During our recent blue o two, DIVE Magazine and Paralenz trip to the Red Sea, internationally renowned photographer and Mission Blue expedition director Kip Evans gave us some of his top tips for making the perfect photograph. In this series of articles, we’ll put what Kip taught us into practice, and see if it really makes any difference in underwater photography…

Apart from having a Paralenz, of course, one of the primary features of a good photograph involves using ‘the rule of thirds’.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

Put simply, the rule of thirds suggests that a photograph should be divided into three equally spaced sections, both horizontally and vertically. This creates a grid of nine boxes with equal dimensions. The subjects of the photograph should be ideally placed where those lines intersect. This gives the image a more dynamic aspect, as opposed to locating the subject of the photograph dead center. Apparently, the human brain finds the geometry of ‘thirds’ more pleasing than that of ‘halves’

rule of thirds golden ratio

A grid divided into thirds (L) and the rather more complicated golden ratio (R)

It’s not an exact rule and is based on the mathematical theory that has been around for over two thousand years. It is rather loosely derived from the ‘Golden Ratio’, a complicated bit of mathematics with curly graphs that generates a pleasing form of symmetry. The golden ratio occurs throughout nature – shells are a good example – which is possibly why our eyes are drawn to such patterns.

Editing

Professional photographers will compose their photographs using the rule of thirds before taking the shot. This isn’t always easy if you’re trying to take pictures of fish that won’t stay still! Fortunately for us amateurs, photo editing software is available everywhere. Most smartphones are able to edit images, as are PCs and Macs. Windows 10’s photo app sticks a grid over the picture when you choose the crop and rotate the menu.

underwater photography

The above image is a Napoleon wrasse taken at Daedalus reef during the Paralenz / blue o two liveaboard. The editing software is Adobe Lightroom Classic, but anything will do. The image on the left has the Napoleon positioned in the center. The first thing the eye is drawn to is that big mouth, which shifts focus away from the fish itself.

It’s worth noting that the mouth is positioned around the vertical grid of the ‘third’. By dragging the crop box around a bit, we can move the whole animal into the right-hand two-thirds of the picture. The napoleon’s eye is now positioned at the intersection between two of the gridlines.

Napoleon wrasse

The result is that the human eye is naturally drawn to that of the fish. The mouth is still a big feature but has been shifted down the order of focus somewhat. The blank space to the left of the picture adds to the overall effect.

The Paralenz Dive Camera and underwater photography

Although the Paralenz has no view screen, the field of vision is wide enough that taking photographs leaves plenty of room for cropping and moving the image using editing software. The rule of thirds is a simple, but very effective technique, even for amateur photographers (like the guy taking the pictures above!)

Why not give it a try and post the results on our Paralenz facebook page? We’d love to see your attempts at photo composition and editing!

Coming soon – Top Tips with Kip Part 2: Eye Contact