’Successful wide angle requires engaging both sides of the brain’

IN MOST LANGUAGES, apart from English, you don’t take photographs, but make them. This is a choice of verb that seems particularly apt when it comes to describing wide angle
under water.
Scenic pictures are widely considered trickier to master than macro, because we must balance the exposures of the foreground illumination, provided by our flashguns, with ambient light filling the background of the scene.
Flashguns must also be carefully aimed to light our main subject and not the particles in the water.
We also have to find a great subject, an attractive background and possibly get our buddy to pose pleasingly – all at the same time. Wide angle is task-loaded diving! The secret is to deconstruct the process and build up to stunning shots.
With so much to consider, it is no surprise that little more than a decade ago, just getting the basics right was enough to win praise and prizes in competition circles. Putting a wide shot together was a skill that only experienced photographers had really mastered. Then along came digital cameras, and expectations were reformatted.
The biggest challenge in wide-angle photography is controlling light, in terms of exposure, avoiding backscatter and, perhaps most importantly, achieving a pleasing quality of light.
As we all know, digital cameras show us our results as we shoot, and the rough edges of many people’s wide-angle techniques were quickly polished up. Today, a winning wide-angle shot must be both technically perfect and stunning to look at.

SUCCESSFUL WIDE ANGLE requires engaging both sides of the brain: the “logical” left side for the technique and the “creative” right for the art.
Technically, we should aim to build wide-angle photos in two layers: a flash-lit foreground and a background illuminated by ambient light. However, artistically we must think much more spontaneously and compose free from a two-layer constraint, to give the image as much depth, with as many layers for the viewer to explore, as possible.
A successful wide-angle image may be built in two parts, but must always feel like a fully three-dimensional scene.
We can create depth in the foreground by precise flash lighting, to emphasise the shape of a sponge, seafan or fish with soft shadows.
In the background we add depth by including elements such as a silhouetted reef, kelp, fish, a diver and then ultimately the surface and even, from 94 million miles away, a sunburst.
It is a technique that is sometimes summed up as “near and far”, to encourage photographers to look for both a foreground and background subject. Although this is a useful memory aid, we don’t just want two elements: more will give the image that much-sought-after depth.
Wide-angle foregrounds are all about the quality of light. Most wide-angle shots strive for a naturalist feel: we need flashguns to bring out the colours in our subjects, but we don’t want the man in the street to know immediately that we’ve used them.
We want viewers to enjoy our images and not immediately want to deconstruct how we made them. We achieve this with soft, mellow lighting: adding diffusers to the strobes and pulling them back a bit to give the light more time to spread before it reaches the subject. This makes the subject seem illuminated rather than lit.
We can boost the impact of our wide angles by following the logic of complementary colours.
The theory goes that a colour stands out most when set against an opposite colour. Under water, where our backgrounds are typically blue, we should search for warm-coloured subjects (think yellow sponge, orange seafan or red anemone) to frame against the water to obtain the most eye-catching shots.
One of the oldest pieces of advice for winning underwater photography contests is to get a bit of red in the frame. It still holds true.

LAST MONTH we discussed the importance of backgrounds in macro photography, and they are just as important in wide angle.
Some photographers will look for a background first, such as a bommie or overhang, and only then search close to the base for a foreground subject.
A good tip, if you don’t want to have to deal with the bright sun in your shot, is to find your background and then search for a subject in its shade. When you frame up the shot, the sun will be hidden behind the background feature.
Wide-angle backgrounds usually set the atmosphere of our shots. Pictures taken towards the light will have simple silhouetted backgrounds, with high impact. Including rays of sunlight is not just attractive, but they communicate the underwater ambience.
If we shoot with the light we get a very different feel, with details illuminated and much more able to contribute to the story we are trying to tell.
Shooting so that the ambient light comes over our shoulder will also give the best blues. There is no right or wrong, it is our choice to use the ambient light to create the look and feel of the image we are after at the time.
For many photographers, wide angle is underwater photography. Macro will always be more popular, but it is wide- angle images that capture the essence of the underwater world.
Look through the features in this issue of divEr, and I’m sure you will find that the majority of pictures are wide angle.
Think of some of the iconic underwater images from celebrated photographers around the world – they are rarely macro. Even if you are a macro addict, isn’t it time to give your images a wider appeal

Shoot vertical. Everything in the ocean changes much more rapidly when you move vertically rather than horizontally. We should bring these gradients to our wide-
angle photography. Vertical compositions combined with slightly upward camera angles help to separate subjects from the background, making them pop. They also let more light in, making exposures easier and allowing us to incorporate the surface into our pictures.

Lighting is about quality as well as quantity. It is important to get exposures correct, but our work does not stop there. We should adjust the positions and relative powers of our flashguns to produce a pleasing quality of light on the subject, so that we reveal colours and shapes but avoid bright spots that will distract the viewer’s eye. Make sure that your LCD screen is set to show your photos at full screen, so that you can examine the quality of light in detail and make adjustments.

A great subject is not enough. If you have a shark, look to build a beautiful image around it and don’t get drawn in by thinking subject, subject, subject. We don’t see amazing subjects on every dive, so when we do, make sure we nail an unforgettable image, not just a passable shot of a great subject. Look for beautiful light rays, or perhaps a buddy to pose behind. Or twist the concept on its head and search for a colourful foreground sponge or coral, and use the shark as the background.

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