Don't Look Down

Both these Red Sea shots are interesting, well-exposed and in focus - any novice would be pleased with them. And both photographers have won a year's UK subscription to Dive International. However, both have made a frequent beginner's mistake: they have looked down.

The angel fish, by Dennis Pearce, of Quenington, Gloucestershire, was captured on a borrowed Nikonos III and bags of enthusiasm, after a course by Scottish underwater photographer Lawson Wood. Susan Davie of Great Chishill, Cambridgeshire, took the picture of the clown fish.

Martin's verdict: 'Both pictures illustrate a common habit of novices - they have taken their pictures shooting down at the subject, whereas both shots would have been more dramatic and their subjects would have been more clearly seen if they were shown against an uncluttered background. 'It is easy enough to take your first photographs from this angle - it is the way we most frequently look at a reef. We look down as we are swimming along or hovering in a horizontal position. The fish becomes the focus of our attention and are consequently less aware of the background than we would be if that same moment were captured in a picture.

'My own belief is that the best fish portraits are usually obtained by shooting from slightly below the subject and looking up. This also gives the picture a greater feeling of depth (no pun intended!). As in any portrait, it is important that the eye is sharp and, invariably, the fish should be facing the camera, at an angle to the lens or sideways-on rather than swimming away. 'Working in this way places greater demands on your diving skills.

To be able to float motionless above a reef, carefully composing your photograph without harming the coral, you must master the art of precision buoyancy control. Indeed, if we are to preserve the environment which we enjoy so much, it is vital to be a competent diver before taking up underwater photography.'

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