Proper exposure and sharp focus are just the beginning of great underwater photos. The elements have to be assembled, sometimes ahead of time in the brain, a visualization. Other times it has to be seen and composed in an instant. There are some basics of a good, even great underwater photo, that if you follow, you are sure to come up with an excellent shot.
RULE OF THIRDS
The focal point of a photo is often best put off center. The eye of a fish, for example, is often the focal point of a fish portrait. Put this focal point off center. The easiest way to do this is to divide your frame into thirds, horizontally and vertically, in your mind’s eye. Put the center of attention in your photo at the intersection of two of these imaginary lines.
DEPTH OF FIELD
Photos are a flat representation of a three-dimensional world. But there are ways to make a photo “pop” as if were 3-D. The range at which a photo is in sharp focus is known as the depth of field. You would think you’d want this to be as large as possible, but when you want to imply 3-D, a narrow depth of field is much more useful. A blurred, out of focus background with a sharp in focus subject will give the photo depth. If possible, you can try to also throw the foreground out of focus.
DIAGONALS, LINES, ANGLES
How the subject or subjects line up with the box that is the frame of the photo is also important. A diagonal subject is generally more interesting and fills the frame better. With more than one subject, form a triangle or angle to imply relationships or tension between the subjects.
A moving subject is often poorly represented in a still photo. But you can imply motion in a photo. Give the subject a place to go with plenty of room in front of the “moving” main subject. Also, you can manipulate your shutter speed slower and “pan” the camera (follow the moving subject with your lens). This will keep the subject clearly in focus but the surroundings blurred. Or you can use the strobe to freeze the subject but ambient light will continue the blur. Experiment.
Eye contact is powerful in the human and animal world. It creates a one-on-one connection with the other being whether animal or human. Eye contact can be with a fish, octopus, even a nudibranch. Also, the eye contact need not be with photographer but rather it can be just as effective between two fish, a fish and a diver, or any two creatures. And the eye contact need not even be direct but can be implied.
GET LOW, SHOOT UP
No simple rule adds more to a photo than this simple method. It is almost guaranteed to give your subject depth and volume. Backgrounds become more interesting and lighter. You reduce the chances of annoying backscatter. Finally, you can usually get closer to marine life with this easy technique.
Simple methods in photo composition will improve your shots dramatically. Take the time to see the entire frame of the shot and apply one or several of the above techniques and reap the rewards of great photos that will be a cut above to impress your friends.