Tips to capture the beauty of marine life
November 9, 2016 | 6:36 PM
by Times News Service
Being alone in the water is the best way to let animals come close.

Jonathan Ali Khan from Wild Planet Productions and director of the documentary shares some key photography tips on shooting images underwater with marine life, especially with sharks.

The advantages of digital

Digital is incredibly advantageous. Viewing your results straightaway underwater is essential in getting to perfecting your image, and you are no longer limited to 36-exposures like the old days of film on each dive. The ability to delete the bad frames means that the greatest limitation is either when the battery runs out; you fill your card; or your dive time ends.

Choosing the right system

Choose a camera system according to your skill levels and intentions for the future. Start how you intend to continue for years to come with a system that allows you to upgrade as you grow your skill-set and interest levels. If you decide on a compact solution, push your budget to include the best you can afford, with lens adaptors and diopters, strobes, and more. If you decide on a DSLR, choose a camera that suits you equally under and above water. The more experience you have with your camera, the easier it becomes to plan your images.

Perfect your skills

Whilst essential for all divers to perfect your buoyancy and other diving skills, minimising your impact on the environment — it is more so for photographers and videographers. The use of autofocus, auto exposure controls, and the ability to take a white balance and change the ISO during the dive, all help to free up the photographer to focus on finding the subject, composing and lighting the shots, while being careful not to damage the precious aquatic life around you. Become self-sufficient as you will need to conduct solo-dives for best results.

Learn about your subject

Study up and get as much information as possible about the animal or subject you are about to shoot. Go online and research the subject, read books and spend time observing the animal and its setting, trying to anticipate moments of behaviour or action that best characterise the subject. Be prepared to spend hours and repetitive dives in order to get a single shot.

Close to your subject

Being alone in the water is the best way to let animals come close. This is especially important for underwater photography. Less water between the subject and the camera means better visibility, fewer suspended particles, fewer micro-bubbles reflecting the light and better sharpness. In the right situation, marine creatures are often curious rather than elusive. They will choose the direction, the speed, the angle — and most of the time they will be in the back-light in order to take advantage of using the natural light to hide their body, which has evolved to blend in with the water.

Capturing the moment

During shark dives, your mind needs to be ready and the fingers of your hands should act as if they are playing an instrument: Metering the background water, getting the right exposure with f-stop corrections, finding the best composition - everything should become almost automatic.

If lucky, groups of sharks are more likely than single animals to stay around for a while, providing a number of chances. After the first approach, find the best setting and concentrate on the composition to get a wider choice and keep shooting.

Crafting the image

In open water, depending on depth, light penetrates the water in a way that filters out the colour spectrum. Good camera models provide excellent white-balance features so that you can control the colour balance of your image at all times. Use this function constantly as it is the first real means (other than exposure and focus), to manipulate the true colours of the scene and enable you to craft your edges.

Build your story

Take time to build a story around the images, including use of top-side ‘moments’ that help to complete your collection.

Be bold but sensible

Remain calm around sharks and learn to detect their body language. Most sharks exhibit swimming patterns that demonstrate their state of mind; dorsal fins down and arched back provides ample warning as they are letting you know you should move away. Failing to recognise these signs may result in unpleasant consequences — and you will only have yourself to blame if things go wrong.

[email protected]

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news