5 Basic Composition Tips
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5 Basic Composition Tips

August 23, 2019

Brent Durand: Hello underwater photographers!
I’m Brent Durand and I shoot a lot of underwater photos. Today we’re going to talk about 5
Tips for Basic Composition. And if you’re new to the channel, I hope you find this video
useful and informative. If you’re a returning subscriber – thanks for subscribing. I hope
you also find this useful and informative. Brent Durand: And before we get started I’d
like to say a big thanks to SeaLife. They are sponsoring this tutorial, so all these
tips come courtesy of them. So definitely check out SeaLife cameras and Sea Dragon lighting
systems at your local dive shop. So, let’s get started! Brent Durand: And Tip #1. This is to fill
the frame with your subject. And as we’re swimming along… dum bum dum… you know,
blowing some bubbles, we might see a subject, shoot and move on. That’s not going to get
us the best photo. It might get us a “salad bowl” shot where we’re like “there’s a nudibranch
in there. Oh yea, upper left corner.” You know, we’re going to see the subject, but
that’s not what we want. Brent Durand: We want to get as close as possible
with the camera in order to fill the frame. So all the extra space in the frame should
disappear as we zero in on the subject. And what that’s going to do is create emphasis
on the subject. As a viewer we’re going to know exactly what we’re looking at, and it’s
going to also result in bolder more vivid colors and a crisper image because we’re getting
rid of water between us and the subject. So the closer we can get, the better the image
will be because 1) it’s larger in the frame, and 2)less water, so it’s going to be a clearer,
crisper image. And our lights are actually going to do a lot better job because we’re
a lot closer to the subject and shooting through less water. Brent Durand: And Tip #2. And this is to face
your subject. Or have the subject face you. But generally you’re going to want to face
your subject. You know, they’re sitting there and you’ll swim around to the front side of
the subject. Sometimes if it’s a fish, like a damselfish, they’ll swim towards you and
you can wait for those shots with them facing you. But otherwise, move yourself around.
You see something like a nudibranch, and it’s swimming towards, er… it’s crawling towards
a hole in the reef or into a crack or crevice. Yea, there’s a branchial plume and a little
butt sticking up there, but that’s not going to be the best photo. Just swim on, move along,
look for something that is facing you. Maybe come back to that nudibranch later and it’s
crawled up a ledge, and now you can see its face and shoot from the front. Brent Durand: But as you’re swimming around,
look for those shots where the front of the subject is. So, move around, shoot from different
angles. Just because you’re swimming this way doesn’t mean you have to shoot from this
way. Maybe swim all the way around – do a 180 to shoot your subject from the front.
And that’s going to create a much better photo. The best example is do you want a fish tail,
or do you want a fish face when you’re shooting those photos. So keep that in mind and your
photos will automatically connect with the viewer because now we know exactly what we’re
looking at. We see the face, which helps create a portrait, and a sense of expression and
character within the subject. Brent Durand: And Tip #3. So this feeds right
off of those other two, which is eye contact. So we want to get close, we want to see the
face of the subject, but what we really really want is that eye contact. And just think about
any other portrait you see in a magazine, checking out at the grocery store, or you
know, whatever it might be: on social media, models, animals – that sort of thing. When
you have that eye contact it really speaks to you. Brent Durand: We walk down the street and
connect with other humans by looking at them in the eye. So as a viewer of a photo, we
want to see that eye contact. And if that eye is looking into the lens, all of a sudden
it becomes very personal for us. Sometimes there’s going to be expression and mood and
different stuff that you can get from larger mammals especially. I don’t know how much
mood you’re going to get from a shrimp or a crab, but that eye contact is certainly
really important. And that’s what’s going to help make your photos stand out. Brent Durand: So when you’re looking for a
subject, look at those eyes. Make sure those eyes are well lit, make sure they’re close
and prominent. Sometimes you can see through the corneas of the eyes, which is pretty cool.
So you can light through them and maybe see the black background behind them. And if they’re
nice and sharp that just takes your photo to a whole other wow level. If it’s something
like a seahorse, wait for that eye to look towards you. They oftentimes like to look
away, and look up and they’re a little shy, especially if you have that focus light blaring
down on them. So wait for them to look at you and then take that shot then because you’re
going to get that eye looking at you. Brent Durand: And of course, there’s different
ways to Photoshop different eyes, and make them point different directions, and clean
them up. But we’re trying to shoot great photos and not be Photoshop whizzes. Wait to capture
that photo correctly in the camera and then you’re going to get a lot better results that
you can then work with in post production. So keep an eye on those eyes. Brent Durand: And Tip #4. So this is swim
space. And this rule ties in quite a bit with the rule of thirds, although I like to always
refer to it as swim space because sometimes that rule of thirds gets busted and it is
interpreted in a different way. But essentially what you want is for the front if the subject,
especially its face, to have open water that it can swim into, or breathe into in your
frame. So oftentimes with a fish or a crab, you’ll have the subject taking up 2/3 of the
frame with its face in that center third, and then the last third will be open space.
So it can swim into there, it can open its mouth. You can see a little bit what it might
be looking at on that side. Or have that open space as it looks off, or whether it looks
to you. But, swim space is a great way to describe it because it can actually swim forward
a little bit in the frame versus having its nose squished towards the edge of the frame,
which will give you some sort of subconscious angst. It just doesn’t feel as pleasing with
the image. You know, you’re crunched. Is it going out of the frame? Is it looking out
of the frame? What’s happening with that subject.If you can push it back and leave that swim space
or that leading space, then it’s going to be a lot more pleasing composition overall. Brent Durand: And the last tip. #5. That’s
actually 6, so that is 5! And this is to review your images when shooting. As you’re going
along on your trip and shooting, one dive goes by, now a whole day with 4 or 5 dives
goes by. All of a sudden a week goes by and now you’re at home again. If you’ve been making
a mistake – guess what, you’ve been making it the whole trip and that’s that. Brent Durand: So, by reviewing the images
after every photo, and in between dives, and every evening on the computer, we can really
start to see “Hey, you know, I don’t like how my lighting is on that. That doesn’t make
a lot of sense for me.” Or “Hey, I was missing the focus.” Or I need to do this or that or
get closer, you know, fill the frame. Create more eye contact. That sort of thing. Review
your images after every shot. So hit that playback button. It’s that triangle that you’ll
see on your camera housing. And that will let you go through and review the images. Brent Durand: On a lot of cameras you can
hit Display or Info and that will cycle through the histogram and some other charts and data
that you can use to gauge exposure and kind of see what’s going on with the other elements
of the photo. Sometimes color channels as well. So it’s all really useful info, and
as you zoom in you can see things like backscatter, or other particulate that might be messing
up the image. If we’re striving for eye contact we might see a hydroid that’s blocking a piece
of the eye. So we definitely want to recompose the scene to get rid of that hydroid and make
sure we’re not seeing it, or at least not blocking the eye of the subject. Brent Durand: So when we’re reviewing our
images after every shot, we’re able to make those corrections. Brent Durand: So that’s it. Those are our
5 Tips. I hope you found them useful. Again, thank you to SeaLife for sponsoring this video
tutorial. Hope to see you guys back for the next one.

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  1. great video as always! very informative, easy to understand and appeals to a wide range of audiences regardless of photography skill level. Thank you!

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