Intermediate Underwater Composition
In the previous article, we outlined the most common underwater composition mistakes beginners make. Now, let's look at some underwater composition rules.
1) Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds says that if a photo is divided up into "thirds" by lines, the key elements of the composition should be placed near the intersection of the lines.
Using the rule of thirds helps give a photo a sense of balance. This rule is often broken, especially with extreme close up shots, but it is still useful for many compositions. If you are having trouble getting good compositions, use the rule of thirds to help your compositions achieve balance.
As your experience progresses, you will not need to think about “rules”, but use your own intuition for what makes a good design. Many excellent images do not follow the rule of thirds, so don’t be afraid to go against the rule.
- Try for a strong foreground and a strong background
- Shooting the foreground - get close, shoot up, light properly. Try to get within 2ft of the foreground subject. Use as wide a lens as possible.
- Choosing the background - wait for a school of fish, have a diver swim by, or have a colorful reef, kelp forest, or wreck in the background.
3) Macro Composition
- Shooting low, keep the subject in-focus subject, and have a colored, black, or camouflaged background.
- The foreground should be sharp
- Having proper separation between the foreground and background, via depth of field or color, will make the difference between a good photo and an excellent photo. Having a black or blue background is an excellent way to isolate your subject.
- Keep the shot as simple as possible, without distractions in the photo. A distracting background can ruin a macro image.
There are 3 compositions for super macro shots that I'd like to highlight here:
#1 - Since the depth of field will be very small in a super macro shot, try to align the focal plane of your camera with the key areas of the subject. These could be the eyes, the eyes and the rhinophores, the eyes and the mouth, etc. Or it could be the entire side of the subject.
I tried to shoot with this crab parallel to my focus plane, to get it all in focus. F13, 1/250th, ISO 200
#3 - Align the subject at an angle to the focal plane. The key part of the subject must be in focus. The rest will be thrown out of focus, resulting in a dramatic photo. Many attempts sometimes must be made to find one that results in a pleasing blurring of the out-of-focus area of the subject.
Tiny nudibranch, carefully composed. The front is in fous, and the rear slowly goes out of focus. Photo by Kevin Lee.
- Supermacro shots are sometimes centered and ignore the rule of 3rds. See what works best for your photograph.
5) Shoot in Portrait
6) Use the Viewfinder to Compose
Look through your viewfinder and adjust your position to get the composition you want, pay attention to distractions on the edge of the viewfinder.
7) Examine Edges for Distractions
Recompose if necessary.
8) Cropping your Photo
Use as a tool, not as a crutch. Try to get it right "in camera".
9) Choose your Background Wisely
Reposition if needed. Use the right lens for the desired effect. A longer focal length will isolate the background; a shorter focal length will show more of the background. Read about the effect of lenses on composition Use depth of field selectively as necessary.
I passed over many gobies before finding one on a red sponge. Only one approach led to this composition, and I kept creeping forward while taking shots.
Next article: More underwater composition ideas
Support the Underwater Photography Guide
Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!