5 Ways to Improve Your Photographs
I hear this question a lot: "how can I take better pictures?" The answer is too long and unpredictable to be able to write it down, but there are some things you can do to improve that are pretty reliable. So without ado, here are the 5 things you can do that I think are most likely to help you.
1. Be Critical
This is easily the most important way to improve your photographs. What it boils down to is this: you can't fix it if you don't know it's broken. You have to inspect your photographs closely, and be really harsh with your own work. If something is wrong with the photograph, don't rationalize it. Figure out what you did wrong, and what you should have done differently, and what you have to do better the next time. If you want to improve your evaluation skills, read the section on evaluting photographs.
Also, when you look in dive magazines and you see a picture you really like, go get the picture of yours that is closest in appearance and subject to it. Compare them. Look at the overall exposure of your photo and the one from the magazine. Is the water color the same in yours? How about the strobe lighting? Is your subject too bright, too dark, or just too harshly shadowed? What about composition? Is your subject centered, but the pro's wasn't? Did the pro find some element of composition that you missed? Maybe you like yours better (hey--just because they're professionals doesn't mean they're perfect). If so, why?
2. Learn Proper Strobe Positioning
Strobe positioning is something that takes time to master, but it's important. Proper strobe positioning gets you two really important things: less backscatter, and light that looks natural in your pictures.
If you have a snapshot camera and don't already have a strobe for it, buy one. Even if the strobe is not positionable, getting it away from the camera will help your pictures immensely.
3. Get Close
I read a truly hilarious statement from another photographer one time (I forget who): "Great underwater photography, step 1: remove as much water as possible." While pithy, it's true. Getting closer to your subject gives less water to cause backscatter, gives less water for optical distortions, and makes for brighter colors from your strobe. It also fills more of the frame with the subject, which is rarely a bad thing. The farthest you should ever be from your subject is 6 feet, unless the subject is huge and you just don't have a choice. If you have to be farther than 6 feet from your subject, save yourself some grief and turn off your strobe. It's not going to get you any color anyway, and the backscatter will likely kill your picture.
4. Shoot up
This is a critical thing that many uw photographers forget to do. If you shoot
"down" on your subject, you get flat, low-separation images that make the
subject blend into the background. By putting the surface behind your subejct,
instead of the floor, you get a subject that stands out from the background, free of
charge. You also get the chance to work with Snell's Window, which is a neat compositional
So remember: stay below your subject, if possible.
5. Film is Cheap
The only way to practice your skills is to take pictures. Film is cheap, and dive travel is not. If there's a shot you really want and you're not exactly sure about the aperture/shutter/strobe power settings, bracket. If you're not sure of the composition, shoot from a couple of different angles & positions.
If you're curious about whether a given shot is going to work, take the shot and find out. Don't be afraid to experiment, and don't fear bad results. Bad results are stepping stones on the way to good results!