Be the champ! - People
IF YOU WANT your photos to sell, by far the most important subject towards which you can point your camera is another diver.
Have a look on the cover and at the other pages of this issue of DIVER, and you will see that many photos include a person. This isn’t a coincidence.
People pictures rarely do well in competitions. Jellyfish (aka judges’ Kryptonite), for example, win far more prizes. So this month I am encouraging you to be the champ of taking pictures that get published.
In theory, people should be among the easiest subjects to photograph. They are big, they won’t run away and they can even be coerced into posing exactly where you want.
However, in practice there is a host of small details that can stop people pictures reaching their full potential. It’s the little things that matter here.
Generally we want to use a person as a secondary subject in a photo. In this way, the person serves to add human interest, instilling in the viewer a sense of “that could be me”, providing a sense of scale to marine creatures or a wreck and adding visual depth to a wide-angle scene.
People work best in underwater pictures when they are either near or far. Middle distance is rarely effective, because they are too far away to be lit effectively and too dominant in the frame to balance the composition as a distant silhouette.
When a diver is close to the camera, we can light them properly and their eyes dominate the composition. Lighting divers’ eyes is made much easier if we ask them to wear a clear-skirted mask (clear silicon lets our light in) and if they face in our direction (so that the frame is ot casting shadows across the face).
Although we should ask buddies to face towards the camera, on most occasions they should not look straight into it. The best advice to give them is to face towards the camera, but to look at the main subject of the picture.
If the diver is the main foreground subject, it helps to direct the eyeline when you are under water, by pointing at your mask and then holding your left hand where you want the buddy to look.
Inevitably the subject will look back at the camera from time to time, so make sure to take enough frames to be able to delete the imperfect ones.
THE ALTERNATIVE way to use a diver is in the distance of wide-angle shots, and this is often a little easier. Firstly. most people are more comfortable being photographed in this way, and we can also make use of passing divers, photographing them without them realising, as models of opportunity.
As a silhouette, the diver’s eyes are not visible, so in these shots the shape of the diver is most critical for the photo to work. The pose is important because, even as a silhouette clad in neoprene and small in the picture, your viewers will still pick up on the body language.
The diver must be engaged in the picture for it to work. The model should be looking at or be interacting in some way with the main subject of the scene.
After all, if the subject is not interesting enough for the person who was there to look at, why should the viewer of the photo care
Advise your buddy to swim across your picture, parallel to the camera. If the diver swims straight at the camera he or she will quickly become an unrecognisable shape. Even the most attractive young dive-guide will be transformed into an amorphous blob in your photos by swimming at the camera.
Perfect tech-diver trim, with knees bent up, frog-kicks and hands thrust out in front, looks very ugly in photos.
Long, straight legs look much more elegant, better still if one is slightly bent, so that the diver appears to be swimming and exploring the scene, rather than stock-still posing for a photo. Arms should be neat, and often it helps to give the diver something to do or hold.
When models are close to the camera, I often give them a small compact camera, so that they are doing something in the photo. When they are more distant, a torch is a useful prop, as it helps their silhouette to stand out in the frame.
DRESSING MODELS can make a big difference to the final picture, especially when they are close to the lens and lit with flash. If you have a regular dive buddy, you might wish to influence a few decisions as they peruse the stands at the next Dive Show!
The most important items are at either end: the mask and fins.
The most flattering-looking mask for a model is a 1960s oval job, which shows the entire face.
But, of course, nobody uses such masks these days, so most editors will instantly reject your photos (except, perhaps, for a feature on how diving used to be).
Such masks are suited only for artistic images, not those intended to sell.
Instead we should look for a single-frame modern mask, which still makes it easy to light and show off the model’s eyes.
SPLIT-FRAME MASKS, with a window for each eye, are less flattering, but can still work well. This applies especially when the model is further from the camera, as they will give them a “face” even when they are too far away to be lit (especially with a yellow-framed mask).
Fins are important in silhouette shots. The basic rule is the longer the better, as they make the subject look more elegant. Stumpy Force fins or short Jet fins make divers look inelegant in a still photo.
The rest of the dive kit should be neat and in good condition. Using kit from a single manufacturer usually looks best, as the colours are designed to match.
Finally, we should consider who to photograph. The best divers are usually the best models, because they look the most relaxed in the water and can most easily hold an elegant pose.
For this reason I often photograph the dive staff at the destinations I visit. They are usually more attractively proportioned than your average holidaying diver – or, for that matter, holidaying underwater photographer!
When photographing divers in silhouette, make sure you frame them against open water. If not, they will disappear in the final image, especially when it’s printed.
A clean, bright background will make them stand out in the composition.
If you use a fisheye or an ultra wide-angle lens, let buddies have a look through it before the dive, so that they can understand how small they will be in the picture even when they are only a couple of metres away.
It also helps them to realise that they need to be almost vertically above you in a portrait reef scene!
To bubble or not to bubble Including bubbles in shots splits opinion. I believe that generally they should be kept to a minimum when the diver is close to the lens, when they are distracting.
When divers are more distant they can help, as a torch does, to draw the eye through the frame to the diver.