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Dive Photo Guide


Photo Lab with Eren Baştanoğlu
By DPG Editorial Staff, March 20, 2017 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

Pro underwater photographers Tanya Houppermans and Jeff Milisen take a detailed look at five of reader Eren Baştanoğlu’s images, giving him pointers and feedback on how he might improve them.

Blotcheye soldierfish in a hole, Kaş, Turkey: Olympus OM-D EM-1, Olympus 60mm lens, Nauticam housing, Inon Z-240 strobe, f/9, 1/320s, ISO 200

Tanya Houppermans: The tack-sharp focus and directional lighting on the vivid colors of the soldierfish really make this image pop. I wish that just a little more of the face was illuminated, especially toward the top and right side, but I do realize that can be extremely difficult since you were shooting the fish from outside of a hole. I particularly like the touch of light on the fins as they fade into the black, adding a sense of depth to the image. I feel like there is a bit too much negative space around the subject, but this is easily corrected by cropping the image so that the soldierfish takes up more of the frame.

Jeff Milisen: This is a curiously creative take on this portrait, which is exactly what you want to do with a common fish like a Holocentrid. The focus is right and I love the colors. However, it needs to fill the frame a bit more. There is excess black around the animal. This would have the added benefit of focusing on the details of the head. If you brought the strobe back a bit, the light would have illuminated more of the pectoral fins, possibly adding some horizontal aspect. This would be even more impactful if you were shooting from directly in front of the fish instead of just a little off to the side. 

Coast guard wreck, Fethiye, Turkey: Canon PowerShot G12, Fisheye Fix housing, Inon Z-240 strobe, f/2.8, 1/400s, ISO 250

Tanya: I typically advise photographers not to place their subject directly in the center of the frame, but this is one of those times where breaking the rules has paid off. I love the symmetry here, and you’ve done an exceptional job with the even lighting. This image also works well in black and white, especially with the ombré effect of the light gray of the top of the frame fading to the black of the bottom of the frame. The only thing missing from this image is a sense of scale. I would love to have seen a diver placed somewhere in the upper half of the image to show the relative size of the ship. The reason for the upper-half placement is for the nice contrast that the diver’s silhouette would make against the light gray background. But overall, it’s a lovely shot!

Jeff: I really like this one. The lines and the symmetry seem heightened by the looming mood created by the decision to go with black and white. With an image like this, the challenge is in creating a smooth background. The lower left side of the image is a bit spackled, which detracts from the overall effect. Also, I love simplicity, but in this case, it might be a little too simple. I would add a diver holding a light to help show the size of the ship. Otherwise, it is a really cool effect and a well-executed shot!

Cleaner shrimp in the mouth of a Mediterranean moray, Kaş, Turkey: Olympus OM-D EM-1, Olympus 60mm Lens, Nauticam housing, Inon Z-240 strobe, f/4.5, 1/320s, ISO 200

Tanya: Great job again with the sharp focus. I like how the critical parts of the composition—the moray’s eye and mouth, and the cleaner shrimp—are crisp, with the fading bokeh adding depth to the image. I do find the lightly colored background a little too bright, and somewhat distracting. There are a few ways to handle this. When shooting the image you could use a smaller aperture to naturally darken the background. You could also correct this in post-processing, either by manually darkening the background or vignetting the corners. Vignetting would also naturally highlight the eel, thereby drawing the viewer’s eye toward the subject.

Jeff: Once again, great focus and technical aspects. But, like with the soldierfish, you didn’t really get close enough! There is extra space around the eel, but the eel isn’t the subject here—the subject is the shrimp, which occupies only a small portion of the image. The shrimp needs to be a lot bigger in the frame. Also, with a background like this, it isn’t off-putting, but the gray isn’t adding anything either. A well-placed snoot or side lighting would have changed the mood and removed the boring background.

Diver begins a wreck dive in Hurghada, Egypt: Canon PowerShot G12, Fisheye Fix housing, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 80

Tanya: My first thought when seeing this image was, “Agh! Soooo close!” Meaning that this was almost a truly exceptional image. You accomplished something that’s difficult to do—a split shot where the top and bottom are both in focus and properly exposed. So kudos to you for achieving this tricky feat. But then there’s the diver. I would love to see her rotated more toward the camera, with the image perhaps captured in the second before she enters the water. Without the description, we really don’t know what she is doing. Is she getting into the boat, or is she getting ready to enter the water? You don’t need to have her posing, but the image would work better if the viewer was able to engage more with the action of the diver by at least having her angled toward the camera.

Jeff: I like how split shots help put the underwater world in the perspective of what’s happening on the surface. In this case, the divers waiting to get in look like they are having a blast! Over-unders are very difficult to execute, so congrats on nailing the right balance of focus and exposure. However, very little is lined up correctly in this photo. The diver and dinghies are facing away from the camera and the wreck is horizontal in the frame. If you were looking down the nose of the wreck, the topside boats would have been oriented better and the wreck would have looked cool. Also, watch that horizon: If it’s supposed to be level, make sure it’s level. If it’s supposed to be off-kilter, make it tilted enough to show the slant was intentional. Finally, there is too much stuff underwater. Divers, bubbles, and scatter are all over the place. If you want to feature a diver, it should be closer, so it is easily recognizable. Otherwise, wait for them to move out of the way. 

Giant butterfly ray shot during a night dive, Kaş, Turkey: Olympus OM-D EM-1, Olympus 60mm lens, Nauticam housing, Inon Z-240 strobe, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 200

Tanya: I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at here until I read the description, and even then it took me a few seconds to discern the orientation of the ray. The image feels two-dimensional, and even more so being converted to black and white. Instead of shooting the ray straight-on from the side, I would suggest moving slightly below the ray and shooting upward from an angle to give it a more three-dimensional appearance. I think that black and white might work better if you are photographing the entire ray in the frame, but in a close-up shot like this where the shape is not easily recognizable, a bit of color might help to bring out the ray’s eye, along with some of the texture and pattern in its skin, thereby making the animal more easily recognizable to the viewer.

Jeff: Here, the eyes are in focus and I am always a sucker for a black background. But where the leading lines with black and white worked well with the shipwreck, the combination doesn’t work so well with this one. Rays can be tough. If you are stuck with a tight lens, try isolating one part of the body. The eyes are an obvious choice, but with rays you could also go for the stinger, a pattern on their skin, or a texture on the tail. If you have the choice, go wide. 


Final Comments


Tanya: I’m impressed by Eren’s images, which are consistently properly focused and exposed. He also shows a mastery of light, whether shooting wide angle or macro. At this point it’s a matter of fine-tuning the composition to turn his images from good to great. It’s important to think about how a viewer who is unfamiliar with your subject will see your image. A sense of scale, depth, and orientation of the subject all come together to form the viewer’s perception of an image. I have no doubt that with just a little work on those key elements of composition, Eren will be consistently producing some spectacular photographs.

Jeff: Eren has some gorgeous pieces and is doing a great job implementing the technical aspects of underwater photography. In general, I would work on identifying the subject and isolating it. Get in much tighter. With images like the soldierfish and over-under, spend a little time making sure that you are in exactly the position you want before pulling the trigger. Eren should also keep working with those leading lines. He definitely seems to have an eye for it!

About Eren Baştanoğlu: Eren took his first underwater photographs with an old film camera in high school in 2004. Hooked, he began scuba diving with the university underwater student club, and ever since, goes diving with his camera every opportunity he gets. Eren has garnered several photography awards and participated in exhibitions in Turkey.


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