DPG editors Lia Barrett and Joe Tepper take a detailed look at five of reader Grant Thomas’s images, giving him pointers and feedback on how he might improve them.
Cuttlefish, Tioman Island, Malaysia: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Ikelite housing, Tokina 10–17mm lens at 17mm, dual Inon Z-240s, f/16, 1/80s, ISO 100
Joe Tepper: I really love the contrast in colors in this image, with the orange of the cuttlefish and the soft blue in the negative space. I am a bit distracted because the cuttlefish intersects with the horizon line where the water and sand meet. This could be avoided by shooting up a bit more, which would add more beautiful blue to the image, as well.
Lia Barrett: Cuttlefish are incredibly intelligent creatures that will sometimes charm your lens for minutes if you are steady enough in their presence. Because their colors change, they are fascinating subjects to capture in their different states. In this image, you have brought the color of the cuttlefish out nicely with your strobes. I would, however, caution on oversaturation, as there’s a fine line between color correction and obvious pumping up of the color levels. I would just bring the saturation level down a touch, so that the blues in the background and the browns and yellows of the cuttlefish look a bit more natural. I would also frame the cuttlefish, if you are going to choose an off-center composition, in a way where the motion of the body is going towards the greater negative space. Otherwise, we get a feeling like it’s running out of your frame.
Soyak Island, Malaysia: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Ikelite housing, Tokina 10–17mm lens at 14mm, f/16, 1/100s, ISO 320
Joe: You've met the first criteria of a successful over-under image by having an interesting subject above and below the water. What would have made this a real A+ image would be to add a freediver as a primary underwater subject. Additionally, while I love the moody tone created by the HDR-esque editing, I do think it’s been overdone a bit. Try making the highlight/shadow adjustments a bit more subtle.
Lia: This is a lovely, very atmospheric split shot. I like that the plane that breaks the surface is a bit asymmetrical. It is difficult to balance the ambient light with that of the darker exposure underwater, and to compensate for highlights in the sky that might have blown out, I would try not to move the highlights down too much or the editing starts to look forced. You can remedy this by paying attention to the darker areas in the frame by lighting them up with strobes, or pulling the shadows slightly in post. But you obviously want to be wary of grain, so don’t pull too much. In the end, it’s all about balance.
Hawksbill turtle, Tioman Island, Malaysia: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Ikelite housing, Tokina 10–17mm lens at 15mm, f/13, 1/400s, ISO 160
Joe: Turtles make for a fantastic silhouette subject because of their distinctive shape. And I love the contrast in the image between subject and negative space, especially the sun rays created by the fast shutter speed. This may be easier said than done, but it feels as though the subject is trying to leave the frame. Next time, try to frame the turtle coming towards—rather than away—from you.
Lia: This is a great silhouette of a turtle, where the full details of the body can be seen. My main critique here is to again watch out for your levels of saturation. The blues look overly saturated, which can be easily remedied in post.
Banded sea snake, Tioman Island, Malaysia: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Ikelite housing, Tokina 10–17mm lens at 15mm, dual Inon Z-240s, f/13, 1/125s, ISO 250
Joe: This is the best image in the series, and one of the most impressive featured in Photo Lab thus far. The curves and leading lines by the snake are paralleled by the surface of the water, whereas traditional over-unders have a completely horizontal water line. If there is one room for improvement, it would be that the under half of the image is a bit underexposed. It doesn't have to be bright blue (as the image seems to be taken at dusk or dawn), but a little lighter would help make the image a bit less harsh in terms of contrast.
Lia: I really love this shot. It’s really unique. This is a great example of how to frame with an intentionally off-center composition in mind. The sea snake is carrying us through the angles of the picture, as the water line continues this flow. I particularly love the balance of the sunset with the face of the snake. Overall, it’s a great combination of subject, negative space, technique and lighting.
Sea star on an old piece of timber, Tioman Island, Malaysia: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Ikelite housing, Tokina 10–17mm lens at 15mm, dual Inon Z-240s (one snooted and one for fill), f/13, 1/50s, ISO 125
Joe: This image is made by the simple, yet beautiful composition. You begin with the basics: The sea star is located at a rule of thirds intersection. And then you have used the intermediate technique of leading, diagonal lines. Finally, you have a bit more of advanced balance brought by the saturated color of the starfish matched by the relatively monochromatic background. Using a faster shutter speed (compensated by more open aperture or higher ISO value) would produce a more crisp sunball.
Lia: I like what you are aiming to do in this composition. It’s thoughtful and unique, and I commend you for it. My suggestion would be to implement a greater depth of field to try to get more of the image in focus. In some cases, a bokeh effect works really well, but here, I want to see more of what is in the frame. I do like that you managed a sun ball in the distance, and I can see this was a challenging image to capture.
Joe: Grant’s strengths very much lie in composition. He has a gift for taking a simple subject and elevating it through compositional techniques—beginner to advanced. I think Grant’s images would be further strengthened by being a little more subtle when adjusting saturation, hue, and highlights/shadows.
Lia: Grant demonstrates a natural talent for photographic technique. He is implementing a balance of artificial and ambient light that is on its way to being at a professional level. Once he tones down some of his color saturation, and practices a bit more with compositional choices, he is going to be quite the shooter to watch!
About Grant Thomas: Originally from sunny Scotland, Grant Thomas always had a fascination with the outdoors and adventure, in particular the ocean and its vast array of life forms. After graduating three years ago, he decided to pack his bags and go traveling. He currently works as a scuba Instructor on Malaysia’s Tioman Island and is fortunate to be able to spend every day in the water. Photography has always been a passion, but it wasn’t until he took it underwater this year that it became an obsession. His aim for the future is to use his camera to capture the planet’s amazing nature in an effort to promote awareness and conservation.
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