Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Before the Course: Underwater Images

Whilst a key element of the AoP course is to comment critically on images created by other photographers that intrigue or challenge, I would like to start the course by presenting a selection of my own images and the reasons I like them. My goal is to put a stake in the ground that defines my current ability and vision before setting out on the course.

I have divided this post in two two parts, first some underwater images:

The small yellow fish in the foreground is a juvenile box fish, no larger than a pea, whilst the red fish in the background is a large grouper, hungrily eying what might be its next meal. This image combines colour with a sense of the vulnerability of every sea creature, no matter how big you are, you are always on somebody's menu.

No! This is not Nemo! It is a Western Clown Fish, but is indeed the fish that inspired Disney and a massive toy industry. A distinctly "cute" shot, in reality this is a technically difficult image to produce, the clown fish is small, continually moving in all 3 dimensions, and surprisingly aggresive (they bite) - hitting focus and achieving the correct framing is a game of patience

The Peacock Mantis Shrimp, a ferocious predator and possessing claws that can either break through a camera housing or a photgraphers finger, care must be taken in approaching and photographing this species. This shot delivers strong colour saturation, but also the angle and tight framing give the animal presence and personality

This image appeals to me because of its simple symmetry and the way the colour of the Colemans Shrimp matches the spines of the Fire Urchin it is nestled within. It also conveys a sense of the threat from the spines of the urchin, pointed directly at the shrimp - fire urchin describes the colour of the host, but also the consequences for anyone foolish enough to touch it

The Devil in the deep, or rather a Nudibranch. The color and the shape of the Nudibranch's Rhinophores echo common portrayals of lucifer and lend the image a little mystery.
This is the underside of a large starfish, inhabited by a small shrimp colored to blend into its host. The simplicty and almost monotone nature of the image contrasts with the dramatic colour and content of many underwater images bringing greater attention to the tiny animal living in this strange habitat.

This is one of my first attempts at selective focus utilizing a large aperture in macro photography. Most underwater macro is shot at f/16 or higher, this is f/4. The limited depth of field draws the eye to the face of this spiny seahorse, but also accentuates the fragility of the animal.

This image contrasts with the bullseye approach frequently used in underwater photography (as used in the other shot of a clown fish).  The splash of colour draws the eye to the clown fish, the framing tries to convey the sense of a small vulnerable fish in a large world

Most underwater photography uses artificial light to inject colour into the image, a necessity as red light is absorbed rapidly with depth, leading to flat images with strong blue colour castes. The ability to set the white balance of digital cameras has enabled a new technique, using a red filter on the lens to reduce the intesity of other colours arriving at the sensor, thus rebalancing the light. This technique permits photography of large scenes with nearly natural lighting, but at the expense of 2-3 stops of light intensity. Using this technique and a relatively low shutter speed, this image conveys the onrushing movement of the school of Barracuda.

My primary passion in underwater photography comes from macro subjects, where subjects are so small that only when imaged can their true shape and form be seen. However, the greatest challenge underwater is to balance ambient light with artifical light when using a wide angle lens. This image illustrates that concept, with the foreground entirely lit by flash, and the background by the sun shining on the surface water. This image works because the exposure of the foreground and background balance each other, allowing the true colours of the reef to come through

My last underwater image is another experiment in selective focus, this time a very simple composition of a starfish sitting on the sand. A slightly better crop would improve the image, but this is how it came out of the camera, it is one of my favorites, although I cannot quite say why It simply appeals to me

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