When shooting wide-angle reef scenes, creating a compelling composition can be a challenge
One of the biggest challenges when shooting wide angle is deciding what to include in your frame. It’s much easier when you’re shooting a large subject like a manta, whale shark or fish school, but when faced with an expansive reef, it can be hard to find your shot. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when composing reef scenes:
1. Look for Interesting Topography
Something with a distinctive shape or profile really adds impact to an image. It is also much easier to get low and shoot upwards on a beautiful pillar coral or a colorful sponge on a wall than a subject on a flat stretch of reef.
The more unusual the topography, the greater the opportunity to create drama and depth in your image
2. Aim for Elements with Strong Colors
A pink sponge or red whip coral contrasts beautifully with blue water and can easily become the focus of your image.
3. Keep It Simple
Avoid cluttering your frame with too many elements, which can be confusing for the viewer. One beautifully framed subject can have much more impact that a mishmash of corals. Try moving around the intended subject to find a composition that doesn’t include too many other distractions in your frame.
Bold colors and an uncluttered composition make for a pleasing image
4. Keep It Clean
Don’t amputate your subject or place it too close to the edge of the frame. This either leads the viewer’s eye out of the frame or creates tension in the image. Look for clean clusters of coral or well-organized bommies to photograph.
5. Frame Your Scene in Blue Water
By ensuring you have a firm border or “frame” of water around your scene, you will really make your subject pop while creating context and contrast in your image. Getting low and shooting upwards will help you achieve this.
The warm colors of the reef stand out all the more against a rich blue backdrop
6. Focus Your Lighting on the Main Subject
Avoid lighting your scene corner-to-corner. Light fall off on the edges will draw more attention to your subject while mitigating any distracting backgrounds.
Balancing Light and Shadows
The goal is to light your reef scene enough to bring out a nice color and contrast while leaving some areas in shadow, which will add depth to your image and better highlight your main subject.
- Avoid “stadium lighting” when every nook and cranny is lit up. While light brings out color, too much of it can wash out your subject and flatten your image.
- Take care not to under-light your image, which results in bland colors and makes it harder for the viewer to identify and appreciate your intended subject.
- Soft, natural looking shadows are desirable while harsh shadows are distracting and pull focus to the wrong place (and can be resolved by adjusting your strobe positioning).
- Shoot strobes on manual and continually adjust your power levels so you have full control over how much light falls on your scene.
- Adjust your strobe positioning for each scene so the light falls where you want it to.
- Take at least 3–5 frames of your scene, adjusting your strobe power and positioning until you get your best result.
Make your main subject pop by carefully adjusting the positioning and output of your strobes
7. Find the Right Balance
Bear in mind the Rule of Thirds. Placing your main subject directly in the middle of the frame can lead to a flat image. But composing your subject a bit off-center—towards one of the intersections of the “tic-tac-toe” board—can really lead the eye though the frame and add more impact to your image.
8. Try Adding Additional Elements
Shooting one solitary fan against an expansive blue background will be boring and flat. To add depth and impact to your image, always be on the lookout for extra elements such as the sun, a diver, a boat, or some fish.
The silhouette of a traditional bangka adds depth, balance, and story
Francesca Diaco is the founder and lead trainer of Roatán Underwater Photography and the owner/operator of Fisheye Expeditions & Photographic Services, which offers expeditions to many of the world’s most exciting dive destinations and online underwater photography training. You can see her more of her work at www.francescadiaco.com. Francesca has also been featured as Photographer of the Week.
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