Have you ever taken a photograph of a person who didn’t want you to?
Did you chase them as fast as you could to get the perfect shot? What did their face look like? Their expression? Not great huh?
For this reason as photographers we ask people if we can take their picture or simply make sure that in street or wildlife photography we go unnoticed, taking photographs from afar and not interfering in the situation. I have been photographing underwater now for just over 7 years and the biggest lesson I have learnt from countless failed photographs is that the same rules apply to your subjects underwater to those one land.
For the vast majority of experienced underwater photographers, the idea of chasing a subject or interfering doesn’t really cross our minds for the same reason as above; who wants a photo of the back of a seahorse? Or a fish’s tale? Or an animal that is clearly in distress? Great underwater photographs, like great portraits of photo journalism reflect the natural beauty, chaos or tranquility of the environment in which they are shot, they are not rushed.
In the underwater photography community, animal or reef interference is a widely accepted no-no due to the environmental impact these behaviour have on our precious underwater environment (the act of simply moving a nudibranch to another location even if physically unharmed can in some cases almost guarantee it’s death due to their incredibly selective diet). But like many of the worlds environmental problems not every member of the community really cares about the environmental impact, so let me ask you this, have you ever considered the impact on your photographs? Here are my top pieces of advice for instantly improving your photographs whilst inadvertently protecting the environment:
Dive and dive often. The most amazing scenes we capture happen under the waters surface every minute of every day, you just need to ensure you are down there when it is happening. The best wildlife photos can’t be artificially recreated.
Never chase a subject. Pictures of animal bums (unless that’s what you are into) make amateur photographs. Take your time, be patient, the winning photographs can take an entire dive to capture a single frame.
Never move or touch a critter. Just like when you take my photograph, getting all touchy-feely is not on. You will see it in the subjects expression and body language, constantly moving around and not looking natural. Just wait, sit patiently and after some time the subject will get curious and the shot will line itself up, if not, move along and find a subject that deserves your time.
Protect the reef underneath you, I’ve been on countless dives where the weekend before showed up 1000’s of critters to take photographs of…then a new class of divers bulldozed the reef with their fins and scared/killed everything off. Even if I can’t compel you to love the ocean environment, about what will be left to photograph the next time you visit the reef.
Learn about the critters you photograph. Doing a little research before going down will wield amazing results, as animal behaviour underwater is incredibly predictable if you know what you are looking for. Researching your subjects will prevent the need to move/chase/poke/harass to get the right framing, and just like the rest of nature, it is much better at arranging itself than you are.
We spend countless hours and unimaginable money on diving, underwater photography and our contribution to this beautiful community…why wast brilliant encounters and photographic opportunities on a lack of patience and understanding? No photograph in the world is worth more than the environment it is shot in.
WORDS and PICTURES by Matt Krumins / mattkruminsphotography.com.au