DPG Photo Editor Lia Barrett and pro underwater photographer Tanya Houppermans take a detailed look at five of reader Cinzia Bismarck’s images, giving her pointers and feedback on how she might improve them.
“Flippers”: Sony Nex 7, Nauticam housing, Sea & Sea YS-03 strobe, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 100
Tanya Houppermans: “Come back, dolphins!” is my first reaction to seeing this image. As a general rule, I try to avoid photographing animals moving away, as it usually produces a less compelling image than if one or more of them were either making eye contact or photographed from the side or at an angle. If even one of the dolphins was looking toward the camera, it would go a long way toward capturing the attention of the viewer. (If dolphins are so smart, why can’t they figure out how to pose?) I also feel that there is a little too much empty space in the right side of the frame. Cropping the right side a bit would remove some of that space and also take the dolphins out of the dead center of the image. I like that the reef frames the bottom and left of the frame, guiding the viewer’s eye in the direction that the dolphins are moving.
Lia Barrett: Seeing dolphins on the reef is a pretty special encounter, especially if you can get close enough with a wide-angle lens to capture them. As you probably know, they are also quite quick, even when they are being playful, so it can be difficult to get a good composition. But though this is a nice display of animal interaction, I would like to see more of the animal either facing us or going parallel to the frame. Otherwise it feels like we are chasing them. I would also color-correct in post a bit more for the greens that are present and bring out more of the true hues of the dolphins.
“Nemo and red ball”: Ricoh Caplio GX100, Sea & Sea DX-1G housing, Sea & Sea YS-02 strobe, f/9.1, 1/1000s, ISO 100
Tanya: You really did a beautiful job here bringing out those brilliant colors, especially considering that you’re only using one strobe. I like that you off-centered the fish, and while there’s a lot going on here, the image doesn’t feel too cluttered. The shadow to the right of the anemone is my only real quibble, since it’s so dark I feel like I’m missing part of the image. There absolutely should be a shadow there, just by the nature of the angle of the anemone over the rock, but it shouldn’t be quite so severe. This is easily corrected with a second strobe. Other than that, you really brought the subject, lighting, composition, and color together to create a lovely photograph.
Lia: I like where you are going with this picture. You are clearly thinking about composition, with the subject in the foreground and a sun ball in the background. I would suggest breaking the composition a little more into two, bringing the anemone down in the frame and then adjusting your angle so the sun ball is in the top. This way your fish will be in the bottom third of the frame and the sun in the top, which works well with the rule of thirds. You might also want to add in a second strobe on the right to fill the shadows on the side of the anemone so that the lighting isn’t so harsh.
“Hammerhead nudi laying eggs”: Ricoh Caplio GX100, Sea & Sea DX-1G housing, Sea & Sea YS-02 strobe, f/6.2, 1/125s, ISO 100
Tanya: The first thing I noticed about this image is the sharpness of the focus on the details. But without the description, I’m not really sure what I’m looking at. It is inherently difficult to produce much depth in an image when your subject is black and the background is white, and this causes the image to look two-dimensional. Anything helping to break up the solid black on the nudibranch would add depth, such as trying to shoot slightly upward instead of straight on—though it could be very difficult to get low on something as small as a nudi. A slight vignetting of the corners of the frame would also help to break up with white background a bit, drawing the viewer’s eye to the nudi. I commend you for trying to go for the shot in these challenging conditions.
Lia: Perhaps one of the hardest subjects to shoot underwater is something black. You really have to shoot it against a pretty plain background in order to make its details stand out. But sometimes shooting on the white sand can be a bit boring, so I would suggest trying a snoot in this situation. You can really highlight the animal, while complementing it with a black frame where the snoot light does not hit, creating a more dynamic composition.
“White dragon”: Sony NEX-7, Nauticam housing, Sony fisheye lens, Sea & Sea YS-02 strobe, f/22, 1/160s, ISO 200
Tanya: This is definitely my favorite photo of the bunch—great composition, with the eel nicely framed by the coral ledge, and the sunball in the background adds depth to the image. I also like that the eel itself is shot at an angle, giving the appearance of it coming out of the frame toward the viewer. A second strobe would alleviate the harsh shadows, taking this image from good to great. Properly lit, I could see this photo gracing the cover of a magazine. Well done!
Lia: In this picture, you are almost in step with what I was saying about the anemone composition. I would, however, move the eel even further down in the frame. I would also add a second fill flash to compensate for the shadows that are coming in on the right. Otherwise, I think you are on the right track!
“Fly zone”: Ricoh Caplio GX100, Sea & Sea DX-1G housing, Sea & Sea YS-02 strobe, f/9, 1/125s, ISO 100
Tanya: I can see why you chose to shoot downward for this image, since it shows off the brilliant orange spots on the flatworm, but the trade-off is the distracting background. The coral ledges, especially the one in the bottom left, are competing with the flatworm for the viewer’s attention. My suggestion would be to drop just slightly below and to the side of the flatworm, and try angling the shot to where you still get those gorgeous orange spots, but this time against a solid blue background with a sunball to give the image some depth.
Lia: These flatworms are so hard to shoot. Not only are they the dreaded black but they move! If you don’t capture their body so that you can see what they are, they just look like a blob, so you’ve done well to represent the intricacies of its anatomy quite nicely. My main comment would be that the background is distracting. It’s a lot to ask, but I would have shot upwards a bit more to try to get a cleaner backdrop. This way you’d be shooting “against the blue.” But then you would have to really focus on the composition, so it would be a great opportunity to play around with framing a single subject.
Tanya: I love the variety in Cinzia’s images and I also respect that she is willing to take on some challenging shots and subjects. The fact that she is producing such high-quality images with only one strobe is a testament to her talent. Adding a second strobe would go a long way in solving the issue of the harsh shadows while improving the overall evenness of the lighting. Keep working on your composition, and look for those unique viewpoints. One of the greatest tools of the photographer, whether topside or underwater, is the ability to move. The simple act of moving yourself and your camera to a better vantage point, whether it’s just tilting the camera a few inches to get a better angle, or moving to the other side of the reef because it makes a better backdrop, can make all the difference in creating a memorable photograph. I think Cinzia is well on her way to creating those memorable images, and I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future!
Lia: I like how Cinzia is interested in both macro and wide-angle subjects. It is clear she is applying photographic techniques she has picked up along the way, which is fantastic. I would encourage her to pick up a second strobe for those wide-angle sun-ball shots, and to keep working on this sort of composition, as she is almost there. Cinzia might also work on looking for “the moment” when it comes to shooting animals. She did a pretty good job with the eel, but I would encourage her to sit just a bit longer with subjects to see what other angles she can get—maybe wait for both anemonefish to come into frame, for example. Otherwise, with a few adjustments to color correction, Cinzia is a dynamic shooter who is most certainly working towards being a very proficient underwater photographer.
About Cinzia Bismarck: Cinzia graduated in History and Criticism of Arts at the Alma Mater University of Bologna, Italy. In 2005, she did her Open Water course in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, and in 2011 moved there, where she became a divemaster and started working as a snorkel and dive guide. She began taking pictures underwater in 2013, having never previously been into photography above water. For the past few years, she has been working as an underwater photographer for a dive club in Sharm El Sheikh. www.facebook.com/bismarckcinzia
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