Underwater Photography 101: “Composition-All About That Base!”


When I was a new scuba diver, everything I saw under the water was new and exciting to me.  I wanted so much to share it with others, that I took a snapshot of every creature I saw.  In the beginning, my underwater photographs were like a travel log with a picture ID of each fish, snail and crab.  This is very common for new photographers, and if you fall in to this category, don’t be alarmed.  It will pass and as your skills improve, you will begin to think about the composition of your images more than the subject your are shooting.

The base of every good photograph is composition.  Composition is a broad subject to cover in just one post, so here, I will discuss five tips that are easy to learn and fun to practice.

Tip #1:  Rule of Thirds

rule of thirds

The “rule of thirds” is guideline that artists use to make their images pleasing to the human eye.  We like to see things off center, usually about a third of the way down or up or to the side.  If you divide your image into thirds, the places where the lines intersect are appropriate places for your subject.  In the image above, you can see that the diver is on one of those intersecting lines, and the fish are opposite, in the spaces surrounding the intersecting lines.  This makes the image well balanced from corner to corner.  It has the main subject (the fish and reef) taking up the bottom right third of the frame, with the secondary subject (the diver) on the top third.

Tip #2:  Diagonal

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This is one of my favorite compositions.  A diagonal composition simply has the subject running from corner to corner.  In the image above, the fish’s eyes are on the bottom and right intersecting third of the image, while the fish themselves are on a diagonal.  The image below is another example of using diagonal composition.

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Tip #3:  Fill the Frame

Some of the most interesting images are when the subject completely fills the space.  This scorpion fish has very interesting features on it’s face, and by isolating the face in the frame, those features become more prominent.

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Tip #4:  S Curve

This is a composition that can be a little harder to achieve, but it is something that appears in nature quite often.  Look for things that curve in the shape of an “S”, still keeping in mind the other composition rules.  In the image below, the pipefish is somewhat in the shape of an “s,”  It is on the diagonal, and the eyes fall on the bottom left intersecting third of the frame.

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fireworm

Many critters, such as this fireworm, some nudibranchs, and seahorses have a natural “s” shape to them.  You can use that to your advantage when composing your shots.

Tip #5  Space to Move

Whatever composition you choose for your subjects, if there is an animal in it, it should have space in the frame to move forward.  The pipefish above is a good example.  There is plenty of space in the frame in front of the fish’s head.  It’s tail has very little space behind it, giving the impression that the fish is moving toward the bottom left corner. The sea lion image below is an interesting composition because of the reflection, but the sea lion has no place to go and is really too close to the bottom of the frame.

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An important thing to remember, is that the tips outlined above are not hard and fast rules.  They are more like a base;  guidelines for things that please the human eye. Following them can help you achieve stunning results, but composition is subjective, and sometimes, breaking the rules yields the most interesting images. Use your imagination!  Let yourself be creative and you might just come up with an award winning photograph for thinking outside the box!

If you have suggestions for underwater photography tips, or questions, please feel free to leave comments below.

As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me
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Flashback Thursday- A Nudiphile Episode


It’s no secret that I have a serious slug crush on nudibranchs.  So for Flashback Thursday, I thought I would just share some of my favorite nudibranch images.

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The cryptic nudibranchs are the most interesting to me.  I love the translucence of this one.  For the full article see “Cryptic, A Nudiphile Episode

California has its share of beautiful nudibranchs.  This Hermissendra crassicornis was just a tiny juvenile about half an inch long.

Hermissendra crassicornus is one of the beautiful nudibranchs found in California

Hermissendra crassicornus is one of the beautiful nudibranchs found in California

Here is an adult Hermissendra crassicornis:  (See “Are you a Nudiphile?”)

Hermissendra crassicornis

Hermissendra crassicornis

My all-time favorite is Placida cremoniana, a nudibranch I discovered in Southern California last year, which has since disappeared from California waters.  (See “Love Affair, A Nudiphile Episode.”  And also  “Slug Bug! Another Nudiphile Episode “)

Placida cremoniana

Placida cremoniana

Some of the prettiest nudis come from Anilao, Philippines.  (See “Are you a Nudiphile 2?“)

Hypselodoris kangas

Hypselodoris kangas

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If you enjoy these images, you can get the full story by clicking on any of the “nudiphile” links above.

 

As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me

Underwater Photography 101: “Peak of the Action”


A great underwater action shot can be the most challenging objective a photographer faces. Not only does it require that the photographer be thoroughly prepared, but patience and a fair amount of luck are involved as well. Perhaps the easiest of these requirements is being prepared.

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#1  Be Prepared

The image above is what we call a “grab shot.” A fast moving animal swims by, and you quickly grab an image and hope for the best. Or do you? This image was taken at the end of my dive as I was completing my safety stop. Previous to this shot, I had been shooting images with a sun-ball and so had my aperture stopped down and shutter speed high. Before I started my ascent, I changed my camera settings to f/8 and 1/125th just in case something came by. The key here, is that I prepared ahead of time for the possibility of a grab shot. I had seen some sea lions playing near the surface, and I hoped I would be able to get an action shot of them. Being prepared means that you are aware of what the possibilities are, and before you move on looking for your next subject, you set up your camera for the possibility. A good rule of thumb to remember is “f/8 and be there,” and a shutter speed matching the conditions (i.e.  With our without strobes? Close to the surface or deeper?) In this case, I used ambient light, and so had my shutter speed down a little. I could have used a faster shutter speed to freeze the action, but that would have required strobes, and I would not have achieved the great reflections of the sun on the sea lion’s body.

#2  Patience

Wait for it….

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Wait for it….

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Not yet…

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 Okay, NOW!

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It’s great to get a frog fish yawning, but knowing when the mouth will be open at its widest is the key to getting a “peak of the action” shot here. Spend a bit of time observing your subject if it is something that will hang around for a while. This frog fish yawned several times during the thirty minutes or so that I spent with it. It took a lot of patience and a lot of shots to get a keeper.

#3 What Does Luck Have To Do With It?

Snake Pit small

Luck may have less to do with it than you think. And yet, it is a factor. You can increase your chances of being lucky by being prepared, and increase them even more by studying your subjects. Many subjects will hang around for a while or may even live permanently in a specific place or area of a reef. If you want to get an image of a cardinal fish with a mouth full of eggs, for example, take the time to study the fish. Find out which ones are carrying eggs and what their habits are. Watch them and see how often they aerate the eggs and what the signs are that they are about to spit them out, or move them around.

mandarin fish spawning, with eggs

mandarin fish spawning, with eggs

These Mandarin fish mate at dusk in a predictable pattern.  The only bit of “luck” needed here was snapping the shot the moment the eggs were released.

Comorant fishing

Cormorant fishing

This cormorant along with several others made a number of dives through the huge baitball they were feeding on.  All I had to do was wait for it to come close enough (that was the “luck” factor) for a shot. Once you can identify the patterns of your subjects, you are much more likely to get the money shot:  “The Peak of the Action!”

If you have suggestions for underwater photography tips, or questions, please feel free to leave comments below.

As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me

WET PIXEL FULL FRAME Warren Baverstock: Djibouti whale sharks


Here’s a great and informative article about Whale Sharks. It interests me because I will soon be visiting the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to photograph these beauties. Click on the link at the end of the article for some fabulous images!

warrenbaverstock.com

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Along a small stretch of uninhabitable coastline off the coast of Djibouti lies one of natures treasures which up until now, few have been privileged to witness. During the months of October through to February, large aggregations of young whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) visit the Gulf of Tadjoura to feed on the plankton rich waters within the Gulf of Aden. Little is known about where the sharks come from, but local reports from ecotourism operators suggest that during the months of October to February, large aggregations of mostly juvenile male sharks move around a small area of coastline in search of food. Luckily, during this time of year food is plentiful and at certain times of the day, dense blooms of plankton are brought to the surface, which the whale sharks seem to find.

Plankton is made up of small or microscopic organisms such as fish eggs, tiny…

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California Divin’


All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray

I’ve been for a dive, on a winter’s day.

I’ll be warm and dry, when I get back to L A,

But now I’m California divin’  on such a winter’s day.

I spend a good amount of time on this blog talking about the exotic animals I have seen all over the far reaches of the world.  But truly, I spend the majority of my diving time along the coast of California.  These temperate waters host some of the most interesting creatures in the world, and the topography is unique and beautiful.  One of the first things my non-diving friends ask is if it is green and murky in our California waters.  I am here to tell you, that the coast of California can rival the most pristine diving in the tropics.

Pink and Orange cup corals cover this pinnacle near Catalina Island

Pink and Orange cup corals cover this pinnacle near Catalina Island

The images above and below show some of the corals that can be found along the California coast.  Above are pink and orange cup corals covering a pinnacle at Farnsworth Banks near Catalina Island. The photo below shows part of a wall there called “Yellow Wall” and also shows some purple hydrocoral, which is found in just a few dive sites along the California coast.  These two images were taken just minutes apart, showing the diversity that can be found on just one site.

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 Another gem of California diving are the oil rigs.  There are only a few rigs that divers can visit, and since there can be current and depths of up to 700 feet, the oil rigs are for advanced divers only. The structure under the oil rigs provides an artificial reef for hundreds of animals.  The structure is encrusted with life, and great schools of fish and sea lions enjoy life under the rigs as well.

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The Channel Islands are a favorite dive destination for local divers as well as world travelers.  Santa Barbara Island boasts a sea lion rookery where the young curious pups will come out to play around and with scuba divers.

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Anacapa Island is loved by photographers for its macro subjects such as nudibranchs and amphipods.

Hermissendra crassicornus is one of the beautiful nudibranchs found in California

Hermissendra crassicornus is one of the beautiful nudibranchs found in California

This pregnant skeleton shrimp is one of the amphipods commonly found in California

This pregnant skeleton shrimp is one of the amphipods commonly found in California

Catalina Island has a large population of blue-striped, orange gobys commonly called the Catalina Goby.

Catalina Goby

Catalina Goby

Beautiful fish of all different colors can be found in dive sites all around Southern California, not to mention our own state marine fish, the Geribaldi.

A Geribaldi and a red sculpin (rockfish or scorpion fish) look curiously at the diver with a camera.

A Geribaldi and a red Cabezon  look curiously at the diver with a camera.

But the one defining feature of diving in California is the beautiful kelp forests.  In many ways the kelp reminds me of a forest in a fairy tale.

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The King's Forest

The King’s Forest

The great thing about diving in California is it doesn’t matter if it’s Winter or Summer.  The diving is great year ’round.  The water is temperate and requires adequate protection.  I recommend a 7mm wetsuit in the Summer and late Fall, and a drysuit during the winter months.  And oh, how I love diving California in the Winter months.

California divin’ on such a winter’s day.

As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.

Underwater Photography 101: “Face the Music!”


One of the challenging things as an underwater photographer is getting your subjects to face the camera. Marine critters are inexplicably camera shy!  Most likely, it is because of the bright focus light you are shining in their face, but it could also be that your dome port looks like a big eye and that can freak out any little beasty. Luckily for photographers, there are some tricks we can try, and common sense we can apply.

Trick #1:  Red Light!

Underwater camera gear manufacturers are aware of the lighting issues photographers face.  On one hand, we must have enough light that our camera can focus on the subject and the thing we want in focus the most is our subject’s eye.  On the other hand, shining a bright light in our subjects eyes causes it to turn away before we can get the shot.  The solution to this is a red focus light. Several lights on the market have a switch that will turn the light red, a color that is theoretically not seen by marine animals.  The following image is a good example of critters that don’t tolerate light well. The pygmy sea horse has no eyelids and cannot shut it’s eyes.  Because it is so small, it is a challenge to focus on, even with good light, and the moment you get it in focus, it turns away.

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However, with a red focus light, there is enough light for the camera to focus, but the animal is not as sensitive to it and it is more likely to face the lens, such as in the image below.  (Don’t worry about the red showing up in the image.  When your strobes fire, all the red will disappear.)

Pygmy Seahorse

Pygmy Seahorse

Trick #2:  Fake them out!

Another trick to help turn a camera shy critter toward the lens is to hand hold the focus light behind the animal, or have your dive buddy hold the light so that it faces the camera.  The animal will turn away from the light, toward the camera.  There will be enough light for the camera to focus, and walla!

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Okay, on to using some common sense:

#3 Patience is a virtue

Sometimes you just have to wait for the critter to get used to you.  Most marine animals have little or no brains.  Instead, they have fight or flight instincts.  If you are not perceived as a threat, it only takes a few minutes for the critter to forget about you.  As far as it knows, you may have been a feature in it’s environment for months or years.  Give your subject time to forget about you, and eventually it may face the camera without being coaxed.  This goby and shrimp took only a few moments to forget I was there, and go about their business of shoveling sand out of their home.

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This leads me to a cardinal common sense rule,

#4:  Don’t be a Predator!

Nothing is more displeasing to an underwater photographer than getting pictures of fish butts.  Sometimes we become so excited to get a shot of that rare critter, just to prove we saw it, that we sacrifice good photography.  The following image is of a goby on eggs.  I really wanted this image, but unfortunately, in my excitement, I was not patient, I did not use red light, and I stalked this poor fish.  The result is a fish facing away from the camera, eye blurred, and generally just an uninteresting photograph.

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 Chasing the animals produces the same result.  This poor harlequin shrimp felt very vulnerable and could only flee from my big bubble blowing self.

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 So remember, try red light, move your focus light behind the subject, wait for your subject to forget about you, and don’t be a predator.  Using these tips will help you get good “face on” shots.

Jawfish with eggs

Jawfish with eggs

 If you have suggestions for underwater photography tips, or questions, please feel free to leave comments below.

As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me

Oh, I wish I were a (frog) fish!


One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.  Hog fish, dog fish, meet the Frog fish!

I have a good friend who has a fascination with frog fish.  And with good reason! Frog fish are one of the most interesting, and diverse creatures in the ocean.  I have learned a few things while visiting my friend at Crystal Blue Resort in Anilao, Philippines, about frog fish.  The first and most important thing is that frog fish are cool.

Besides being cryptically well camouflaged, the frog fish comes in sizes from the size of a pea to the size of a basketball.  It comes in various colors, textures and patterns too.

This was the first frog fish I ever saw.  It was in Hawaii, and only the size of my pinky fingernail.

This was the first frog fish I ever saw. It was in Hawaii, and only the size of my pinky fingernail.

Lest this sound like a clothing advertisement, let me tell you about it’s feeding habits.   A frogfish has a lure that it waves above it’s head, tempting other fish to come take a bite.

A large black frogfish waving it's lure above its head.

A large black frogfish waving it’s lure above its head.

But when that fish get’s close, the frog fish has a lightning quick strike.  Check out “One Little Speckled Frog” to  Watch a video, here.

A frog fish can open it’s mouth wide enough to eat a fish nearly the same size as itself.

Hairy Frogfish yawning

Hairy Frogfish yawning

If you watched the video, you can see that the frog fish stalked it’s prey like a cat, walking on its fins.  Frog fish don’t swim with their tails and fins like other fish.  Instead, they propel themselves through the water by pushing water through their mouths and out a valve behind their elbow-like fins.

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 Most of the time, they stay close to a sponge or rock which looks just like they do, and wait for their prey to come to them.  Look closely at the image below. There is a large frog fish front and center.  You can see it’s frowning mouth and it is tipping to the right.  Another brown frog fish is turned away from the camera behind the first.

There are two basketball sized frog fish camouflaged  in this image

There are two basketball sized frog fish camouflaged in this image

Some frog fish are brightly colored and don’t seem to be camouflaged at all.

A tiny frogfish  hunts for a meal

A tiny frogfish hunts for a meal

And the hairy frogfish has filaments all over it’s body that resemble the algae in it’s environment.

Hairy Frogfish

Hairy Frogfish

Only a few of these fascinating creatures are represented here, but you can check out the amazing portfolio and blog (click “critterhead) of my friend, Mike Bartick, to see an astonishing variety of frogfish including mating frogfish (click “What’s New”) at Saltwaterphoto.com.  If you are interested in seeing these critters for yourself, my favorite place to see them is at Crystal Blue Resort in Anilao, Philippines.

Parting Shot:

This cute freckled frog fish is multi-colored to help it blend in

This cute freckled frog fish is multi-colored to help it blend in

If you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.
 All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me