Tag Archives: underwater

gearing your photography for success

Reflections at 1 week to book launch

the technical & artistic path to winning images (there is a 3rd axis - drive & involvement)

the technical & artistic path to winning images (there is a 3rd axis – drive & involvement)

The book “Winning Images” makes an argument for 3 axes along which underwater photographers make progress, but that you have to make progress on all 3 if you are to create admired, stunning or (for a lucky but talented few), iconic images.

Axis 1 is technology and technique.  You can buy your way along the technology path, but even a modest compact camera is so powerful these days that we are all pretty well along that road.  Technique takes some training and practice.

Axis 2 is your personal drive and the degree to which you become immersed in the underwater photography world, be it in clubs, societies, competitions…the list is endless, really.  You need a will to succeed and the means to inspire and help you.  Friends really do help.  I was genuinely inspired when I first started underwater photography by people within the British Society of Underwater Photographers.  And I’ve made some wonderful new friends since.

Axis 3 is artistic vision.  Not everybody has it from scratch, but it can be taught and the basic building block is composition.  Unfortunately, many people wrongly suppress this axis to pursue technology.  Technology can help, but you can invest thousands of dollars, pounds or euros in it when by comparison only a very modest investment in deeper knowledge of composition could provide far greater gearing for your success.

That’s my argument and I believe it passionately.  If you agree, consider buying “Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera”, which is the first book for underwater photographers that seriously addresses some searching questions that we all need to answer about composition – if we really are determined to produce better images.

If you can, do join me and Alex Mustard at the book launch in London (details below); I extend an open invitation to everybody who is interested in taking composition to the next level of understanding and I will provide you with some wine, soft drinks, canapes, a few words from me & Alex and an opportunity to buy a signed copy of the book.

Wednesday 11 June 6:30pm at Ocean Leisure Cameras near Embankment Tube station. “Winning Images” book launch – additional details

Best wishes to you, my dear friends

Paul

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

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Launch minus 3 – the saturated image market

The underwater photography market is saturated with images…how can our images stand out in this noise?  Reflections at 3 weeks to book launch

The underwater photography market is saturated with images…how can our images stand out in this noise?

The underwater photography market is saturated with images, which are now produced by the million every year.  There are lots of average pictures out there, but there is also an explosion of good images too.  How can our images stand out in this noise?

The book that I’m advocating has some answers. But I already anticipate a cry that the book market is equally saturated.  Or is it? Although I draw heavily on the existing body of knowledge, I seek to differentiate too, so the book “Winning Images” dives into some unexplored gaps in our knowledge of underwater photographic composition.

Our top-side photography cousins made more progress than divers with this.  We know the basics, I’m sure: negative space, the rule of thirds and so on, which are valid and worth developing.  But nobody has articulated 2 important things in its underwater context. Foremost is a detailed model for composition.  Not rules, but a structure for thinking more consistently about the issues. I’ve provided us with a starting point.  Next is consideration of the weight that we attribute to each of the different and sometimes competing composition concepts. The book deals with – and develops in detail – 8 concepts, but more critically an overarching theory of how they all fit together.

Although the independent first reviews of the book are not yet published, I do know that one notable critic already believes that this will become the bible for underwater photography composition.  So consider making a modest investment in something that I am confident will make you a better photographer.  Signed copies of the book for those who want it quickly are on sale now in the UK through this link.  But if you can wait, do join me and Alex Mustard at the book launch in London (details below); I extend an open invitation to everybody who is interested and will provide you with some wine, soft drinks, canapes and an opportunity to buy the book.

Wednesday 11 June 6:30pm at Ocean Leisure Cameras near Embankment Tube station. “Winning Images” book launch – additional details

all the best, my dear friends

Paul

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

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the press release is out & the office is full…

the office is full of books - only temporarily, I hope!

the office is full of books – only temporarily, I hope!

Well, the office is now piled high with copies of “Winning Images“, but only temporarily, I hope!  I’m delighted with the quality of the books from the main production run.  Initial sales of signed copies to UK-based friends are now under way through the web site and postage is free.  Here is the official press release.

The book will be on general release from 29th May, available through stores like Ocean Leisure Cameras and through Amazon.  And don’t forget the 11th June London launch at Ocean Leisure Cameras, starting at 6:30pm.  It’s an open invitation to all who are interested; enjoy a glass of wine or two on me!

best wishes, my dear friends,

Paul

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Joss Woolf (Chairman BSoUP) interviews Paul

Joss Woolf interviews Paul for the BSoUP magazine “in focus”; click the book image below to listen…

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera

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Once in a while…

montage Indonesia

Just once in a while, the possibility to do something special drops into our lives. Sometimes you have to be cautious and sometimes bold. My latest opportunity seemed to require a measure of both when I was asked whether I would consider teaching underwater photography to a high-profile but complete novice underwater photography client, who had heard that I had a reputation for good instruction regardless of camera system. But the prospect of setting up a major camera system, housing and teaching package for a client, despite an “all expenses included” tag is not for the faint-of-heart. Your reputation is on the line in a major way and, whilst you might cope with the occasional less-than-glowing review if you have hundreds of other positive accolades, it might take only one mistake with a high-profile client to completely ruin your reputation.  And the economics of 1-to-1 teaching are not as simple as you might think.

Nevertheless, a chance to travel to Indonesia and work on the very best live-aboard in the region was tempting enough for me to commit. I did so with a vengeance, seeking unequivocal success from the outset by over-delivering on every aspect of the commitment. I had hoped for more opportunities than those that actually transpired, to dive outside the instructional periods in order to build my own image stock.  But when a client is footing the complete bill, you work to a different drum beat. He was also learning to free dive and wanted me to capture that. And he had an appetite for knowledge of composition that allowed me to test the framework of that soon-to-be-published book, Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera.

So I took part in one of the most interesting diving adventures of my career, travelling in a style that so far I had only dreamed about. My 4 fellow travelers were the very finest company and the crew of 17, a ratio of over 3 crew members to each guest, provided absolutely exceptional service. I chose to wake at 0600 and retire at 2330 in order to squeeze the most out of almost 2 weeks in such a wonderful place on an amazing ship.  It was in many ways hard work and in others fabulously relaxing.

Normal discretion for client confidentiality prohibits me documenting too much (images included), but I have attached a few pictures of the trip and a link below to a short video & still image montage, which between them give a little taste of what what this venture was about.

I’m told by others, critically by my client, that this went well. I shall be very interested to see whether it leads to similar work…

And finally, serendipity: passing through Singapore on the way back home yesterday, my client passed a magazine stand and opened a copy of Sport Diver US, where he found an article by Paul Colley about mastering light in underwater photography.  It was one of 10 articles for a column that I’m writing this year for that magazine (and the first time that I had seen any of the articles in hard copy).  My credibility (and my pride) soared.  Thank you Alex M for the associated earlier introduction to the picture editor!  I’m just loving writing my first column.

all best, Paul

Link to video montage

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Why composition matters: aesthetics and photographic intent

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Ansel Adams

composition is a supremely cost-effective way of improving our images

composition is a supremely cost-effective way of improving our images

For the next 5 months as I make the final run-in to an end-of-May 2014 publishing date for my new book Winning Images with any Underwater Camera, I’m going to set out a few of the big ideas in the hope that I might gain your interest in it.  This could be the first underwater photography book that has tried to weave together ideas from traditional theory and contemporary science. I aspire that it will add something to the corporate body of knowledge and advance our mutual quest to more consistently produce images that win the minds of our friends, family, peer photographers, judges of competitions or editors of magazines and books. The emphasis in this book will most definitely be on any camera, because its thesis is that composition (and not technology) is the supremely cost-effective way of improving our images.

Although underwater photography can be functional and therefore a craft, for example in journalism to tell environmental stories or in marketing to advertise scuba equipment, most people interested in this book will be pursuing underwater photography for its pure enjoyment and therefore more closely associate their images with creative or fine art. Your photographic intent is generally to draw attention to some of the finer things in life, for example the sleek lines of dolphins and sharks or the exquisite geometry, shapes and symmetry in a big fish school. Your images are communicating extraordinary things and good photographers develop this clear intention to communicate. To portray something rather than just record what they see. The difference is subtle, but vital. To communicate, you need to understand a little about aesthetics, which people define differently, but which I like to think of as perceiving and feeling. I always feel the undercurrents of emotion when I see certain spectacular things underwater, but also when I see some of those beautiful images that successfully capture it.  It is easier to remember this idea of perceiving and feeling if you think of anaesthetic, which is something to stop you feeling.

This emotional response from a viewer is what you’re looking for; a genuine appreciation of your work in the eye of the beholder. But here’s our first problem, because I deliberately avoid the word beauty, which is so often associated with aesthetics. Unfortunately, beauty has been a contested concept since the time of Plato, who demonstrated that it was paradoxical, illusive and complex. And many successful underwater images can depict quite ugly things, albeit in a way that still holds the attention of a viewer. So this will be how the book starts: a little bit of philosophy to understand why aesthetics are so important. But the book will then draw on contemporary scientific research to understand exactly how people look at and think about images. From these starting points, it will develop a new model of composition specifically for underwater photographers.

If this subject interests you, please follow this blog to see the story of winning images unfold and to learn more about the book launches in London.  For those that I have not already greeted in 2014, I hope that it is not too late to say Happy New Year to you and the very best of fortune with your own photography!

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Photography workshop Jan-Feb 2014: Iconic Cuba

 

Cuban waters brim with life: sharks, crocs, turtles & colourful sponges

Cuban waters brim with life: sharks, crocs, turtles & colourful sponges

It is quite a while since I’ve been completely enthralled by new photographic opportunities.  And so after my recent fabulous experience in Cuba, I readily agreed to host a photography workshop there during one of The Scuba Place’s excursions, from 23 January to 6 February 2014.  I regularly shoot with both SLR and compact cameras (the embedded images are a mixture of both), so I can provide just about any kind of support that people need, from full-on instruction for beginners with compact cameras through to occasional tips for experienced SLR users (I am an accredited INON UK underwater camera instructor).

The diving in Cuba is diverse, but this trip will focus on some real excitement that beckons in the Jardines de la Reina, a marine reserve off the south east coast.  But it is also right to dwell a while in the capital and not rush headlong into the diving.  Havana is awash with iconic images and a photography-rich environment.  1950-vintage classic American cars by the street load.  And an amazing colonial architecture that harbours cottage industry rum and tobacco houses amidst the rhythmic pulse of salsa music floating from vibrant bars.  Soak it up!

Havana's pulse of life: classic cars & salsa bars, amazing people & and colonial architecture.  Hemmingway loved it...

Havana’s pulse of life: classic cars & salsa bars; amazing people; and colonial architecture. Hemmingway loved it…

A fast transfer boat from Jucaro will get us aboard the floating hotel/barge live-aboard la Tortuga in the Gardens of the Queen.  The efficient and affable crew will then get you to the dive sites daily using fast skiffs.  Day-end post-diving rum cocktails will put you in a pleasant frame of mind for highly-sociable and (for the photographers) educational evenings.

For those who love shark diving, or for people just yearning to see these magnificent creatures up close for the first time, the over-used adjective is the right one.  It’s awesome.  Diving with reef and silky sharks in big numbers is genuinely awe-inspiring.  Although such activity inevitably has a frisson of excitement, which sustains a healthy respect for these apex predators, for the greatest part you will just see these sharks swimming in their graceful, carefully-ordered sinuous ballet, giving divers a respectful distance, whilst still providing photo opportunities a-plenty.

above water treats: fast skiffs to see hermit crabs, jutias & iguanas in the mangroves, with gorgeous sunsets every day.

above water treats: fast skiffs to see hermit crabs, jutias & iguanas in the mangroves, with gorgeous sunsets every day.

With frequent sightings of goliath groupers and some delightful trips to the fringing mangroves and islands to see juvenile saltwater crocodiles, hermit crabs, iguanas and a cute little rodent called the Jutia, for me the experience is as good as diving gets.  For more information or to make a reservation call or email the Scuba Place sales director John Spencer-Ades (020 7644 8252, john@thescubaplace.co.uk).

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What really matters: contrast & balance

Bohar snappers, Egypt

Bohar snappers, Egypt

The research for my new book (publishing date May 2014) led me to one firm conclusion about composition, which is that two concepts dominate the theory: contrast & balance.  Contrast extends beyond the traditional well-known ideas of needing light against dark to perceive shapes, and of opposites in the colour spectrum to catch the eye.  For a start, colour unpacks into an incredibly diverse range of ideas, including psychological feelings, complementary and split-complementary matching, monochrome…the list goes on.  But what fascinates me is a third category of contrasts developed by a philosopher within one of the old European art schools.  We see these contrasts instinctively, but often sub-consciously and the list is as long as your imagination.  In the book, I will set out what I have learned about these myriad contrasts and how they apply to the underwater world.

Balance is an even bigger idea that revolves around the size, shape, weight, colour and implied movement of each graphic element in a photographic composition.  It is most easily described as a concept of visual weight and relative positioning, which I deduce to be fundamental building blocks for composition.  I’ll be explaining in the book how to grasp this idea easily and how to exploit it in underwater photography.

After a really interesting day yesterday that included a speaking slot at Dive Show 2013 and a few sessions on the British Society of Underwater Photographers stand, I woke up to a nice surprise that involves contrasts.  I tried a rather extreme (for me) experiment in August by turning a half-decent colour image of schooling bohar snappers into a monochrome image with very high contrast.  In post-production I turned the blue water almost to black and the grey snappers much nearer to white.  It was not entirely to my taste, but it just picked up a ribbon from the Photographic Society of America (one of 6 honourable mentions) in an international photographic art competition that attracted over 5000 entries from 62 countries.  This is far from the best image that I’ve ever made, but I’m heartily encouraged to keep experimenting!

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Developing a photographic style

Motor Bike on the SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea

Motor Bike on the SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea

I spent a year agonising about my next DSLR, or whether I would even get one with the micro 4/3rds format looking so impressive. There is so much technology on offer that it seems difficult to make a bad choice. So I worried less about the numbers (measurebating as Alex Mustard so eloquently puts it) and more about where my photography might go, now that I can devote time to it. Alex had already sowed a seed in my head years ago in an article that he wrote for Martin Edge’s book, The Underwater Photographer. It concluded with that most difficult issue for any photographer: with so many good photographers and great images out there, how do you develop a photographic style? Well, a few years after reading the article and on the cusp of upgrading my trusty D300, it finally clicked what should drive the camera choice, namely photographic intent and not technological edge. So I have at long last made a critical choice and acquired a full format camera. For the next few years it will be a combination of Nikon D4 and an Olympus XZ-2 compact. Oh, and the style that I would like to develop? Ask me at the Dive Show or keep following this blog…

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National Geographic win

Barracuda Explosion: recently published by National Geographic

Barracuda Explosion: published by National Geographic

I’m excited about the prospect of this year’s Dive Show at the NEC.  It’s one of those great crossroads of the diving world and you would struggle not to meet a thick handful of old friends as they congregate to see what’s new in diving, to lust after new gear and to listen talks about our undersea world.  I’ll be doing something slightly different this year.  For the first time I’ll be manning the British Society of Underwater Photographers stand, where I hope to meet and talk to plenty of like-minded photographers.  But I’ll also be giving another short presentation in the Photo Zone about the book that I’m currently writing: Winning Images with any Underwater Camera.  I’ll be using the image attached (and many others) to argue why composition matters more than technology.  I’m delighted to report that 2 days ago this image won another competition, this time one run by National Geographic.  What interests me is that the image is technically low average, with some over-blown highlights on the leading fish, and noise from post-processing to rescue my in-water exposure errors.  But I always sensed that it would generate interest and if you’re at the Dive Show on Saturday, drop in on my presentation at 10.20-1100 to hear me explain why.  If you’re there on Sunday, I would still love to see you at the British Society of Underwater Photographers, stand P12.

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