Tilting the Camera

Underwater, I seldom hold my camera in either a rigid vertical or horizontal format. In fact I actually tilt my camera between portrait and landscape more than 80% of time.

It's a technique that would rarely work on land, by virtue of our conditioning to a horizon that is straight. You see, on land, we hold our cameras in either one format or the other because tilting the composition on land would inevitably disturb the eye of the viewer for countless reasons (there are some exceptions).

The horizon is level. Trees, buildings and people stand tall. Land photography is orderly, and the viewer recognises the orientation of subjects.

Underwater, the visual clues that determine orientation are not as strong. If there are no visual clues to the horizon, the viewer is unable to determine the original orientation of the subject. The reason for tilting my macro and close-up subjects is to achieve a strong, diagonally orientated composition in the viewfinder.

I frequently tilt wide angles for the same reason — to achieve dynamic diagonal lines. Nine out of ten times I'll get away with this disruption to the eye of the viewer because the topside 'horizon line' is absent.

fig. 7.13 Taken exactly the same as Fig 7.12 but that figure was tilted into a diagonal to create a dynamic line. It was a narrow tube on the wreck of the New Marine off Loloata Island in PNG. For my own personal photographic style this is simply an ID shot. The background is distracting, discoloured and generally unappealing. I played around with one flashgun in an attempt to eliminate the background, which on this occasion worked to my satisfaction — see Fig 7.12.

fig. 7.13 Taken exactly the same as Fig 7.12 but that figure was tilted into a diagonal to create a dynamic line. It was a narrow tube on the wreck of the New Marine off Loloata Island in PNG. For my own personal photographic style this is simply an ID shot. The background is distracting, discoloured and generally unappealing. I played around with one flashgun in an attempt to eliminate the background, which on this occasion worked to my satisfaction — see Fig 7.12.

fig. 7.14 It's good practice to get into the habit of rotating your pictures to see which way they are best displayed. You may know which way is up or down and which way you took it, but others won't have any idea so experiment with the rotation tool in your imaging program. Nikon D200 with same equipment as Fig. 7.10 above, f11 at 1/60th sec, ISO 100 and one flashgun positioned just above my camera. Kona, Hawaii.

fig. 7.14 It's good practice to get into the habit of rotating your pictures to see which way they are best displayed. You may know which way is up or down and which way you took it, but others won't have any idea so experiment with the rotation tool in your imaging program. Nikon D200 with same equipment as Fig. 7.10 above, f11 at 1/60th sec, ISO 100 and one flashgun positioned just above my camera. Kona, Hawaii.

fig. 7.15 Same equipment, f19 at 1/60th sec, Nikon 105 mm macro (old style lens). Kona, Hawaii. The fact is, underwater, I tilt the vast majority of everything I shoot if I can get away with it. I would not tilt something recognisable to all such as a wreck but if I can improve the composition and make an image more energetic in the eyes of the viewer — then I will.

fig. 7.16 An example of a wide angle tilt. I composed our dive boat in Cebu on a strong diagonal. I happened to be first in the water and looking up noticed the boat obscuring the sun. I took a few shots and on cue the rest of the party rolled overboard. I did not alter my composition of the boat but hoped that someone would just occupy one of the 'thirds' intersections. To my amazement they did; I waited for the 'peak of action' action in the fin-kick, which adds a little movement to the scene. Nikon D200, Nikon 10.5 mm fisheye lens, f8 at 1/320th sec, ISO 100, natural light.

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