As part of the ReDiveProject Instagram Challenge, I have decided to share with you my personal tips for shooting 14 different common subjects underwater! If you want to get better photos of blennies, nudibranchs, sharks, rays, all sort of fish and more, this is the post for you!
The #ReDiveProject was initiated by Mozaik Underwater Camera to help raise awareness to the diving industry which took a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal is to share the beauty of the ocean, one subject at a time!
Each day we will add another subject to this list according to the daily theme. Stay tuned 😉
Daily theme list:
July 1 – Blennies⠀
July 2 – Sharks⠀
July 3 – Rays⠀
July 4 – Octopus⠀
July 5 – Parrotfish⠀
July 6 – Moray Eel⠀
July 7 – Crabs⠀
July 8 – Shrimp⠀
July 9 – Seahorses⠀
July 10 – Clownfish⠀
July 11 – Nudibranch⠀
July 12 – Pipefish⠀
July 13 – Coral⠀
July 14 – Turtles⠀
Here we go!
Blennies are probably the cutest fish I know of. They are fearless, expressive, fascinating and beautiful!
The great thing about blennies is that once they are in their hole, they feel very confident and will allow you, the photographer, to get nearly as close as you want to them! That makes them the perfect subject to practice your macro photography on and try different lenses, lighting techniques and more.
Here are my tips on how to get great blenny photos:
- Blennies are EVERYWHERE! Well, almost. If you look good enough, you will find them. In some cases, you will find a coral that is almost like a blenny skyscraper. A coral packed with tiny blennies peeking out of their little holes. If you’re not sure how to find them, ask your dive guide to show you one.
- You have to focus on the eyes. There’s no way around it. Shoot as many photos as you need till you get those eyes in focus. Bonus points if the mouth and teeth are in focus as well!
- Try to catch them out of the hole. If you wait long enough, they might pop out of the hole for a split second and come back. That’s a great moment to capture their entire body.
- Get a strong diopter and try to fill the frame with a blenny. This will be easier with larger blennies of course, but can be done with small secretary blennies as well, if your diopter is strong enough.
- If the blenny is hiding on something man made, or a rocky formation, you can use the rock or pillar to stabilize yourself and the camera, increasing the probability of a great shot.
- Try to shoot the blenny from the side, so that you separate its head from the background and get better color separation, against the blue water.
Sharks are one the most coveted subjects underwater. While many non-divers are terrified of them, we divers can’t get enough of them and only want to get in the water with as many sharks as possible!!
Taking photos of sharks is not an easy feat. Contrary to common belief, Sharks are rather timid animals and prefer to stay away from divers. Even if they swim in our vicinity (or rather we swim in theirs), they will often not get close enough for a good shot.
So how can you take better photos of sharks? Here are a few tips:
- There are many species of sharks out there! Some are easier than others to take photos of. Do your research and learn which sharks will let you get closer, how to behave around sharks, what to expect and how to read their body language.
- The “easiest” sharks to take photos of are usually nurse sharks. You can find them all over the Caribbean and they are very docile. They won’t mind you coming close, even very close. As long as you don’t bother them too much, they will stay put on the ground or swim right up to you. For a really cool shot of their mouth try to capture them from below, or shoot them straight from the side for a beautiful sleek profile shot.
- Silky sharks like to hang close to the surface. If the operator chums the water, you can capture amazing shots of them getting very close to you. They might even bump into you.
- This is the most important tip when shooting sharks – When sharks don’t want to get very close to you, the best thing you can do as a photographer is find a nice patch of coral in the reef, shoot that while aiming up and have the shark swimming in the background. That way you get a stunning and dramatic shot with a shark in it, rather than simply a boring, far away shot of a shark and nothing else.
- Experiment with different lenses. While the go-to lens to shoot sharks is a wide angle, if you zoom in you can get really interesting medium shots (portraits) of the shark up close, or even a cool close-up of its eye.
- Whale sharks are stunning creatures to shoot photos of! The best places to get in the water with them are Mexico, during whale shark season (June – Sep), Galapagos Islands, Oslob in the Philippines, Utila in Honduras, Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and several other places around the world. When shooting whale sharks, it’s important to choose a great operator who respects these fish and knows how to get you up close and personal with them in the water. Remember that they usually hang out in shallow water, so you have to set your camera to the correct settings for shallow water, no need to use a flash, and shoot on continuous burst to get the most shots out of your encounter.
- Safety – Try to stay within the group and not to turn your back away to an aggressive or defensive shark. Most sharks won’t attack humans, but there are a few species that you want to watch out for more than others. It is a wild animal after all.
Rays are beautiful, alien-like creatures. They come in many shapes and sizes, from the small spotted sting rays that hide in the sand to the majestic giant Oceanic Manta Rays that can reach a 29 feet (8.8 m) wing span.
Rays make excellent subjects for photos for several reasons – they are incredibly beautiful, they move fairly slowly and they don’t mind divers too much.
Here are a few tips on how to get the best photos of rays:
- Sting rays usually hide in the sandy bottom. Try to step away from the reef towards the sandy areas, look for their eyes and tails peeking out of the sand. When you approach them do it from the front, so they can see you but very subtly and slowly. If you move too fast, they will swim away. Try to get a good shot of them from the front, or even a close up of the eyes.
- The first instinct when spotting a ray is to swim immediately towards it. DON’T!! Fight that urge. Stay calm. Do not try to chase a ray. He will outswim you for sure. Instead, wait and see how it behaves. If he’s minding his business and poking around in the sand, approach him carefully in a big circle to get a good shot of him from the front. Slowly and calm.
- If possible, try to shoot the ray from eye level or even from below. You will get a much more impressive shot than from above.
- Go diving with manta rays. It’s a religious experience that will literally take your breath away. Manta rays are amazing, graceful, gentle creatures. It is incredibly sad to see how they are hunted around the world.
- When shooting manta rays at night, such as the famous manta dive in Kona, Hawaii or Maldives, point your strobes up. All the way up – as in 90 degrees up. This may sound odd, but it creates the best type of lighting that doesn’t light up the many particles in the water that the mantas are drawn to. You will get just a nice rim light on their bodies as they swim close to you and a fairly clean shot even with bad vis.
- Go diving in manta cleaning stations. It’s a very impressive sight and very high chance to spot mantas. The problem is that it’s hard to get close to them in those cleaning stations since you might scare them away, so it’s best to point your camera up and hope for a lucky shot when a manta swims above you. Otherwise, find a nice coral in the foreground and shoot the mantas in the background for a nice composition.
- The best place to see and shoot schools of hundreds of mobula rays is in Baja California, Mexico. Every year they aggregate there in the thousands and you can join an expedition to see them in action.
Once and for all – the plural for Octopus is Octopuses! Not Octopi. Trust me I check this…
Regardless of their plural form, octopuses are very strange, wonderful and resourceful creatures. Due to their intelligence, their behaviour varies quite a bit.
Some octopuses won’t let you get near them or will simply hide very well, while some might be quite friendly or even aggressive towards divers.
Here are some tips on how to get better shots of octopuses:
- Night time is best! Octopuses come out to hunt at night. It’s generally much easier to spot them and much easier to get close to them on night dives. Some will run away from your light and some will use it to hunt or play with it.
- If an octopus has a good, protective hiding place, it will stay put and pop in and out. If they feel the hiding place isn’t good enough, they will rush out to seek a new one or swim completely out of sight. If you find an octopus in a good hiding place, you can stay calm and wait for it to show himself a bit more for a good shot.
- If you spot an octopus in a bad hiding place, you better be quick, as they will most likely make a run for it whenever they can and give you maybe one good shot.
- If an octopus lets you get close, quite often you can get as close as you want, even get a macro shot of its eye. That really varies and you have to try and see how it reacts.
- The infamous blue-ringed octopus is one of the holy grails of UW photographers. If you are lucky enough to spot one, stay with it or it will disappear! Keep your eyes on it. This little critter doesn’t like to be in the spotlight and prefers to hide if possible. If you do find it, take some great shots and keep your distance, as this is one of the most venomous critters in the ocean.
Tips on how to find it? Be lucky! 😂
A well known fact is that much of the white, soft sand we love so much, is actually parrotfish poop! Parrotfish munch on corals to feed on the algae with their strong beak-like jaws and then poop the grinded coral in a sandy form. Over millions of years it has accumulated to create the amazing beaches we see today.
Besides being living sand factories, parrotfish are a colorful and rather friendly subject for underwater photographers.
Here are some tips on how to take the best photos of parrotfish:
- Parrotfish are a fairly large fish (especially the humphead type!) so they don’t mind divers so much. They feel quite comfortable near large animals, divers included so they could potentially get close to you. That being said, if you show the slightest predatory behaviour, they would go munch elsewhere. Let parrotfish come to you! As many fish, they are very attentive to eye contact, so try to avoid eye contact and approach them in baby steps. If they are higher on a slope, they probably won’t mind you coming from below, slowly.
- If you would like to capture a nice action shot, try to get them at the moment they bite on the coral.
- At night, they go to sleep in saliva cocoons. Yeah it’s disgusting but also very cool. Since most night dives are done rather early, you will probably spot them only starting to blow up their bubble, which makes a cool shot. They stay very still at night so you can take great close-ups of them and their impressive mouth.
- The larger the parrotfish, the more it’ll let you get close to it, usually.
6. Moray Eels
Moray eels are one of the most photographed subject undewater!
Remember what it was like before you became a diver? You thought that eels are this grey, slimy snake-like creature that you never want to encounter in the water?
Now that you’re certified, you can’t get enough of them!
Suddenly you discover that moray eels are beautiful, fascinating creatures. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors and are a real treat to meet underwater!
So how do you take better photos of moray eels? Here are some of my tips:
- Know where to find them – Moray eels hide in holes during the day and hunt during the night. If you look into corals well enough, you have a very high chance of finding one peeking out with an open mouth (btw, they are not mad at you, they are simply breathing with their mouth open!). You can either find them by identifying the tail, or the head.
- A moray eel will usually pose for you even if you get close. They are pretty confident creatures, and don’t really get scared easily, so you can get super close to them and get a nice shot of their face up close. It’s actually the smaller ones that are more confident, and usually the bigger ones tend to hide deeper inside the coral.
- Moray eels like to be cleaned by smaller fish and cleaner shrimps. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one being cleaned and be able to get a shot of this in action. Try to notice the little shrimp on the jaw of the moray, or the fish on their gills. Sometimes the shrimp will be right next to them so you can wait and it may climb on the moray to give it a quick scrub.
- Moray eels will sometimes hunt together with other fish, such as Groupers. This could be a very cool shot to take, with these two predators roaming the reef together. They are usually more confident together, so it’s more likely to find a free swimming eel outside along with its grouper buddy, rather than alone.
Crabs are probably one of the most underappreciated underwater subjects.
We often don’t take notice of them or even ignore them when encountering underwater. And what a shame that is! You might be missing out on incredible photo opportunities.
Crabs are fascinating little creatures, which can be very expressive, colorful and photogenic. They come in so many shapes and sizes that it can blow your mind. From the tiniest hermit crabs to the giant spider crabs. And the great thing is that they are everywhere! You can almost always find them walking along a sandy bottom, hiding in coral, climbing on little rocks or out and about at night looking for food.
Here are my tips on how to get better photos of crabs underwater:
- Look for moving shells – Under every moving shell, hides a tiny and cute crab that is just waiting for you to take its photo. If you’re on a dive and can’t find any subjects to shoot, look around you – there’s probably a crab right underneath you!
- Find the eyes and focus on them! Yes, I know that’s a challenge with crabs. Crabs quite often have bizarre eyes, just barely connected to their heads and in many cases positioned awkwardly and unexpectedly. You goal as the photographer is to identify the eyes and lock focus on them!
- Shoot at night – During the night crabs come out to hunt and can be found everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE! It’s by far the most common critter roaming about at night and when diving on the reef, wherever you look you will see crabs of all shapes and sizes. I usually use them to test out my lighting and settings at the beginning of the dive. Sometime those test shots even come out great!
- When shooting crabs that are hiding inside coral you need to be really, really good with lighting! Otherwise, you won’t manage to get any light in there. You must have surgical precision with your light, getting enough light to hit the subject so that it doesn’t come out all dark. Doing this with one strobe is often more challenging that using two, since with two strobes it’s more likely that at least one will hit the subject.
- Crabs are masters of disguise – There are so many cool crabs you’ve never seen, probably because you never managed to spot them! Decorator crabs disguise themselves with coral, sponge, crinoid hairs and anything else they can find to blend into their surroundings. Other crabs hide inside crinoids or behind christmas tree worms, orangutan crabs hide underneath anemones and so on. When you learn how to find them, you will start getting amazing photos that most divers have never even seen.
- Arrow crabs are among the best subjects when learning to shoot macro – they are easy to find thanks to their relatively big size, they are very common in the Caribbean, they are very friendly to divers and they are usually very accessible to shoot. Great for trying your new diopter or macro lens, practicing lighting techniques or simply getting some great photos from a dive.
Shrimp are small crustaceans that come in various shapes and sizes. Most of them are quite different from the delicious shrimp you’re used to eat (not me, I’ve given up shrimp and all seafood for that matter, mostly because of the internal conflict as a diver).
Shrimp are abundant and present everywhere in the ocean, from the shallow reefs to the deepest, barely explored parts of the ocean.
They are fascinating and beautiful alien-like creatures. Most non-divers think of shrimp merely as the pink ones that are offered commercially as food. We as underwater photographers can show the rest of the world the amazing variety of the different species and capture them in a way that compliments their surreal beauty.
So how can we shoot better photos of shrimp? Here are some tips!
- Just like crabs, you need to find the eyes and focus on them! Even if it’s hard…
Shrimp eyes are usually extended out a bit, so focus can be challenging. Furthermore, similar to crabs, some shrimp have a long front part which the camera will try to focus on. The best way to know where their eyes are is to look at other close-up photos of that species and when you encounter it underwater, you’ll know what to look for.
- Follow the antennas… The banded coral shrimp is one of the most common shrimp types you will encounter. Their signature long white antennas are always the first thing you notice, hiding under a coral or sponge. If you spot those antennas, you will find the shrimp. The make excellent and colorful subjects for macro photography!
- Mantis Shrimp are cool! Mantis shrimp, especially the world-famous peacock mantis shrimp, are one of nature’s most amazing creations. I can go on and on about them and why they are so cool, but photography-wise what you need to remember is to try to approach them slowly and carefully. They see so much better than humans that they will notice every movement you make, and they might even be able to read your mind and see your aura (Read this). So if you want to get a good shot of them, stay calm, monitor their behaviour, give them time. They are very intelligent creatures so it’s not always easy to anticipate their behaviour, but some will definitely be curious about you and let you get very very close.
- The Pederson shrimp, also known as the cleaner shrimp, shares a symbiotic relationship with anemones, so if you find an anemone and search closely inside it, you will most likely find one (or 5!). They will usually come out to greet you, or protect their beloved anemone, so they make excellent subjects when perched on a the edge of one of the tentacles. Another shrimp that is commonly found around anemones is the squat shrimp (AKA sexy shrimp because of the way they wiggle their butts 🙂 )
- Shrimp eyes glow in the dark! Well not exactly glow but actually they reflect light. Many species of shrimp would reflect a red-orange light when your dive light hits them, which makes it so easy to find them at night! Occasionally you will see hundreds of red pairs of eyes in the same area on the reef. Kinda spooky but also very cool!
- Shrimp are not afraid of you! I know, that’s weird because they are tiny and they barely have any defense mechanism. Most of them rely on hiding and camouflage as a way of survival, but if you do find them, they aren’t very good swimmers or runners, so they will basically just sit there. That’s awesome for us as photographers!
9. Sea Horses
Crowned as one of the cutest animals in the world, sea horses are sought after by every diver and always cause them to shriek in delight when they finally encounter one!
Sea horses are an odd species, they come in various sizes but share similar characteristics. Their main defense mechanism is camouflage, since they are otherwise literally defenseless. Their best bet is to remain virtually invisible.
That makes life hard for underwater photographers. However, there are some advantages in their behaviour which makes them excellent subjects for underwater photography.
Here are some tips on how to take better photos of sea horses:
- Sea Horses don’t move around a lot. If undisturbed, they can actually stay for months in the same area. That means that as long as you don’t bother them, you can likely come back to them dive after dive and grab a few shots. But you have to be kind and respectful, otherwise they will search for a new home as this one has been compromised by a massive and bizarre fish with flashing lights and one big eye looking right at them…
- When faced with divers, sea horses are pretty static. They stay attached to their branch and hope we will go away quickly. The only thing they do, is turn their backs on us. This actually makes them often quite hard to shoot. They simply follow the diver’s position and always keep their backs to them. How rude!
If you’re inobtrusive enough, they might give you a nice face shot. If you disturb them too much, they will try swimming away. Don’t chase them, they don’t really like it. If a seahorse decides it has has enough, let it be.
- Pygmy seahorses are a focusing nightmare. Yes they are very cute, yes they are pretty and colorful. But after trying to focus on ones eyes for 30 minutes, you might want to squish it from frustration. Please don’t…
You need very good buoyancy skills or something to hang on to if you are to shoot a good shot of a pygmy seahorse. Those little critter are sometimes the size of a grain of rice. And they camouflage themselves very well. They are quite a challenging subject.
- Seahorses look great in backlight! If you are confident enough with your photography, you can attempt to position one light behind the seahorse and one in front, and get a nice backlit shot, perhaps even with creative colored lighting. Seahorses are perfect for that because they have great texture and don’t move too much.
- Mythbuster – Seahorses won’t get blinded by your strobe. There used to be a common misconception that the flash we use when taking photos hurts their sensitive eyes and could blind them. Scientists have actually tested that and discovered that even after hundreds of recurring, strong flashes of light, no harm was done.
- Spiny seahorses are easier to find – thanks to the spines on their back. This seahorse is common in places such as SE Asia, the Red Sea and even Europe. When looking for them among the coral or in a grassy seabed, try to spot the spines and you’ll be able to find them much easier!
Clownfish were made famous by the 2003 animation film “Finding Nemo”. Since then Nemo has become well known in every household around the world. Sadly, even though the movie portrayed the use of fish as pets quite negatively and encourages releasing them to the ocean, the actual affect was the opposite.
There was a huge increase in demand for clownfish for the aquarium industry and their numbers declined significantly. Leave it to mankind to take something lovely and turn it into a sh*t show.
Luckily, there are still plenty of clownfish for us underwater photographers to shoot and admire!
Here are some tips on how to take better photos of clownfish:
- Clownfish always live inside anemones. This makes it super easy to find them on nearly every dive, if they are there. Anemones are very easy to spot even from a distance! If you are looking for something to shoot on a dive, you can’t go wrong with anemone.
Besides the cute clownfish family living there, you can also find the Pederson shrimp we spoke about a few days ago!
- Their aggressive behaviour when protecting their anemone is perfect for photography!
These little brave fish will defend the anemone against any predator, big or small. Just try to get close and feel their wrath! Although, they mostly bark and don’t bite as much as damsel fish for example.
This means that when you approach them with your camera, they will “attack” you in a very cute way and guarantee some excellent poses for your photos.
Btw, if you get to close and they feel threatened they will hit the eject button and escape. Please at that point take a step back and allow them to return home instead of chasing them. You’re putting them at risk. How would you feel if someone kicks you out of your home??
- Clownfish will lay their eggs on the rock near the anemone. After the eggs are in place, the dad-to-be will stay very close to the eggs, blowing fresh water on them regularly to make sure they are well oxygenated.
This is a fantastic photo opportunity and a fascinating behaviour shot to capture. Look for the eggs when you find anemones on your dives! They will look like a big red-ish patch on the rock.
Make sure you are being respectful and not harming the eggs in anyway, when you get close with your camera.
- You can choose your background – when shooting clowfish, a great technique is to point your camera to a nice area in the anemone, that would serve as a good background, and wait for the clownfish to come there, instead of chasing it all over. Since clownfish move quite a lot, they will likely enter your frame and you’ll get a great shot with a nice background!
- Shoot the small ones – they are really pretty! Quite often you’ll see a juvenile clownfish inside the anemone. While it may be harder to shoot, it’s worth trying, since they are very pretty, their skin looks more smooth and their features are very delicate. Definitely worth capturing!
- Try some wide angle shots with a sun ball. While the go-to photo of clownfish is a medium shot or close-up, they also look great when shooting them with a wide angle fisheye lens, positioning your camera from below and having the sun in the background. Make sure you get enough light on them and reduce the exposure of the background with fast shutter speed!
Non-divers will never understand the fascination, some might say obsession, that us divers have with nudibranchs! These magnificent little creatures are an endless source of inspiration to underwater photographers.
We like to collect them like kids collect cards, or Pokemon, or whatever is the trend these days 😂 We always want to find one more nudibranch that we’ve never shot before, and get a great shot of it!
Nudibranchs (btw, it’s pronounced nudi-brank) come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from a grain of rice to a 20″ inch Spanish Dancer. They are always the best type of macro subject, since they move very slowly and almost always come in bright, vivid colors.
Here are some tips on how to shoot the best photos of nudibranchs:
- Shoot them from the front! Yes I know it’s hard to determine what is front and what is back… The easy ones have horns / antennas (rhinophores) on the front side and gills on their back side. They also have eyes, but those are very hard to spot, depending on the species. So as opposed to almost all other subjects, with nudibranchs we usually don’t focus on the eyes but rather on the rhinophores.
The harder ones are those that barely have rhinophores, or nudibranchs like the lettuce leaf sea slug. Good luck with those! You will most likely end up shooting their butts. If you even find them that is!
- You need to shoot nudibranchs at “eye” level. Yes, I know it’s hard. Stop whining. You have to find the ones that allow you to get down to eye level with them, and shoot them at that angle.
Most nudi photos are shot from above and quite frankly, that’s boring. If you get to that eye level angle, you can get a nicer, blurry background and much nicer and more interesting composition.
- Shoot them when they are stretching up. The is by far the best angle for shooting nudibranchs! Only some of them will exhibit that behaviour when crawling around the coral. When they reach a little cliff, they will stretch out and life their heads, giving you the best possible pose for photos.
Make sure you capture it on time! They will be gone in a few seconds…
- Use a smaller aperture when shooting them – usually a wide aperture like f/2 or f/2.8 will give you such a small depth of field, that barely the tip of the rhinophore will be in focus. If you use a smaller aperture, such as f/8 on a compact of f/16 on a DSLR, you’ll get much more of the nudi in focus.
- Experiment with lighting – nudibranch are great subjects because they don’t move much. This gives you an opportunity to try many things and experiment with creative lighting techniques – black background, back light, snoot and more.
- Nudibranch On a Hill – An important aspect of underwater photography is “subject accessibility”. The easier it is to access the subject, get eye level with it and position your lights comfortably, the better photos you will get.
As such, the holy grail of underwater photograph is “Nudibranch on a Hill”. This means you find a beautiful nudibranch, perched high up, with nothing much around it. Since it’s a nudibranch, it doesn’t move much, so you can shoot as much as you want. This opens up all the options for you as the photographer, so if you find one, stay with it till you get your shot of a lifetime!
Pipefish are a bit more of a rare subject. Usually divers are really excited to see these stretched out seahorses and take their photos.
There are plenty of different pipefish species, from the elusive ghost pipefish to the more common Red Sea pipefish which as its name suggests, can be found in the Red Sea. Each species has its own distinct behaviour.
Let’s talk about how to get the best photos of pipefish!
- You have to get eye level with them! I know, I say that on every subject. But it is really that important. I have never seen a good photo of a pipefish taken from above… It simply doesn’t look appealing. The pipefish itself isn’t the most impressive of fish. It’s elongated body is kinda boring when shot from the top. However, when going eye level with it and focusing on the face, the eyes, the head, with the body in the background and slightly blurred from the small depth of field, you can get some mind blowing shots!
- The Red Sea pipefish (Aka network pipefish) is one of my favorite ones. Their docile and friendly behaviour make them amazing subjects and they are beautiful up close.
They would usually hang out around soft coral, hunting for food and they don’t really mind your presences as a diver. Sometimes, if you get too close, they will keep their distance, but quite often they don’t mind you and will actually let you get very close.
They don’t move too fast and will stop once in a while to pose, so that’s your opportunity to grab a great shot.
- Ghost pipefish rely on camouflage a lot and spend most of their time trying to look like seaweed, coral or branches. They hang around stuff that looks exactly like them, usually floating mid-water with their heads down at an angle. Once you find them, they will probably stay still enough for you to get a good shot of them, but they will try to hide between the branches and corals, so it might be a bit challenging.
- Those things on the pipefish’s “cheeks” are gills! Yeah I know I was shocked as well at first. But if you look really close, you will see that they have really cool texture, like small feathers sometimes. Capturing them in focus is a bonus when shooting pipefish up close!
This is probably the most general subject throughout this challenge! Coral is an entire family of marine invertebrates, with almost 5000 known species. In fact, coral is such an important animal (yes it’s an animal, not a plant!), that it basically enables all the other species in the ocean and the world for that matter (humans included).
Coral are home to small algae and share a symbiotic relationship with it, and the phytoplankton in that algae is responsible for more than half of the world’s oxygen. Without coral, there will be no life. Which is why the growing phenomenons of coral bleaching and white syndrome are so worrying.
Coral comes in many many shapes and sizes, including soft coral, hard coral and thousands of subspecies within those families.
Few of us actually shoot coral as the main subject, always looking for fish or other marine life to be the main subject in our photos, but quite often the coral is the most beautiful part of the photo! If not as the main subject, the coral background can be stunning and support your main subject beautifully. Moreso, coral doesn’t move that much, so it makes an excellent subject to practice on before moving to other marine life.
Let’s look at some tips on shooting better photos of coral:
- Coral is the first thing you shoot with new gear! Whenever you get a new camera, new light, new lens or any new accessory, find a nice patch of coral and try it out first! Corals stay still and let you practice as much as you want. If you nail the focus, lighting, background, colors etc. on a coral, then you can easily reproduce that on a moving subject! Find your settings on a coral first, then shoot fish. Who knows, you might even get some nice shots of the coral as well 🙂
- Look for the texture – corals consist of thousands of individual polyps, which means they have fascinating textures! You can find exceptional textures on coral and shoot that, which holds up the composition well on its own. Lighting tip – use a single strobe instead of dual, and position it from the side to emphasize the texture!
- Macro or wide – coral can always look great! Coral looks amazing whether you shoot it with a wide angle or a macro lens. Get the nice detail up close with a macro lens, or shoot the impressive structures of coral with a wide angle lens. When shooting wide, try to shoot up to get the coral against the water background or the surface, preferably with a nice sun ball to compliment it.
- Soft coral, especially the red one, is stunning! This is my favorite type of coral by far and every time I find it I have to shoot it. Sometimes I use it as background for other subjects, sometimes I shoot it by itself and sometimes I would use it to compliment a diver in the shot. Either way, once you point your strobes on it, the vivid colors you get are absolutely amazing.
- Choose nice patches of coral as a main subject when shooting marine life that’s far away in the background.
If a shark, turtle or ray doesn’t want to come too close, grab your nearest coral that looks pretty and position it in your foreground. Then have the pelagic in the background for a stunning composition and a great overall shot. While the subject here is still the shark or ray, the coral takes its place in the foreground and helps create a much better image.
- Coral is the number one reason for scratched domes! These hard corals are seriously hard. If your dome so much as touches one of them, you’ll most likely scratch it. Beware of the corals when diving with a wide angle lens and make sure you don’t carry the camera under you while diving low. Many divers have scratched their domes in this exact way (yours truly included…) so don’t learn the hard way and keep away from coral!
Everybody loves turtles!! The last day of the #ReDiveProject is dedicated to all turtles out there.
Turtles are one of the easiest subjects to shoot, one of the easiest subjects to find (if you go to the right places) and are always exciting for divers no matter how many times you’ve seen them!
It’s something about their tranquility that captivates us. They are zen masters. Always calm, always in control, powerful yet docile. They could not care less about divers and happily post for us until they move on to their next destination to munch on some more coral or get a breath of fresh air.
Furthermore, they are amazing freedivers. Their breath hold varies by species and environmental variables, but it can be anything from 30 min to 7 hours! We truly have a lot to learn from sea turtles. Which is a great reason to take photos of them!
Let’s talk about how to get better underwater photos of turtles:
- Swim around them, not towards them. Just like many larger marine life, when you spot one, avoid swimming directly towards it. It’s true that out of all the larger animals, turtles are the least likely to swim away when you approach them, and in many cases they don’t really care about you. Still, there is a higher chance of getting up close and nailing a good shot of their face or profile if you swim around them rather that straight towards them.
- Do not shoot turtles from above! Sure it could be a cool shot if you’re right above the turtle in blue water and free swimming or above a clear sandy bottom, but that’s about only scenario where it would look good.
In most cases, shooting eye level or even from below creates a much nicer shot!
- Try to capture them in action, while eating – Turtles would munch on coral and sponge with their strong beak like jaws and they would really go at it! When they try to tear off a piece, you can get some really nice and dramatic poses with pieces of sponge flying everywhere. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get some other fish feeding on the leftovers, such as wrasse or angelfish which often accompany turtles for that exact reason.
- When turtles go up for air, in most cases they come back down to the exact same spot. So if you see a turtle ascending to the surface, it might be worth hanging around for a few minutes till it comes back down, ready and energized for another photos session.
- If you’re stuck with a macro lens on, use it! It might seem like you have no way to shoot a turtle with a macro lens on, but actually getting a close up shot of their eye can be stunning! You can also shoot one straight up front for a close-up portrait, or even just shoot the texture on their shell.
- Fin position is very important! Try to wait for the right moment when snapping the photo – either when the fin is all the way down or all the way up. These are usually the most dramatic poses that look great on camera. Of course if the turtle isn’t moving much, and just walking across the reef slowly then you won’t get much fin movement, but even then, try to capture an interesting pose – looking at you, biting coral, turtle looking up rather than down etc.
This concludes our #ReDiveProject Instagram Challenge! Wow, what a ride. Thanks to the great photographers that shared hundreds of photos around the world. Thanks for helping us spread the love for the ocean 🙂
We hope this guide is helpful! Print it out and use it on your next dive trips, to prepare for any wonderful subject you might encounter.