infinite choice of positions. For night diving, I use gaffer tape to strap Q40 flashlights to the side of each. They serve as excellent modelling lamps.