As promised in my last article, I wanted to take some time to look at underwater photography and begin analyzing photos in this genre, much as I have done with others in the past. Underwater photography is immensely distinct from other genres due to one main characteristic – it’s underwater (if you see an underwater wedding photographer, please let me know, I am asking for a friend).
However, you would be surprised to know that this has little impact on the actual photography itself. In fact, there are arguably more similarities than differences between underwater photography and other genres. While yes, if you leave your gear unattended, it won’t get stolen (it would sink), if you dress inappropriately, you won’t be slightly uncomfortable (you would drown), if you rush back home, you won’t be missing the latest episode of Property Brothers on HGTV (you would be experiencing decompression sickness – while still missing out on those beautiful kitchen counter tops), and – okay, maybe I digress.
Essentially, except for the environment you are in and extra adaptations you must make, the photographic concepts and elements that make an interesting image still apply. This includes everything such as the relationships between ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, composition theory like rule of thirds or the golden spiral, the principles of visual design. However, for today’s commentary, we are going to revisit depth of field.
If you have been following along with my other posts and image commentaries, you will know I have already discussed this topic extensively. Depth of field is a technique used to accentuate the three dimensional space of a scene while being limited to a two dimensional medium (i.e. screens, prints, paper, etc). The most effective way of implementing depth of field is by establishing layers of varying depths within an image. Traditionally speaking, there are three main layers: foreground, middle ground, and background.
The most prominent examples of depth of field can be identified in landscape photography. Often, the foreground element is an object or texture that is intended to add detail to an image to draw in the viewer. In the beautiful photo above, this would be the rock on the seafloor in the lower left corner.
The middle ground however, is usually a larger portion of the photograph than the foreground – it is also behind the foreground. The middle ground of a photograph can vary tremendously in what it entails – sometimes, it can be just a continuation of the foreground or empty space, and other times, it can also hold the subject itself. In this case, the latter applies. The sea turtle – which by the way, is absolutely stunning and majestic in every way – is undoubtedly the subject of this image. It is also in the middle ground portion of the photo (which can roughly be identified as the “ocean” or the water itself). Regardless of circumstance, the middle ground of a photograph always can be characterized by one thing – it separates the foreground and background, thus resulting in the manifestation of visual depth.
This leads me to the last layer – the background. Typically, the background of a scene is the biggest of all three layers. An example in landscape photography could be the vast sky. The background could also contain elements of its own, such as a tiny distant mountain range. In other words, the background (much like the other layers) can be comprised of various subject matter of its own. For instance, a vast sky behind the silhouette of a tiny mountain range could all together be categorized as the background layer of a photo. In the photograph above, the background is more unique – rather than being an overarching sky, it is the sunlight being refracted by the waves on the surface of the water. One could also argue that the background includes the rocks on the seafloor further back as well as the darker depths of the ocean.
Once all three layers are put together, you are left with a scene that contains depth of field – regardless of whether it is above water, or below. Not only does depth of field provide a sense of realism to the viewer, but it also can serve several other purposes as well such as manipulating the viewer’s attention or adding extra detail to compliment the main subject of the photo.
So there you have it! Depth of field is certainly a concept applicable to underwater photography as much as any other genre, but it is far from the only one! That being said, let me know down in the comments below whether you would like to hear about other photographic concepts and elements of design that are pertinent to the mystical scenes that lay below the water’s surface.
Now if you will excuse me, I have some HGTV to go watch.