We all suffer from a lack of artistic inspiration from time to time. This can be a general malaise when it comes to underwater photography. Or it can be on a single dive where you just don’t seem to find anything. How often do you swim along with the guide and not find much to shoot? This can happen often, especially if you are looking for a particular subject and it’s not in the cards that day. If I am struggling to find a subject when I have a macro setup, I always fall back on a great fail safe. If I haven’t found the interesting critter than I am looking for half way through the dive, I fall back on this technique. This technique is something that everyone can do and I highly suggest trying it out the next time you are shooting macro.
What am I talking about? I am talking about shooting patterns or as I like to call it: “artsy fartsy shots”. There are many patterns underwater and it’s just a question of training your eye to see them. Patterns are all around us underwater, it can be the design of a fish or the shape of a tunicate. The key to capturing an artsy photo is to find naturally occurring designs which capture the eye. The alternating colors of many species of fish is a great example. However, it’s not only fish that offer act as a muse.
One of the most colorful and intriguing animals under the sea are nudibranchs. People love them for their endless variety and bright colors. However, many of them also sport incredible designs with spots and stripes. Instead of photographing the entire animal, instead, get close and concentrate on the design. Even a nudibranch that you may have encountered hundreds of times before can offer a new look. These are great subjects to practice shooting patterns.
But it’s not just the moving animals that offer inspiration. Tunicates, ascidian colonies, and even encrusting sponge offer some very interesting patterns. Think about the complex designs evident on all hard corals. The photographic opportunities are endless on the reef.
The key to shooting a visually interesting or “artsy fartsy” shot is to capture only the design. The goal is not to photograph the whole fish for identification. Don’t photograph the entire ascidian colony but get in as close as you can to emphasize the shapes and patterns. In order to do so, it’s best to use a powerful macro setup. This can be a simple macro lens on an SLR or Mirrorless camera but adding a diopter or teleconverter definitely helps. Often it’s the ability to isolate key details that makes the composition. However, if shooting with a simple 60mm or other macro lens it’s still fun to capture details of fish.
Next time you are out and not finding inspiration, try this technique. Look around at hard and soft corals. Study the intricate designs of encrusting sponge. Or simply try to get as close to the colourful fish on the reef, you will certainly find some interesting patterns to shoot. Our guides are incredible at finding unique marine life, join us on a Dive Safari in Bali and they will find incredible photo opportunities for you.