If fabulous fish photos were easy to take, everyone would be doing it. Wait a minute, just about everyone is doing it. But some pictures are distinctly better than others. So how do you get fab fish photos? Follow these four basic tips and you should -- with a little luck -- take better-than-average underwater photos.
1. Know Your Subject. Whether you are photographing a fish, a land animal or a human being, knowing your subject improves your chances of getting good pictures. I recommend investing in Paul Humann's fish identification books and Dee Scarr's fish behavior books.
Also, dive with a guide who knows the area and the resident sea life. Then, move in slowly - ever so slowly - and shoot.
2. Compose Your Shot. When shooting wide-angle, look for a strong foreground (your subject) and a strong background (a pretty fan, the wall, wreck, etc.). Try to get within 2 feet of the foreground subject. Wait for a school of fish or your buddy to swimby. For silhouettes, position the school of fish or your model between your camera and the sun. For flash pictures, shoot with two strobes for even illumination. One strobe usually over-exposes half the frame, especially when the subject is a silvery, reflective fish, such as a jack. For macro, shoot as low as possible, keep the subject in-focus, and have a colored, black or camouflaged background. Any "busy-ness" can be distracting and spoil the shot.
3. Light the Scene. If you're using a point-and-shoot, make sure your camera flash is turned on, preferably in "forced flash mode." To minimize backscatter, buy an external strobe/flash and position it away from your underwater camera housing. Use auto white-balance when using a flash/strobe, and custom white balance or underwater mode when not using a flash. A dual-strobe setup is the ideal. With two flash units, you can get shadowless and ratio lighting, which adds a sense of depth to a picture. Aiming the flash toward the fish's face will produce a picture that draws the viewer's eye to the fish's eye. This is a pro's key to good fish photos. If you are shooting with natural light, shoot in shallow water -- 20 feet of water or less, with the sun behind you.
4. Get Close to Your Subject. Get within 12 inches, if you can. Water reduces color, contrast and sharpness. Generally, get low, shoot at an upwards angle, and try to fill your frame with the subject. Don't shoot "down" at the subject unless you are shooting that way deliberately (for example, photographing the top deck of a wreck). The key is not to have too much, if any, of the distracting background in the photo
With these tips - and some luck - you should do fine. After all, every underwater photographer needs luck in their arsenal. Visit Rick Sammon at www.ricksammon.com. For information on UW photo and video courses, contact your local PADI Resort or Dive Operator, or go to www.padi.com.