DPG editors Lia Barrett and Joe Tepper take a detailed look at five of reader Arthur Borges’s images, giving him pointers and feedback on how he might improve them.
Red night shrimp, Belize: Canon PowerShot G16, Fantasea FG16 housing, Fantasea SharpEye Lens Kit M55 + 4, Sea & Sea YS-D1 and YS-110 strobes, f/8, 1/1000s, ISO 200
Lia Barrett: These elusive shrimp are some of the most difficult subjects to shoot. Not only do they nestle themselves within the most narrow of nooks and crannies, but they will very flippantly turn their rear ends on you. In your shot of this pesky animal, you’ve done a nice job of framing the shrimp between the anemone and the sponge. I would, however, consider waiting for the shrimp to turn its body more parallel to your lens, so that we are not getting a view of the back of its head. I’d also color-correct for the warmth of your light, adding a bit of blue in to balance in post.
Joe Tepper: This certainly is a tricky subject to shoot in terms of its size and positioning. Ignoring the primary subject for a moment—if I may—to focus on the negative space, which is extremely intriguing: There is a fantastic balance in color and texture between the black and yellow-orange foreground. Add to that the S-curve created by the shape of the coral against the black background and the image is set up to succeed. The only area where it falls short is the fact that the shrimp is facing away and perhaps not large enough in the frame. Bravo on the secondary composition, though.
Clownfish, Bali: Canon PowerShot G15, Canon housing, Sea & Sea YS-D1 and YS-110 strobes, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 200
Lia: Everyone loves a good Nemo shot, and I think you’ve done well to make a composition that incorporates both animal and habitat. I would suggest perhaps framing the image so that the negative anemone space is at the right of the picture, so its body position moves us through the frame. I would also adjust your color balance, as the color cast is on the warm side.
Joe: I think there’s a misconception that anemonefish are easy subjects to photograph. In fact, I find them extremely frustrating to shoot, as they move around the busy background either hiding or being downright ornery. The most obvious critique I have is with the composition: Having the subject in the right-hand corner of the frame makes it feel cramped. But given your knack for composition in the other images, I imagine this is more the result of the autofocus limitations of your compact camera. Try using a single focus point to identify where in the frame you want the fish to be, and use Continuous/AI Servo Mode to track its slight movements.
Crown-of-thorns starfish, Caño Island, Costa Rica: Canon PowerShot G16, Fantasea FG16 housing, Fantasea SharpEye Lens Kit M55 + 4, Sea & Sea YS-D1 and YS-110 strobes, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 100
Lia: I really love the thought process behind this shot. Both the color combination and the detail of the starfish work really well together to create a unique abstract that we don’t normally see. I would play with your depth of field and try focusing on different planes within the frame. For example, if you implemented a greater depth of field, your exposure would be lower, but you would be able to bring in more of the thorns into focus. Ultimately, this is a great instance where you can experiment with different light and speed combinations.
Joe: Call me crazy, but this is my favorite image of the series. With the extremely shallow depth of field created by an f-stop most would never use (f/2.8), you’ve created a fantastic abstract image—one of the hardest to accomplish even for seasoned shooters. With some of the points of the starfish in focus and others out of focus, it almost reminds me of a scientific image of a magnified virus or bacteria. Only one thing: I wouldn’t mind using Photoshop’s “Selective Color” tool to make the background slightly less green, and more blue—a result of shooting with so much natural light.
Teardrop crab, Belize: Canon PowerShot G16, Fantasea FG16 housing, Fantasea SharpEye Lens Kit M55 + 4, Sea & Sea YS-D1 and YS-110 strobes, f/4.5, 1/100s, ISO 200
Lia: These highly camouflaged subjects are so hard to capture with significant detail. The macro geeks and those who recognize this animal will appreciate the great job you’ve done. However, you might try to focus more head-on, getting a symmetrical view of its arms, head and eyes, to better explain to a lay audience. I’d also perhaps move the subject to the right of the frame, allowing for the rich negative space to highlight the crab and the brilliance of the sponge.
Joe: Again, ignoring the primary subject, I love the negative space and other elements in this image. The diagonals of the sponge and the stark red-black contrast is really fantastic—that second finger of the sponge even adds depth to the image. The challenge is in the primary subject itself: Its eyes are nearly impossible to see, and I personally find it hard to connect to a subject when I can’t see the eyes. While the current background and negative space is lovely, I would consider shooting the subject more as a profile image, head-on, to make it easier to identify its figure.
Blenny, Caño Island, Costa Rica: Canon PowerShot G16, Fantasea FG16 housing, Fantasea SharpEye Lens Kit M55 + 4, Sea & Sea YS-D1 and YS-110 strobes, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 100
Lia: Spot on with the composition. And love the feeling that the blenny is trying to blend into the coral. Here you could play with snoots and focus your light, or use a diopter and get a little closer. Otherwise, you’ve done a pretty dandy job of getting this little fellow in focus and paying attention to compositional detail.
Joe: I do like Lia’s suggestion of using a snoot to modify light in the image, but let’s assume you didn’t have this nifty gadget on your dive. The texture of the coral surrounding the blenny makes me think turning your strobes slightly inward to create side lighting would add drama through texture. Alternatively, consider using just a single strobe. This will result in less even lighting, but it will also add shadows and depth to make the subject “pop.”
Lia: Arthur’s work pays particular attention to composition, as he is seemingly very conscious of where he is placing his subjects within the frame. He also implements varying settings to create a range of photographic techniques, demonstrating that he thinks through each scenario with intentional goals. I would do some adjusting for the warmth of the strobes, and continue to work on the positioning of animals within the picture. But otherwise, I think Mr. Arthur is on the right track, and just needs to keep on shooting!
Joe: Arthur has been able to address a key aspect of an underwater image that takes many photographers years to even consider—anything that’s not the primary subject. Whether it’s the foreground, background, or negative space, he has a knack for composing a balanced image. Take a look at that abstract of a crown-of-thorns—there’s no primary subject but it is still stunning. So many new shooters tend to have blinders on for just the critter itself, but ignore everything else around it. By fine-tuning his use of artificial light and considering the main subject a little more, Arthur’s images will only be further elevated.
About Arthur Borges: Although scuba diving was a dream since childhood, Arthur Borges was only able to start diving at the age of 26 after having enough money to pay for his first certification. After diving for 10 years, he decided to marry his passion for photography and his full-time hobby, and underwater photography became the perfect combination. Over time, he has invested in better cameras, strobes and training, but mostly he has invested in experience by traveling around the world.
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