DPG editors Lia Barrett and Joe Tepper take a detailed look at five of reader Joe Marlow’s images, giving him pointers and feedback on how he might improve them.
Coconut octopus: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, Olympus 60mm macro lens, Nauticam housing, Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe, f/8, 1/160s, ISO 160
Joe Tepper: This is an excellently executed image—probably the best of the series. The lighting really stands out: Whether produced in-camera or through post-processing, the spotlight effect truly draws interest to the octopus itself. I believe this image could be made stronger if we were able to see both of the subject’s eyes, rather than just one. It would create a stronger connection with the viewer.
Lia Barrett: Perhaps one of my favorite animals, these clever specimens are truly ripe for the camera. Where I too am enjoying your focused lighting approach, I would consider adjusting the framing a bit. While it’s great to have negative space, the positioning of the octopus seems a bit lopsided and thus not intentional. You could either fill more of the frame with the octopus, move it to one side of the frame, or make it center heavy. I would also ramp up some of the mid tones in the octopus (without blowing out the highlights) to give the picture a bit more punch.
Cuttlefish: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, Olympus 60mm macro lens, Nauticam housing, Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe, f/7.1, 1/100s, ISO 160
Joe: In this image (as well as the one of the nudibranch) you’ve employed a compositional technique called framing. In this image, however, I find the crinoid in front of the subject to be distracting, rather than drawing attention to the cuttlefish. I think this image would also benefit from some post-processing. I would dodge (or lighten) the cuttlefish, to make it stand out a bit more. The image is also, overall, a bit dark for my liking and would like to see the levels increased.
Lia: I love juvenile cuttlefish, and know they can be a bit tricky to capture, as they like to camouflage and hide themselves. I agree that the crinoid is distracting, but getting these creatures when they are up against a coral or another subject is a great idea because it demonstrates their behavior. Next time think about “the moment,” and try to wait for either the crinoid arms to move, or for the cuttlefish to find a new position, for they typically do.
Nudibranch: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, Olympus 60mm macro lens, Nauticam housing, Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe, f/4.5, 1/160s, ISO 160
Joe: I really like the combination of framing and bokeh in this image. The out-of-focus foreground seems to perfectly frame the nudibranch, bringing even more attention to the subject. It also helps that the nudi’s yellow tones are continued throughout the frame. I would increase contrast levels slightly in post-processing and add some black back in to help the nudi stand out even more from the out-of-focus areas.
Lia: I too like the feeling that the nudibranch is sort of emerging out of chaos, illustrated by your shallow depth of field. I would color-correct a bit for the yellows, as the image is a tad warm. And adding a bit of black and contrast would help to bump up your overall tonal range. We are typically going for a spectrum that achieves a nice histogram from blacks to whites, so this feels a little flat.
Pipefish: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, Olympus 60mm macro lens, Nauticam housing, Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe, f/4, 1/160s, ISO 160
Joe: Your experimentation with bokeh is to be admired. And certainly, using low aperture values to blur out a distracting background in this case is a good idea. However, it’s just a bit too blurred for my liking. I could recognize a pipefish by just having the eyes in focus, but the average viewer might need the snout and more of the body in crisp focus to be able to take in the subject. It’s a fine line between too much blur and not enough—here, I’d close the aperture from f/4 to f/8.
Lia: Whether this image works or not is ultimately a matter of taste. I actually really love the blurred snout. I think that playing tricks on the viewer’s expectations and perceptions is terrific. I like how you’ve left some of the greens in the negative space, and therefore create ambiance. You could perhaps dodge a bit on the area that is in focus to give some more pop to the image, but overall, I think this picture is pretty successful!
Shawn the Sheep: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, Olympus 60mm macro lens, Nauticam housing, Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe, f/5, 1/125s, ISO 160
Joe: This is what I like to think of as a great detail image. It’s not a traditional portrait, but rather shows off the nudi in a unique (almost abstract) way with the dramatic diagonal line. There’s also great balance in color and texture from the gray left half and deep-green right half. The only change in post-processing I’d make is to lighten up some of the darker green areas and add a bit of saturation to make those colors even more vibrant.
Lia: These little guys are tricky, and you’ve done well to show an environmental portrait. I would perhaps experiment with your cropping next time. Move the nudibranch up in the frame, or change your angle so that you get more of a side view—you know, easy things to ask for but much harder to deliver! I guess I’d like to see a bit more contrast between the colors of the green nudibranch versus the leaf. In an ideal situation, the nudi would be on the edge of the leaf in the gray portion of the composition, and would then nicely complement the green of the leaf. But you’re not exactly in a studio when dealing with wildlife!
Joe: What I love about Joe’s work is a seemingly inherent ability to create unique compositions. This is especially important with macro imaging, where the same subjects repeat themselves over and over again in our photo libraries. Techniques like framing and a solid use of diagonal lines elevate Joe’s images from the rest of the macro crowd. What is holding them back, however, is the fine-tuning that needs to happen in post-processing, whether it is tweaking the hue of the image or bringing out shadow areas. Small changes can make a big change!
Lia: I think that Joe has a lot of potential as a macro shooter. There are a few technical things to work out such as framing and tonal range—make sure to hit those blacks and whites. But he has a nice use of lighting, isn’t afraid to take a risk with compositional choices and bokeh, and demonstrates a range of thinking while shooting, all key elements to creating unique images. After he works a bit more on some of the issues mentioned, I think he will continue to improve steadily.
About Joe Marlow: Joe is a marine biologist from the UK, currently researching sponges in Wakatobi. Unfortunately, he gets little time for fun dives when working, so he likes to bookend his field season with dive trips around Indonesia. He has been diving for 10 years, which has taken him all around the world, but he has only started to focus on underwater photography in the last year. Now utterly addicted, he is currently upgrading from a purely macro setup to include wide angle as well. He’s hoping to put the new system to good use in Raja Ampat later this year. Check his images out on Instagram.
Plan Your Adventure >