THE RED SEA, a popular haunt for divers. Thousands descend on its waters each year, most with a compact camera.
After each trip, many divers notice the same trend of disappointing images. That successful photograph still eludes you, and how much are all those bleak images costing you
Always remember, getting a successful marine-life image begins way before you get wet!
When planning your next dive trip, consider your preferences when it comes to subjects.
Find out from the dive centre in the area what type of marine life you can expect to find. If you like nudibranchs, dive an area where nudis are regularly sighted. You wouldnt go to Africa expecting to photograph a tiger!
Also, plan your diving around seasonal patterns to make sure that your quarry is actually available to photograph. Each year in Ras Mohammed sees the mass spawning of bohar snapper, for example. If you want to capture the spectacle, you would need to hit the Red Sea as June turns into July.
One problem with taking underwater images is - divers! Dive groups led by guides fin from A to B, chasing reefs as if chasing holes on a golf course.
If youre really keen on taking a pretty underwater picture, it might help to book yourself onto a dedicated underwater photography safari. These trips are geared towards photographers and led by photographers, so youll all have the same agenda.
This means no chasing of reefs and no pressure from guides. Take as much time as you want to get the photo that pleases you. Just make sure that the safari/workshop is compact-friendly.
If your marine biology is not up to scratch and youre unfamiliar with the sites, have a well-trained eye with you. Locals who dive the area day in, day out can help spot marine life for you, especially small critters such as emperor shrimps, pygmy seahorses and robust ghost pipefish.
After all, you have only an hour or so to get the images, so use a good spotter to save time.
Trying to photograph the porcelain crab that has tucked itself beneath an anemone is a common mistake. Trying to shoot marine life thats hard
to get at will frustrate you, resulting in higher air consumption, a shorter dive time and unsatisfying photography.
Ive witnessed divers guzzling air trying to photograph on a drift dive. Its counter-productive. Imagine topside photographers trying to photograph insects, birds and plants in gale-force winds. Work in favourable conditions and look for creatures that are accessible and easy to compose.
Do you see a subject Or do you see a photograph Wouldnt it be great if we all had an eye for an image Often we simply see a subject, take aim and fire, but this method yields mostly snap-shots.
View as many underwater images as possible to understand what works and what doesnt. Diving magazines, coffee-table books, online mags and photographers websites are a great source of imagery. Get your eye in!
Todays large monitors on the back of compacts make them ideal for composing - you are effectively viewing the final composition.
If it doesnt look right, dont take the picture.
KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT
Getting to grips with your gear will save a lot of time and frustration under water. Know your camera inside out, learn where the settings you are likely to use are located and know precisely how to access them through the housing controls.
Most compacts are menu-driven, and for some this presents a maze of options. Custom white balance, for example, is an important tool for natural-light photography - in some compacts
it is buried deep in the menu system, while others feature a one-touch white-balance setting.
Understand the dials on your flashgun and which way to turn them. In use some flashguns are upside-down, so practise using them in this orientation, or youll end up increasing the power when what you want is to turn it down. This could result in overexposing a rare opportunity for a photograph.
When reviewing your images after the dive, check the settings used and compare the results.
Marine life wont perform for you on cue, nor will it let you approach easily. To many sea creatures, divers are perceived as a threat.
On spotting your subject, dont just rush in. Approach slowly, and if you cant get as close as you need to do, hang around.
Build a rapport with the creature. Let it get used to your presence. Eventually you can approach, or it will emerge from its burrow. The photo of the cleaner wrasse cleaning the inside of the midnight snappers mouth took me about 20 minutes, and was the best of 10 or so shots.
Once you start aspiring to a certain standard of imagery, you will notice that it is not that simple to achieve without grasping the fundamentals of underwater photography.
The quickest short-cut is to complete an underwater photography course geared towards divers using compacts. These usually involve both theory and pool exercises. Divers have been known to come straight off courses to win awards in underwater photo competitions.
Good photography requires good practice. Techniques such as close-up photography, using two flashguns, balanced light and backlighting can be practised before going on a trip.
Swimming pools or your nearest dive club facility are a good place to start, especially if the latter can make some props available.
Next month - (September issue): Choosing and using flashguns with compact cameras