Capturing Abstracts: Underwater Pictures for Hipsters

As a substitute of filling the body, the pygmy seahorse is PART of the body, tying the picture collectively (105mm, f/16, 1/200s, ISO 125)


Look again into your reminiscence and discover the very best underwater {photograph} you could have ever seen. One thing jaw-dropping; a second in time so completely captured, so completely composed that you could’t even be jealous of the photographer who took it. You could be pondering of clear blue water with a charismatic topic, attention-grabbing habits, or possibly some intelligent or spectacular lighting. One factor is for certain, it’s the kind of picture that makes you merely say, “Wow!”, and stare in marvel. Good, in keeping with each photographic “rule”!

These are usually not the varieties of pictures I will likely be discussing. As a substitute of pictures that make individuals go “Wow!” and gasp in awe, we’re speaking pictures that make individuals go “Huh?” and tilt their heads: underwater abstracts. It seems that this “model” of underwater pictures is way simpler to indicate than clarify, however as a result of the correct mindset is vital relating to composition, I’m going to strive anyway.

Let’s say that the baseline purpose of underwater pictures is to search out spectacular moments and seize them as faithfully to actuality as doable in order that the viewer looks like they have been truly there. These are the “Wow!” pictures. The important thing to summary pictures lies in how a picture departs from that faithfulness. For the sake of explainability, consider a spectrum with standard guidelines of composition residing within the middle and the extra summary ones on the extremes. One can strategy one facet of this spectrum by eradicating the specificity and context of a picture, thereby leaving more room for interpretation. With extra ambiguity, it takes on a conceptual, inventive aesthetic. On the opposite facet, a composition turns into extra summary because it tries to impose a selected and synthetic construction. When underwater photographers consider composition, we have a tendency to consider topic and setting, however when a painter thinks of composition, it’s extra by way of form, perspective, and repetition. This finish of the spectrum is concentrated on the latter.


Symmetrically cropped crab on sea pen (105mm, f/16, 1/10s, ISO 200)


Fractal feeding tentacles on a sea cucumber (105mm + Nauticam SMC-1, f/20, 1/200s, ISO 200)


Ideas of Summary Pictures

That’s sufficient with the art-school mumbo jumbo; let’s speak “specifics.” On this planet of underwater pictures, there are limitless inventive methods photographers use so as to add a bit spice to their pictures: snoots, lengthy exposures, props, diopters, backlighting, and so forth. Sadly, inventive methods don’t a inventive picture make, as evidenced by all my lame snoot pictures! So relatively than itemizing out a bunch of the way to hold extra gear underwater, listed here are some helpful ideas to get a photographer in the correct mindset for placing collectively extra distinctive compositions.


Squint your eyes at a photograph and also you’ll discover that the small print of the topic and its setting may be damaged down into shapes. People, pattern-seeking organisms that we’re, love clearly outlined shapes. If there may be an excessive amount of uniformity or chaos, we don’t know the place to look first and the picture can really feel messy or plain. Nevertheless, if an image has robust shapes to information our eyes, will probably be subconsciously far more pleasing to us. Take the picture beneath, for instance. The concentric ovals of the angel shark’s eye instantly catch the viewer’s consideration. Attempt to break down your favourite pictures into easy shapes and also you’ll start to see curves instead of kelp, triangles instead of fish, circles instead of eyes. Attempt discovering compositions based mostly on form to increase your vary of topics and diversify your portfolio.


Radial symmetry with an angel shark eye on the middle (60mm + Nauticam SMC-1, f/18, 1/200s, ISO 160)



Much like form, “line” is an indispensable software by way of guiding the viewer’s imaginative and prescient. The principle distinction is that whereas form offers interesting factors of focus, line creates paths and divisions within the scene for the eyes to comply with. Extra excessive examples, just like the picture beneath, incorporate daring traces to offer a picture a robust geometric look. These pictures rely upon sharp high-contrast types like kelp stipes, fin rays, and branching corals. On the subtler facet of line are gradients and layers. The fuzzy transitions from one shade to a different, differing mild ranges, and the barrier between reef and blue water can break up a picture into sections, making a busy scene extra digestible. An summary picture doesn’t essentially want a topic; attempt to discover traces and gradients that may set up your compositions with out the necessity for a transparent focus.


Tubesnout eggs adorning the vertices of branching large kelp (60mm, f/14, 1/160s, ISO 250)



All people loves a pleasant topic. Charismatic sharks, majestic whales, and vibrant nudibranchs are mainstays of pictures competitions. The one downside is that everybody loves them, so there are millions of variations on the identical blue-water shark sunball shot everyone seems to be accustomed to. How do you get distinctive pictures of essentially the most over-photographed critters on the market? By trying nearer! Forego the full-frame topic and search for the shapes, traces, and patterns that make up the animal. Have you ever ever seen a shot simply composed of the tooth of a shark? I haven’t both, however I guess it could possibly be unbelievable! Take the time to concentrate to the smaller aspects of a topic to search out patterns and pictures others have missed out on. Simply bear in mind to carry that diopter.


Vibrant patterns within the cerata of a spanish scarf nudibranch (60mm, f/18, 1/250s, ISO 640)



Bokeh is way from a brand new idea in underwater pictures. Open the aperture up and also you get a dreamy blur impact that captures a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. That is nice recommendation, however pondering of a shallow depth of area as merely making use of a “dreamy” impact to your pictures may be limiting. As a substitute, it is a useful software for erasing specificity from a picture and making room for the viewer to make use of their creativeness. When utilizing an especially shallow depth of area, a picture is successfully break up into a focus, a earlier than, and an after. The continuity between these focus “zones” can have a drastic impact on how we interpret a picture. When a single object spans these focus “zones,” it seems dynamic, grander, bigger than our regular area of view. Once we concentrate on a single level with no continuity, it creates a way of house round it; we’re seeing solely a fraction of a bigger second. Intention your focus for the center distance and attempt to choose compositions with parts that span completely different ranges of focus.


Pinpricks of sunshine replicate in a Melibe leonina nudibranch, like a galaxy come to life (105mm, f/22, 1/200s, ISO 125)



Although the underwater world is just not a spot the place most individuals spend their time, there’s a degree of familiarity that folks nonetheless discover in sure pictures. Instance A: the basic reefscape with a pure blue background. It’s alien, however nonetheless paying homage to the blue skies and rock formations or timber you would possibly discover at a nationwide park. This familiarity may be the bridge from a photograph that’s merely bizarre, to at least one that’s unusually alluring. Instance B: the channel between the spines of an urchin can remind us of a curved path up a forested hill, albeit the place the timber are sharp and iridescent. Hold your eye in your viewfinder to seek for photographs that echo sights we’re accustomed to from on a regular basis life.


The trail much less traveled between the spines of an impressive hearth urchin (105mm, f/22, 1/200s, ISO 160)



Somebody as soon as mentioned that the distinction between a median picture and advantageous artwork is popping the saturation right down to zero. Whereas it actually isn’t true the entire time, shade can usually be a pink herring in underwater pictures. The pure blue-green tinge that mild takes on because it goes by water could make balancing shade and strobe angling a ache whereas taking your consideration away from the contents of the picture. By specializing in the black, white, and grey in between, it’s doable to attain a minimalism and nuance to photographs that may look cluttered in any other case. Usually, summary monochrome pictures lean in the direction of the extremes of high-key and low-key compositions, however don’t be afraid to maintain the subtler shades for a much less stark shot. When capturing for abstracts, concentrate on the construction and lighting of a picture earlier than the colours. Finest case state of affairs, it seems to be nice in shade as a result of the lighting was already nice; worst case state of affairs, throw it in monochrome.


A high-key composition outlining a tangle of bull kelp (24mm, f/11, 1/160s, ISO 640)



Unsurprisingly, mild is essentially the most complicated issue relating to summary composition. Not all mild is created equally and the underwater photographer’s arsenal is appreciable. From strobes, to video lights, to snoots, to pure mild, the combos are limitless. Pure mild alone is extremely variable based mostly on the angle, turbidity, depth, and cloud cowl. Fortunately, in case you cease your aperture and ISO down sufficient, you’ll be able to depend on that pretty even synthetic lighting for your entire pictures. That being mentioned, the one benefit of pure mild is the truth that it’s uneven. As mild passes by an uneven floor, it splits, bends, and dapples. This will make for fascinating textured mild like sunbeams on the kelp within the picture beneath. Combine in a little bit of synthetic mild and it’s an entire new world! Be careful for attention-grabbing pure mild because it makes for layered and prismatic results, and don’t be afraid to push that ISO up excessive to reveal for the darker components.


Dappled sunbeams on a frond of large kelp (60mm, f/10, 1/160s, ISO 1000)



Capturing movement in pictures is, fairly actually, pushing the conceptual limits of the medium by not solely freezing a singular second, however condensing the dynamism of the pure world into a picture. From a compositional standpoint, this creates fascinating alternatives for distinctive shapes and layering that you simply wouldn’t be capable of obtain with static pictures. Pure motion can kind summary chaotic shapes that exhibit distinctive environments and behaviors. Synthetic motion like panning, spinning and zooming can take a sedentary topic and rework it into one thing extra attention-grabbing.

Sadly, all of this doesn’t come at no cost; the price is the stability downside between strobes and fixed mild. With lengthy exposures, what you’re successfully doing, is utilizing the fixed mild to “paint” the motion and layering a single frozen second in the beginning or finish. The trick to stability is guaranteeing that the “painted” mild doesn’t overpower the strobe mild by way of publicity or shade. Fixed mild finally ends up roughly figuring out the first shade of a protracted publicity, and making ready for that in composition is essential to the picture’s general feeling. When capturing long-exposure abstracts, seek for topics with attention-grabbing motion patterns or that profit from directional movement blur. Then alter for pure mild, or carry your personal fixed mild within the shade of your selection to color the picture precisely the way you need.


Maybe nothing can lead to extra sudden outcomes than gradual shutter and movement (17mm, f/13, 1/4s, ISO 320)


Closing Ideas

Whereas these ideas may be useful when creating extra summary compositions, there aren’t any true formulation that may all the time result in an unbelievable shot. In any case, summary pictures is about deviating from the tried-and-true methodology. Fear not! Embrace the chaos, confusion, and experimental nature of summary pictures. Worst case, you find yourself with a photograph that’ll make your mates say “Huh?”; finest case, you find yourself with a shot that nobody has ever seen earlier than.


Kelp and light-weight: You are able to do every part proper and nonetheless find yourself with a mediocre shot. However, some defy rationalization (60mm, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 640)


To view extra of Sage’s unbelievable underwater work, please go to his web site,, and comply with him on Instagram.