Deciding to be Different

'The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.' — John Maynard Keynes

Like every underwater photographer, my portfolio encompasses many different types of images. A strong portfolio undoubtedly balances both emulation and innovation. Some of my images are similar to the work of other photographers and clearly influenced by them, but here I want to discuss two examples (one macro, one wide angle) where I feel I made conscious decisions to deviate from what others were doing. I think that these are interesting cases because I consciously chose to go away from images I greatly admired and respected, to differentiate my work.

Fashions go in cycles and I am sure there will be some people reading this who will say 'I was doing that in the 1970s before you were even born, Mustard'. Which is something I would not refute. This is simply a description of my thought process at around the turn of the century, which was when I set out to take my work in a fresh direction to the mainstream of underwater photography at that time.

My strategy was simple: identify the most impressive influential wide angle and macro photos of the time, characterise their major stylistic elements and attempt to build my photos based on different characteristics. The dominant influence I saw in the photographers around me came from David Doubilet's work for wide angle and from Martin Edge for macro. It would be a tough challenge to be different.

FIG. 11.1 Be different, be noticed. Editors, competition judges, etc. have to look at 1000s of underwater photos, which these days tend to be all very good. So it is more important than ever for us to try and do something different so that our work attracts attention.

For this photo I used a 105 mm lens to photograph a large subject. I had my strobes on long arms and pushed them well forward in front of the camera to get enough light on the snapper to make it stand out from the blue. Even so, on film this photo would not have worked. With such a long lens, it would have been too blue and the slide would have gone straight in the bin. But shooting it on digital I knew that as long as I could get a reasonable amount of light on the subject I would be able to restore the colours in the RAW converter, creating an image that would have been impossible on slide. Exploiting new technology is just one way of finding a fresh vision for our photos. Nikon D100 + 105 mm macro lens, Subal housing, two Subtronic Alpha strobes. F13 at 1/45th sec. ISO 100.

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