By Steve Miller
The key is knowing what you want before it just happens. We like to think that images were just this split-second, happen to be there at f/8, take the shot, grab it and there it is. In my experience, most of the compelling images I've seen from other photographers and certainly in my work there was a vision you had in your head that you carried around with you- maybe for years - maybe on multiple island trips - of that perfectly frame with the ball of sun and the brightly lit coral and the bright colors.
I've noticed that photographers who are very experienced, who have been to the same place maybe a dozen of times. They're going into the water knowing exactly what they want to shoot. They know what they're hoping for. Now maybe they won't come upon that animal but they know the chances are pretty good.
If you have an image in your mind's eye before you enter the water, then you can be very clear and very certain about how you're going to get that image. You know what lens you're going to need and what settings you're going to need. Carrying the image with you before you get in the water makes the difference compared to someone who just enjoys getting snapshots of their dive.
A few simple techniques separate a quick turtle shot from something that I would put on a wall. Here it's primarily a combination of close focus wide angle techniques and positioning the sun ball right at the edge of the reef line. Photo © 2022 Steve Miller
If you look at published images, images that are really strong that print beautifully and large, and you ask the photographer I think they'll say "Yeah, I spent half the dive on that image. I knew the potential was there, shot it for 5-10 minutes, looked real hard at my work in the viewer, and then went back."
And that's why sometimes you'll see photographers camp themselves out on a subject for a long time. Because there's the difference between taking a snapshot and really maximizing a situation by having all of the aspects right.
As colorful as these large subjects are, so is the background they hide against. I've started turning one strobe off, and have considered snooting the light to get separation. Sometimes perfect lighting isn't pleasant- it can be too bright and flat without shadow. Photo © 2022 Steve Miller
There are some basic rules. There are some rules you can apply over and over. And it sounds anti- the creative process, but in fact it's not, I would disagree with that. I would say it's part of the creative process.
One of the approaches I've always used is whenever I'm going to a particular location or to shoot a particular animal or event or whatever, I will look at all the images the I can see. I make boards in Pinterest or use Google search or go to photo sites. I look at all the images I can get my hands on. And then you're probably going to find that the image you have in your mind is either a mix of several basic techniques that are used a lot or in some cases they're a very, very simple formula.
Wondering where to start? Check out our Cheat Sheets section for quick camera and strobe settings and our Customer Photos section for inspiration.
Ambassador Steve Miller has been a passionate teacher of underwater photography since 1980. In addition to creating aspirational photos as an ambassador, he leads the Ikelite Photo School, conducts equipment testing, contributes content and photography, represents us at dive shows and events, provides one-on-one photo advice to customers, and participates in product research and development. Steve also works as a Guest Experience Manager for the Wakatobi Dive Resort in Indonesia. In his "free" time he busies himself tweaking his very own Backyard Underwater Photo Studio which he's built for testing equipment and techniques. Read more...
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