Shot Composition

By Specialist underwater cameraman Stuart Keasley

There are a few basic rules for composing a picture which will help to guide you, once you have them all worked out, you can then have fun breaking them.

  • Try and follow the rule of thirds; mentally draw a line a third and two thirds of the way down your frame, then do the same a third and two thirds of the way across. There should be something of interest where these lines intersect, e.g the mouth of a fish, a branch of coral. This will help you achieve a well balanced photograph.

  • Provide your subject with space to move within the frame. If a fish is swimming off to the right, allow space to the right to show people where it's going (leaving the left area tight to the fish, nobody cares where it's been!) If you're shooting a tight portrait, and the subject is looking to the left, leave a bit of space to the left to show where it is looking.

  • Avoid dead space in your photograph; get as close to your subject as possible.

  • Shoot up where possible, that's where the light is, and it will also help separate your subject from the back ground.

  • Use the depth of field to define the focal point, a tight depth of field (large aperture) if you want to draw focus to your subject, a wide depth of field (small aperture) if you want to show a complete scene.

  • A good back ground will make the subject stand out. Where possible, choose your background, and then allow your subject to move into it. This will ensure that your background and subject work together.

  • Every picture should tell a story, the better the story, the more people will be entranced by it.

  • Be patient, and understand your subject. Waiting a while to capture some animal behaviour will make for a far better photograph then reeling off a few random shots.

All there is left for you to do now is practice. Digital photography lends itself well to this task, you get an instant result to see if it's worked; if not, simply review your settings, adjust as necessary and try again.

It's also worth playing with your camera, in its housing, on land. This allows you to get used to the controls, and if you turn off the lights and shut the curtains, you can simulate a low light environment and practice different set ups. The more fluid you are on the surface, the easier it will be for you when you hit the water.

One final tip; don't get too obsessed with the view finder, remember to look up every once in a while and enjoy the dive for what it is. Not only will it give your buddy and/or dive guide a nice warm feeling inside, with the knowledge that their presence is more then just a distant memory in your mind from when you were kitting up on the deck of the boat. It will also avoid the frustration that comes with the realisation that the shadow that's been bugging you for the last 20 minutes, whilst you were busy papping away at the cheeky looking clownfish in that colourful anemone, was being created by a long since departed squadron of mantas that were doing somersaults just above your head!