Underwater specialist Steve Benjamin has some tips on how to take spectacular underwater photographs.
Photography is about creating an image that portrays how you feel about the world, and convincing the viewer to feel the same. In the end, when someone looks at your image, are they able to relate? Can you make them care about what you are showing them?
There are many elements and aspects to think about when trying to create a captivating image underwater. Here are a few to help you tell your story.
Remove The Water
It might sound odd, but water is your worst enemy. It will rob your images of detail and feeling, which means you need to get close, removing as much optically distressing water as possible.
The closer you are to your subject, the brighter the colours, the crisper the details and the less backscatter you’ll get.
By using a wide-angle lens, your subject will appear normal while you are close. Remember though, the subject’s welfare is a priority – don’t disturb an animal just to get a photo!
Photographic images are a frozen moment in time, a slice of the past. It’s an art to be able to capture motion in a frozen image, so choose a subject that naturally has a lot of movement.
Using a slow shutter speed, you can create the blur of the speed while freezing the details that give the image its identity.
Try to capture a crisp eye or head while the rest is in motion. The technique leads to many bad images – but the ones that work are worth the effort.
Shoot In the Light
By using strobes and shooting into the light source, you’re able to expose the shadows that would otherwise be black in a photo. Light rays in the background add an interesting element.
Look for a foreground and a background, and for elements that create layers in your image, such as the water’s surface or other animals in the distance.
Photograph local subjects that you have access to every day. Nothing beats experience, so don’t wait for a holiday in some faraway place to learn – get in the water and practise often.
Understand Your Subject’s Behaviour
Through learning and observation, you can predict what an animal or environment will do. Pre-empt the situation to get in the best position to create the image you have in mind.
This might be leaning over the side of a boat to get a low angle on a penguin’s release, or swimming ahead of a whale shark and trying to understand where it will feed next. Observe, predict … and be there.
The Pro: Steve Benjamin
Steve was worked with many filmmakers and photographers, assisting on shoots for <National Geographic> in the Seychelles, Mexico, Peru and the Galapagos, as well as on the BBC series <Nature’s Great Events> and <Blue Planet II>.
He strives to add motion and character to his images to evoke an emotion: “I want the viewer to feel something when they look at my images – wonder, terror, beauty or awe!” Steve also runs Animal Ocean, a business that focuses on snorkelling with Cape fur seals in Hout Bay, Cape Town.
Words and Photos by Steve Benjamin