DPG editors Joe Tepper and Lia Barrett take a detailed look at five of reader Chase Darnell’s images, giving him pointers and feedback on how he might improve them.
“Sky Horse”: Seahorse near the surface, Stingray City Sandbar, Grand Cayman
(f/14, 1/125s, ISO 100, Tokina 10–17mm lens at 11mm, dual Ikelite DS161 strobes)
Joe: A wide-angle seahorse shot—now that’s a rarity! I really love the color and texture of the water surface in this shot, and the lighting is spot on. Also, the addition of Snell’s window adds a nice secondary compositional element. What I’d like to see more of is the seahorse and its reflection. It’s a real shame that the animal isn’t facing the camera and is a little far back in the frame for my liking (although this is partially due to the fact you’re shooting with a fisheye). Instead of a wide-angle scene, try getting more of the seahorse facing the camera with close-focus wide-angle. It’s a great detail shot, but to make it a real signature image, we just need a little more of the creature.
Lia: I really like where this image is headed. I think the use of reflection is beautiful, and the whole concept really evokes a “tiny speck in a big ocean” sort of feeling. In a situation like this, as Joe alludes to, you have an opportunity to turn a great capture into a phenomenal encounter. You can really play around with Snell’s window, perhaps by tilting the camera up more towards the sky, creating a more surreal landscape. This would also bring the horizon down a bit more, making your rule of thirds more established.
“Blue Eyes”: Sun diver close-up, Grand Cayman
(f/3.5, 1/200s, ISO 100, 100mm lens, dual Ikelite DS161 strobes)
Joe: There’s really good use of the bokeh effect here, as sun divers (lizardfish) are notorious for blending into the background and a shallow depth of field helps to separate the subject from the background. This image is well executed too, but it could use some post-processing—with shallow depths of field, it’s really important to bring back the lost color and contrast. Try increasing the saturation, playing with selective colors, and increasing the contrast in curves to make the subject pop even more.
Lia: I agree with Joe. This is a great starting point, but it could use a bit more “pop.” We need some more true blacks shining through, which, as joe mentioned, you can adjust in curves. As a result of increasing the blacks, you’ll find more saturation and an immediate transformation from which you can then start playing with other colors.
“Isolated”: Southern stingray cruises the deserted sandbar, Stingray City Sandbar, Grand Cayman
(f/16, 1/200s, ISO 100, Tokina 10–17mm lens at 10mm, dual Ikelite DS161 strobes)
Joe: This is perhaps my favorite shot in the series. You see so many images of Stingray City that are exactly the same, while this is a bit more subtle and emphasizes the environment through lighting and texture (especially the water ripples). I would like to see the stingray a little closer in the frame: although I like the dappled light as the primary subject, having a more pronounced stingray would strengthen the image. Also consider converting to black and white using a plug-in like Silver Efex Pro—dappled light looks even better in mono.
Lia: In this photograph, you achieved what I was suggesting you try in the seahorse image, except reversed: embellishing the bottom of the ocean as opposed to the sky. You have really captured ambiance and space, and have taken advantage of Nature’s simple textures. But now we get to the issue of post-processing, concerning which Joe and I have differing tastes. I agree with Joe in terms of the increase in contrast, but I tend to achieve this more in differing planes of focus through color. He might disagree with me when I say this—again, it’s a matter of preference—but I would tend to desaturate the cyan a bit, and increase the darks in curves in order to make a foreground that is more true to color, and that accentuates perspective. The end goal would be a differentiation in the solid horizon line from the lighter planes, so that more depth is created.
“Vision”: Trippy blenny close-up, Grand Cayman
(f/18, 1/200s, ISO 200, 100mm lens, Subsea +10 diopter, dual Ikelite DS161 strobes)
Joe: You’ve done a really good job lighting a super-macro subject evenly, which can be tricky when the +10 diopter forces you so close. But I feel the framing—or the way you’ve cropped it—is a little constrictive. Perhaps cropping it more in a rule of thirds by moving it off to one side or the other would alleviate the bullseye problem. I do love the detail of being so close, but a little less symmetry is needed, in my opinion. Would it also be too much to ask if he could yawn for you? Probably—that just takes patience and luck.
Lia: I give anyone props who has the patience for itty bitty blennies. But I think that if you are going to do a straight-on fish portrait, you need an element that makes it stand out. We’ve talked about the “pop” factor, and as Joe suggests, framing so that there’s negative space is one compositional tool to use, but I would also consider perhaps a bit of emphasis on the eyes in post-processing. You’ve got a lot of potential going on with the orange color information available, so perhaps play around with your reds and yellows, and maybe even try your hand at a bit of light dodging in areas that are already reflecting your strobes.
“Morning Cruise”: A large hawksbill slowly cruises the Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman
(f/11, 1/100s, ISO 400, Tokina 10–17mm lens at 10mm, dual Ikelite DS161 strobes)
Joe: I like the thought you have going in this image, to capture not only the turtle but the sight of it cruising down the wall, which is all so common on wall dives. Unfortunately, the specific spot on the wall where you happen to be is just a little too barren to make it a secondary subject in the image. A nice sponge or coral head would liven it up. Also, because the turtle is a little ways away from the camera, it’s not ideally lit with the strobes. Unless there were a more interesting wall subject (sponge, coral, etc.), I’d choose to get closer to the turtle and shoot out into the rich, deep blue water.
Lia: You have obviously put forethought into your compositions, which shows a sense of advanced photography comprehension, so well done! For this particular image, I would have to agree with Joe in terms of the wall half of the image being not quite as interesting, and perhaps a bit distracting. Also, for future reference, I would consider completely isolating subjects such as these out in the blue, so that they are nicely framed and showcased.
Joe: It seems clear to me that Chase started off with video before transitioning to stills—his ability to visualize a story and scene is evident in several of the images. This video background has also transferred to his ability to use light almost as a secondary subject, as in the case of the seahorse and stingray images. I think with his easy access to subjects as a divemaster in Cayman, he will continue to improve how he tells these visual stories and selects his subjects—as well as how he makes the best of his images in post-processing.
Lia: I know Joe couldn’t say this, being a young talent himself, but if this is where Chase is at 23, I look forward to seeing his work over the upcoming years! And more importantly, he has a solid foundation of diving experience, which sometimes we overlook as we chatter away about images. In terms of photography, he has a few minor adjustments to make, which come with practice, but he will, I have no doubt, continue to improve rapidly, for he already has a firm understanding of the fundamentals, as is evident from these images.
About Chase Darnell: Born and raised in landlocked Jolly, Texas, Chase was born into a family of divers. Now at age 23, he has a decade’s worth of diving under his belt and has found his way to Grand Cayman, where he lives and works for DNS Diving. After all this time in the water, it was a natural transition to start documenting his encounters. Starting with video, Chase began to film his diving adventures and soon became interested in stills. Having only been shooting stills underwater since October 2013, he has been able to take advantage of the ease and abundance of diving in his backyard to hone his skills. Chase accounts his encounters and images to a simple theory: “More hours in the water = more experiences.” For more of his work, visit his Facebook page.
Plan Your Adventure >