A while back, I received an e-mail from a reader with a new point-and-shoot underwater camera. She wanted to know if I had any photo tips for a novice underwater photographer. Clearly she thought this automatic camera would do all the ''thinking'' for her. ''Not true!'' I told her. ''Before you shoot, you must think about several important aspects of photography.'' I gave her some specific tips on using an automatic point-and-shoot camera that you can benefit from, too, regardless of the specific equipment you use. See the light: Our eyes are fantastic light-reading devices. They can simultaneously see into deep shadows and see details in bright light. This is far beyond the range of any film on the planet. Knowing this, you need to compose your pictures so the brightness levels within your scene are relatively close (technically called a low contrast range). For example, you may be able to see a diver's eyes behind a facemask, the reef and the bottom of your dive boat on the surface of the water ? all at the same time. But take a natural-light picture of this scene, and your diver's face will probably be obscured in a deep shadow and the reef will look very dark, especially if the sun is shining brightly. In this situation, you can either activate your camera's flash to fill in the facemask shadow, or choose one part of the scene you want properly exposed (the boat, the diver or the reef) and fill the frame with it. When it comes to flash photography, seeing the light is important, too. Try to visualize beforehand where the shadow from a flash may fall. Ask yourself if it will hide an important part of the scene. For the best flash-picture results, use two flash units, a technique that produces shadowless lighting. Get closer:Many picture-takers don't move in or zoom in close enough. The result: lots of dead space around a subject. When it comes to underwater photography, dead space can be lots of blue water or way too much sand in the foreground. Get closer and your pictures will have more impact. Focus on the eyes:Professional wildlife photographers know that the key to a successful animal portrait is having the eyes in sharp focus. This is an important tip to follow, especially when using an auto-focus camera. Make sure your focus is locked on your subject's eyes before you click the shutter release button. If not, the eyes won't be in focus. You've probably seen pictures where the subject's head is fuzzy because the focus sensor is aimed at his or her shoulder or an object in the foreground. A similar thing can happen underwater. If you aim the focus sensor at the tip of the shark's nose, his eye will be out of focus. Watch the background:Under water, it's easy to miss background objects. That's because when we see a great subject, we want to snap the shot as quickly as possible before the scene changes. That can make or break a picture. If you take a few extra seconds, you may notice something in the background that can ruin your shot. Things like a coral branch that looks like it's growing out of a fish's head or another animal that shows some interaction with your main subject can be distracting in an otherwise beautiful picture. Those extra seconds may also allow you to increase interest and depth in your shot by adding a desired background element. An ordinary turtle picture might become an excellent photo by adding a second turtle or a diver into the background. Compose carefully:I play tic-tac-toe underwater. Not literally, however. When looking through the viewfinder, I imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over the scene and I try to place my subject (or my subject's eyes) where the lines intersect. This is called the rule of thirds, and it is the most basic rule of composition. Create a sense of depth:We see the world in three dimensions: height, width and depth. Our cameras only see two: height and width. Therefore, it's up to us to create a sense of depth in a scene. This is easy to do if you photograph a subject at an angle, not straight on. Test, test, test! One final tip: Test your camera in a local pool before you go on a dive trip. Check out your pictures to see what you did right and wrong. Also, when you are on site, shoot a test roll to make sure your camera is working properly. Take it from someone who knows from experience: testing pays off. The moral of this article is that while automatic point-and-shoot cameras are easy to use and almost foolproof, it is the photographer who makes the difference between a good shot and a great shot. Remember, cameras don't take pictures, people (divers) do! For information about amphibious point-and-shoot cameras, and camera kits, click on the home page below. For more information about point-and-shoot amphibious cameras and other underwater photo products, click onto the home page below. For information about underwater photo courses in the clear waters of the Cayman Islands, click onto the home page below.
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