As it often happens, after returning from a diving trip, I find myself looking at the photos I took and seeing all the mistakes I’ve made, wishing I could go back right now and do it right this time. The mistakes I’m talking about are the little details I manage to ignore while underwater, and that are so obvious when looking at the images on my laptop. The LCD on the back of the DSLR is a great help and sometimes a little deceiving, because it’s never as good as a 17″ monitor.
Although I am checking color histograms (most of the time at least), I often don’t see the “other” little details. Like, for example, the dreaded air bubbles on the dome. They’re a little annoying detail that make this image unusable. It won’t take long to clone them out of existence with Camera Raw or Photoshop, but even if it takes ten minutes, compare that to the one second it would have taken to swipe those bubbles off the dome before taking the picture. And this is just one picture. Although spots can be removed from more than one image at a time with Camera Raw, that works best with dirty sensor spots, because they are always predictably in the same exact spot. And usually they’re not as many as the bubbles spots in this example. So the lesson here is: one second of thought underwater, before taking the picture, can translate to ten minutes per photo of mind-numbing (or relaxing, depending on how you view it) cloning work in post-processing.
Another classic mistake for me is leaving the strobes on when they’re not necessary. Sometimes natural light is enough, either because there’s nothing within 6 feet to be lit by artificial light, or like in this example, because natural is the subject of the photo. Now it beats me why it didn’t occur to me to switch the strobes off before taking this picture. Oh wait – I know: because I’m an amateur. That’s right. Lack of experience. Perhaps next time I find myself looking at a beautiful play of light, like this one in the cracks near the surface at Little Brother Island in the Red Sea, I will remember to turn off the strobes, adjust aperture and shutter speed, frame and take the picture.
Sometimes I surprise myself by screwing up the most basic things, like for example not focusing on the subject. Now, using the 105mm Nikkor lens with autofocus can be a real pain, because it often goes in wild back and forth swings looking for focus, which seem to take forever while I’m holding my breath and trying to stay still, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be best to just leave it at a fixed focus and move the camera back and forth. But since I know that, I should really pay more attention to making sure that the subject is in focus. This sea star is sitting on a pretty boring background, it really shouldn’t have been hard to focus on it and get a nice crisp shot of it. It could have been a winner, and instead it’s just a demonstration shot.
And finally, uneven lighting. You go to the store and buy all of them fancy underwater strobes. You pack them and take them all the way to a remote place. You make sure the batteries are charged. You go diving and see a nice crocodilefish (or similar bottom dweller) sitting on the sandy floor. You adjust strobe intensity to make sure you’re not going to overexpose the picture, because at least you know that the sand reflects a lot of light and you need to dial down the intensity. You take the picture and check the histogram and notice that there are no highlights, so you happily swim off to the next subject. But you also need to make sure that your subject is properly lit. It’s easy, you can just look in the LCD, although admittedly sometimes it’s not so easy to see. But in this case, it’s pretty clear that the sand in front of the fish is clearly lit, and the tail is not even lit. This was a great chance to have a nice spotlight on the fish, to make it pop out, in spite of its natural camouflage colors. Again, it could have been a winner, and instead, the best I can make of this image is an example of what needs to be avoided.
Of the many mistakes a photographer can make in the course of a single dive, these are just the few I have picked because they were so easily preventable. You know, like they say, an ounce of prevention…