In today's world where everybody is digitally orientated Neville Coleman presents you with a little more than pictures to make it into photojournalism.
You need some words!
There are millions of images at everybody's disposal available on the net.
What you need in today's developing multi-media climate is the whole package!
By shooting on a vertical format I have allowed for the image to be used as a magazine cover, leaving space at the top for the magazine title and space below for the fearured contents. To get the diver's exaust bubbles to exit above the dolphin's blowhole added an extra feature in timing.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
What diver, snorkeller or aquatic naturalist hasn't at some time envied the freedom of spirit that takes the few "chosen" ones across the world on expeditions and adventures while we just read about their exploits and drool at the exotic locations?
Ever imagined what it must be like to be your own explorer or aquatic photojournalist invited to visit dive locations or eco-resorts across the Asia/Indo-Pacific regions to produce articles for dive magazines, books and web sites?
"Of course you can"
Just as some beginners to underwater imagery can produce excellent pictures on their preliminary underwater adventures, so too can anybody who has aspired to be an underwater natural history photojournalist, or author, become published.
Although the primary subject is the Lord Howe Island lagoon with the mountains in the background a landscape format allows the subject to be framed by the surrounding hills in the foreground and along the edges, giving depth to the image. The clouds are also an important feature, adding a greater perspective. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
It is not difficult. Once you understand the basic construction and the sequence of technical events, the rest is up to your natural ability and individualism. Anybody can learn the procedures and follow the planned, designed process to success.
All it takes is minimal skills, dedication and determination.
The basic meaning of photojournalism is "telling a story using pictures" and in many cases images of dramatic scenes such as the savagery of warfare, or images of starving children in Africa, the aftermath of terrorist bomb attacks, or the devastation of a tsunami, the stark reality of the pictures tell the whole story.
However, with aquatic natural history photojournalism, eco-tourism and dive travel, the story (journalism) is as important as the photos. You must consider that not everybody looking at the images will be able to recognize the subjects, or understand what might be happening. It needs to be explained in a way that is not only informative and accurate, but also entertaining and inspiring.
(1) At first glimpse this Synodus rubromarginatus has the wormfish Gunnelichthys curiosus well caught and the shot could have been left at that. (2) Certainly, with only a short length of body and tail still to be swallowed, one could be excused for thinking it was all over for the wormfish? ( photos: Neville Coleman)
(3) All over for the wormfish? (4) Had I left I would have missed the most exceptional part of the story. Once the wormfish was completely swallowed and free of the lizard's teeth it did a complete turn about inside the lizardfishes stomach and shot head first straight out of the lizardfishes's mouth. It just goes to show. In nature 'NOTHING' is a shore thing! The Wormfish's exit was so unexpected and so fast that I missed getting the head in the framer.( photos: Neville Coleman)
Of course, it is much easier for a videographer to tell a story in pictures because they have the advantage of motion and sequential events with beginnings, chapters and endings all in the correct order and with a little help from a competent video editor, the story unfolds.
With still photography, it is not always easy to capture a specific moment in a single shot or have all the pictures taken on one event published. So, understanding, knowledge of subjects, events and behavior is imperative.
My first ever turtle laying images are still my best. On a small island off the coast of North- West Australia in 1971, pitch black all around and the wind screaming through the undergrowth I discovered my first Hawksbill turtle digging an egg pit. ( Photo: Neville Coleman)
I was alone and somewhat terrified in the darkness but determined to shoot this phenomena that I had only ever read about. The fact that nobody from the Museum expedition would go along with me made me even more determined. I wanted the turtle laying eggs the way I saw it in my imagination (eggs being layed) not just laying static in an egg pit after the event.
With my very dim torch held between my knees, the twin lens rollei in one hand and a small pocket flash attached on a short lead I struggled to hold everything and keep the eggs in focus. The turtle gave great gasps each time she was going to lay a batch, but more often than not that was not a cue to get ready. The eggs could come in short random bursts from 1 to 3 minutes after that and there was no warning. Just had to hold focus and hope they came before your ams fell off.
I missed it 11 times, but on one burst I managed to hold it together just as the eggs came out. One roll of film with twelve images on a roll was not much to bet your ass on, but that single image was the best turtle laying eggs image of its time and even 30 years down the track, it still holds its own.( photo: Neville Coleman)
While I applaud efforts to expand our knowledge of aquatic natural history and dive travel I am equally appalled at the lack of basic knowledge published by some beginners who set themselves up as experts because they can download information from the web.
Need I mention a specific article written on the natural history of worms, that was published in a respected dive magazine with a photo of a synapted sea cucumber captioned as one of their worm examples.
Another well known Dive Magazine published a living volute captioned as a deadly cone shell!! A sea urchin described as coral!! The examples of poorly researched productions are endless.
Photojournalism for today's magazines.
The criteria and methods I state these sections are not necessarily a criteria for many of today's dive magazines. Most dive magazines used to be owned by their founders who were usually divers or Underwater photographers who actually produced the magazines and were very close to the content.
Editors were not only editors, but divers who actually new about diving and understood that the information they were publishing needed to be correct and to this extent many editors could actually tell one critter from another.
In today's hectic world of magazine publishing this does not always occur. Some dive magazines are just revenue amassing vehicles for big publishing houses. Editors, designers, graphic artists and publishing staff may be managing content for 10 or 20 magazines on as many subjects and have no time or even idea of what the creatures they are displaying have in the real value in terms of focus, credibility or colour integrity.
They just see each an image as a having bright colours, design, impact and pattern, just display vehicles to make a page attractive or spectactular. Entire pages are allotted to out of focus creatures time and time again just for the impact of their colouror pattern, nothing to do with the image itself being credible.
Once upon a time we kept the slightly soft images small so that the photographer would not be too embarassed. Today, they get front cover positions and are promoted as status symbols.
There is not even time to check if the photographers captions are correct ( if indeed they were supplied) and the editor has to make up the captions on the images.
The fact is that imagery today is enjoyed by so many, that images accepted by publishers do not necessarily reflect any aspects of the imagery that was once the domain of professional photographers and professional photojournalists.
While I have done more than most to encourage divers to take up photography and record the underwater wildlife , encouragement must be moulded by knowledge and experience, even if photoshop is always standing by to enhance any fo pars.
Imagery has come a long way since I picked up my first camera and I welcome the advancement, BUT out of focus imagery as far as I am concerned is because the photographer was not good enough to get the image in focus, and that is not photographic excellence!
When you are writing aquatic natural history it is very important you understand what you are writing about because, these days, most editors of magazines are not experts on marine natural history and do not have the time to check every statement or picture submitted. The onus is on the photojournalist and some leave lots to be desired. Do your homework!
Horizontal Framing (Landscape) ( Seascape)
Inside looking out through a labarinth of limestone caves gives a much more dramatic perspective than just shooting from the outside in.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Because humans have two eyes that see out of sockets wider than their height, by far the most popular way in which aquatic nature is viewed and photographed is horizontal. We see in landscape, so it is natural to take pictures that relate to how we see. This is also emphasised by the 35 mm viewing window of most cameras being landscaped (wider horizontal) to go with our natural vision of seeing width.
In framing the natural world, there are elements by which every subject lends itself, through its shape or surroundings, towards a specific visual interpretation. If pre-visualisation of a subject can be made beforehand, sometimes by studying other photographers' work on the same subject, does help.
(1) Any shark shot might be seen as effective. However, while this image is just a shark, the next is far more dramatic. (2) By shooting upwards at full frame and allowing the shark to turn against the surface waves in the background provides this Galapagos Shark with characteristic drama generally associated with sharks. ( photos: Neville Coleman)
With subjects that are fast moving such as flying birds or swimming fish, the most important thing is to get a photographic record of the animal first. As both these subjects are longer than they are higher (when flying or swimming) it is much easier to `track' them with horizontal framing than by perpendicular framing (portrait). Horizontal framing gives the photographer more time to capture the image and it is easier to pan through the animal's movement path.
For longer subjects which are often moving a horizontal format is the best. This nocturnal Red Squirrelfish has been captured as a snapshot fleeing from the focussing light. The strobe has stopped the fish right in front of its cave entrance and even in a split second I was able to compose it to an advantage. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Sometimes a moving subject can be followed, or in the case of a territorial fish, `ambushed' when it swims past a colourful background to give the picture more `saleability' for photojournalism.
Backgrounds are so important when depicting natural history photography with visual identification in mind. With patience and a little knowhow subjects can be guided to areas of their habitat which ensures a dramatic result and an acccurate scientific study.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Vertical Framing (Portrait)
Classic postcard imagery of two Magpie Geese over a billabong. By using a vertical ( portrait) format, rule of thirds and diagonals, the effect is far more dramatic than if shot on a landscape format.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Vertical framing depends on the subject matter and how the photographer views different aspects of the subject. It is always a good plan (if possible) to view a stationary subject from both horizontal and vertical to get an idea, which may be the most dramatic, especially with wide-angle photography. Vertical framing gives greater impression of height and sometimes depth. When used from a lower angle close to the subject, it has the added attraction of being able to use backgrounds more effectively and provides a very dramatic picture.
(1) The low down perspective used in this vertical image displays the hunting stance of this Half- banded Seaperch which 'perches' on the tops of sponges as it waits in ambush for prey to pass by below.
(1) The low down perspective used in this vertical image displays the hunting stance of this Half- banded Seaperch which 'perches' on the tops of sponges as it waits in ambush for prey to pass by below.
(2) The long vertical stance required to capture this first ever record of the Frog – eating Cricket's behaviour was needed to ensure the integrity of the entire subject hanging by its leg while dining on the Graceful Frog it had hunted down and caught at night. It took 3 years to get the shots and establish scientific fact that some crickets were predators on frogs.( photos: Neville Coleman)
To most people, vertical format is awkward and difficult to apply; even more so underwater. Yet if the photographer has any aspirations towards photojournalism then vertical framing is very important for it produces a similar format to page size in a magazine. Most full-page magazine covers are shot using vertical framing.
Shot with a magazine cover in mind this vertical wide angle makes full use of the model's curvature, line of subject and the corresponding shape of the sunburst on the surface.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Composition (Designing a Picture)
Everybody who takes pictures sees what is around them in view of their past experiences. Although I had no idea how to take pictures underwater when I first began in 1968, I did have many years of experience as a naturalist.
When composing macro images that fill the frame, it is much better to arrange your framing to have the subject move along the diagonal and not just shoot it as a static horizontal going nowhere. The body of this Tryon's Risbecia is fully expanded, with its gills and rhinophores out and the front 'skirt' stretching out as it smells and feels its way along. Leaving more free space in the front of the subject than behind it, creates an illusion of movement and allows the nudibranch crawling space.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Even as a small child, I had albums full of pictures: of flowers, birds, mammals and insects collected over many years from magazines and old books. Even though I may not have known the "how to" about photography, my own visual perception of natural photography had been influenced from an early age by studying the compositions of the best nature photographers of the times. My mind just adjusted underwater nature photography to what I'd seen the best nature photographers do on land and I endeavoured to emulate what my learned sight told me would make a good picture.
(1) Knowing when to pull the trigger is what what wide angle diver/animal interaction is all about. This image might be judged as reasonable till one sees the next image.
(2) By waiting till the precise moment that the Green Turtle's front flippers were at their highest upward movement and framing the diver to be just behind the turtle's flippers allows the diagonal to run from the turtle's head, up through the tops of the flippers to the diver's head and then along through the diver's exaust bubbles. This provides movement to the image. The fact that the diver's fins needed to be together while swimming against the current and the diver's eyes were looking at the turtle (NOT the photographer) added to the perspective and a very sucessfull result. ( photos: Neville Coleman)
Once a subject has been found, it is time to construct its composition to produce the best picture possible given the situation and time available. The subject must be eye-catching; it must convey its message for critter photography; it must communicate recognition!
(1) & (2) When shooting images purely for identification purposes the result must emphasize the subjects most characteristic features for recognition of the species. In case of free swimming fish the lateral aspect is best and if they can be shot against an infinity background, even better.( photos: Neville Coleman)
Although this image of Coleman's Shrimp on its host fire urchin has been taken on horizontal format, the vertical stance of the subjects allow the image to be used in a vertical format by cropping each side.( photo: Neville Coleman)
With flat, dorsally developed subjects such as flatworms and some nudibranchs the best way to shoot and display them is from a dorsal aspect, as their colours and patterns can best be presented this way.( photo: Neville Coleman)
RULE OF THIRDS
Within the format of a horizontal 35 mm view, it is generally conceived that simple photographic composition follows along the same guidelines as composition in drawing and painting where the frame is divided into thirds. This is brought about when the frame is divided by two equidistant lines, which transect the space vertically, and two equidistant lines, which transect the space horizontally.
The `rule of thirds' stresses the importance of positioning the primary subjects along the intersections, as they are usually the strongest points of visual interest. Placing small subjects directly in the centre of the picture may be all that is required when shooting for identification, but from an aesthetic point of view, there is little artistic merit or creative imagination.
Rule of thirds can be seen as 3 equidistant vertical lines and 3 equidistant horizonital lines bisecting each image into 9 elements of traditional composition.( photo: Neville Coleman)
A good nature photographer visualises constantly. Everything that is looked at and every imaginary vision that goes through the mind are geometrically dissected into nine compositional elements. With constant practice, every subject viewed is automatically positioned combining the nine elements of composition and the opposing diagonals. Once it becomes second nature, transition into the adventure of photography begins.
With Macro photography, it is best to try and fill the frame with the subject, letting nature's natural beauty carry the shot. Many smaller creatures have unbelievable shapes, colours, patterns and designs and by taking them as close as possible it displays their unseen qualities best. If identification is the main reason for the photograph, then the subject, not the background is the most important feature – it should not distract from the subject.
The low lateral aspect used on this Lightning Volute provides an excellent visual identification study of the animal and the shell. By leaving more space in front of the mollusc than behind allows it to have somewhere to go , rather than just chopping off the subject right up against the siphon.( photo: Neville Coleman)
The trick is to isolate the subject from the background wherever possible. It will then emerge to dominate the picture and command the viewer's attention.
This can be achieved by using a medium range telephoto macro lens, which will produce a sharp foreground and an out of focus background, allowing the subject to stand out.
(1) Even though this image of a Harlequin Shrimp has all the elements of a professional image the horizontal aspect does not allow it to stand out from its background. (2) When shot from a lateral aspect with an infinity background, the ordinary is elevated to extraordinary, just by perspective, patience and persistance. ( photos: Neville Coleman)
In the business of recording fast moving creatures for underwater fauna surveys or identification shots, getting the entire subject in the frame, in focus and properly exposed is the main priority. Quite often in these cases there is very little time to even think of composition, as there may be only seconds to get everything set up before the subject is in and out of range. Multiple choices are not always possible at the time, but if the subject is sharp and well exposed then cropping to produce better composition can be done at a later stage.
If an animal subject is long or skinny, such as a flutemouth or spindle cowry, it is better to compose it along a diagonal than to just shoot it as a horizontal in the middle of the frame, leaving the upper and lower thirds of the frame empty.
To the unitiated this image of two fish might be of little interest. However, the real story could take pages to reveal all the facts of this yellow phase trumpetfish using the Diagonal- banded Sweetlips as a cover to hunt smaller fishes. What is important is that the low lateral aspect allows the eyes of both fish to be seen.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
By selecting a low lateral aspect and elevating the Tokio's Spindle Cowry along the diagonal gives a far better perspective than if it had been shot as a horizontal across the centre of the frame.( photo: Neville Coleman)
On vertical framing where straight lines are in the picture (eg. jetty pylons) the verticals need to be at right angles to the bottom, or surface. These can also be used to frame a school of fish, or a diver, giving an impression of depth to the picture. Composition includes all the elements of the scene as interpreted by the photographer: colour, shape, lines, patterns, contrast, movement and proportion etc. The arrangement of these things make the difference between what is simply stunning, against what is simply, there!
Since the invention of the simple cameras and halide film, the opportunity has been there for anyone to apply himself or herself artistically. Not only to capture and record moments in time, but with a little assistance along the way in the form of practical application, techniques, simple skills and some perseverance, anyone interested enough can produce images equal to, or if not better than those we see published in books, magazines and on websites everyday.
It took me a lifetime of learning the hard way, but that does not mean everyone has to.
There are two ways to learn: by one's own experiences (which in my case took many years because I was obsessed in my results being on an individual basis and not copied from others) or through somebody else's experience. In regard to photography I now know that the latter course is quicker, easier and saves a lot of money, heartbreak, time, trouble and may even save your life.
Working alone by yourself under all and any circumstances year after year in all kinds of habitats and environments, day and night means that your must pursue a certain amount of resolve to get you through all the unknowns and all their many uncertainties.
When your life has been filled with the spectre of eternal anxiety manufactured by childhood persecution and the trauma and brutality of violence brought about by parental alcoholism and 15 years of bullying day after day at all schools and " we are gonna make you a man " apprenticeships dished out by the real Australian Terrorists of this "lucky country", sharks and fear of everything in the sea, palls to insignificance.
There are always certain elements in environmental photography which, in order to get the image, sometimes requires certain elements of risk that would never be taken under other circumstances. It depends on the location and the situation; to survive its important to have an understanding of everything. An understanding of the camera, the environment, the subject and, above all else, an understanding of one's self and the ability to maintain a sense of preservation in every thing that is attempted and that which takes place.
Although by some people's reasoning I may have spent half my life risking it , my own behaviour has always been logical ( to me) and precautionary. Its true I would never have taken half the risks without a camera and a sense of achievement but at no time did I deliberately risk my life unless the percentage of survival was in my favour. ( No, I did not swim in this stuff!) That's Rudie Kuiter out there.
After all, getting the shots is only half of it ……seeing them in print was the highlight and for that one had to stay alive. In my life, just surviving the nightmares every night and waking up still alive was my greatest challenge, the rest was just life! ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Managing to exist as the first Australian full time professional freelance aquatic photojournalist for 35 years has been no easy task. Although obtaining the highest amateur and professional acclamations in Australia, my 'bread and butter' images were far more practical for staying viable in this country than my visions of artistic merit.
Yet it was the shooting of spiritually enlightening artistic images( enviro-mentals), which kept me in balance, even though they did not keep me in pocket.
A mutton bird killed on a barbed wire electrified fence erected to keep cattle from falling over the cliffs at Norfolk Island really stirred up my sense of injustice as to how our wildlife suffers at our presense. Colatteral damage it may be, BUT the cost always increases and NATURE PAYS THE PRICE. This an example of my ( ENVIRO – MENTALS) and I have shot it as a vertical , leaving a perfect space for a poem.( photo: Neville Coleman)
There are many ways to arrive at a destination but in wildlife photography and photojournalism the more simple a system is, the better it will perform in the field. When shooting under diverse environmental conditions that are often physically demanding and uncomfortable, the last thing one needs is a complicated unwieldy system.
Professional wildlife photographers, photojournalists and serious amateurs are generally naturalists as well, and through the years of experience and personal preference usually choose one or two camera systems that suit their particular field of interest and allow them to get the best results with the fewest problems.
Everybody has their own ideas on how they 'see' images.
It is not my intention to try and tell people how they should take 'their pictures', however, if through my words, images and expressions of nature I can encourage others to take a look at life through a lens and see just how relative nature is to human nature, perhaps they too will discover by choice, what it took me half a lifetime to discover by chance!
All copyrights Neville Coleman