Vibrant and Inviting Wide Angle

For at least the last 30 years, few would argue that Doubilet's wide angle photography has represented the epitome of the art. Before I could define a way to be different, I had to characterise its technical and artistic DNA. To me, his wide angle was characterised with wonderfully atmospheric ambient

FIG. 11.2 It is no great revelation that digital SLRs do not capture sunbursts as easily as slide film, but with the correct techniques they can produce excellent results. However, the difficulties have led most photographers to avoid shooting into the sun on digital.

I am always looking for ways to differentiate my portfolio from the majority, so when I realised nobody was shooting sunbursts anymore I decided to shoot into the sun whenever possible. In the past, it would be fair to say that underwater photographers overused sunbursts, so I find it amusing that shooting them now is a way to be different! Looking for trends in underwater photography and then choosing to be different is a simple way to make your work stand out. Nikon D2X + Tokina 10—17 mm at 15 mm, Subal housing, twin Inon Z240 strobes. F8 at 1/250th sec.

light, often with only a little strobe light to paint in colour, which was usually acutely angled to reveal textures and create interest. He regularly used off camera lights too, generating more atmosphere through backlighting. He preferred the accurate water colour captured by Kodachrome film, over the fake and more saturated colours rendered on other stock. At the time, most people seemed to be incorporating some, or all, of these elements of Doubilet's wide angle vision in their photos too.

To stand out I had to be different, which doesn't come across as sound logic; rejecting what appears to be a perfect checklist for excellent wide angle.

To differentiate my foregrounds I chose to fully illuminate them with flatter, soft, fill lighting revealing strong colours and detail. The switch to digital was crucial in making this possible with a very high quality of lighting. This also helped to differentiate my work from what had been done before.

FIG. 11.3 As an attempt to differentiate my wide angle photography from the dominant style at the time I was developing my portfolio, I chose to forego moodiness and atmosphere in my images for bright, vibrant colours making the underwater world appear less mysterious and more inviting. I used my strobes to illuminate the foreground as evenly as possible, revealing strong colours and detail. I found that this effect looked best with brightly exposed backgrounds with rich water colours. Despite this style of image being successful for me, I think more atmospheric wide angle shots are ultimately more powerful. But to make my images stand out I chose to shoot this way.

Nikon D2X + 10.5 mm, Subal housing, twin Subtronic Alpha Pros. F9 at 1/80th sec.

FIG. 11.4 An important element in the look I was after for my vibrant and inviting wide angle photos was a bright, strong water colour. On slide film this meant choosing saturated films like Fuji's Velvia and Kodak's Extra-Color. On digital I achieve this by using warm colour temperature strobes, or attaching warming filters to my cooler strobes.

To understand why this is important, consider an available light image. You can open one of your own up in a RAW converter to see this yourself. If we process the image at a low Kelvin value of 4300° K (which happens to be the colour temperature of my warm Subtronic strobes) we will get a richer blue water colour than if we process it at 5500° K (which is the colour temperature of my cool Inon strobes).

Producing even lighting on wide angle foregrounds was not easy on film, because strobes usually have to be on very different power settings, which could not be done with TTL. Look back at many of the wide angle shots from the film era and you will see hotspots, highlights and unintentional shadows from strobe lighting, which would be unacceptable today. The instant feedback of digital made it much easier to adjust strobe power and achieve a high quality soft and even foreground illumination.

I soon found that the fully illuminated foregrounds didn't complement moody backgrounds, so I combined them with brighter water, precisely exposed to give a bright saturated blue and strongly silhouetted reef. This approach sacrificed moodiness, but increased impact, and my friends started to refer to these intense blue backgrounds as mustard blue!

On film I favoured the saturated and rich blues produced by Ektachrome EBX and Fujichrome RVP, and with digital, for the same reasons, I used warm (filtered) strobes to allow me to shoot at cooler colour temperatures (see Fig. 11.5 for an explanation) thus rendering similarly rich blues. The result was a less mysterious sea, but a vibrant and more inviting one.

FIG. 11.5 When we shoot balanced light wide angle images, the required white balance value is determined by our strobe light, in order to get a correct looking subject. A warmer strobe means we need to use a lower Kelvin value in the RAW converter and as a result get richer blues. With cool strobes like my Inon Z240s we can easily warm then up by fitting a warming gel (such as a Lee 444 lighting filter) behind the diffuser. The difference is quite subtle, but the richer blues will be there in every image you take. The only difference between these two photos was the addition of filters to the strobes, consequently affecting the white balance values selected by the camera (or RAW converter) to produce a correct coloured foreground. This has also affected the water colour, which is a richer blue in the filtered strobe example on the right.

Many would argue that you could make this difference in Photoshop, and indeed you could, but I believe in getting my photos right in-camera, whenever I can. This gives the best image quality, fastest workflow and most satisfaction.

FIG. 11.5 When we shoot balanced light wide angle images, the required white balance value is determined by our strobe light, in order to get a correct looking subject. A warmer strobe means we need to use a lower Kelvin value in the RAW converter and as a result get richer blues. With cool strobes like my Inon Z240s we can easily warm then up by fitting a warming gel (such as a Lee 444 lighting filter) behind the diffuser. The difference is quite subtle, but the richer blues will be there in every image you take. The only difference between these two photos was the addition of filters to the strobes, consequently affecting the white balance values selected by the camera (or RAW converter) to produce a correct coloured foreground. This has also affected the water colour, which is a richer blue in the filtered strobe example on the right.

Many would argue that you could make this difference in Photoshop, and indeed you could, but I believe in getting my photos right in-camera, whenever I can. This gives the best image quality, fastest workflow and most satisfaction.

The images were distinctive and attention grabbing and this phase in my wide angle photography coincided with my first book The Art Of Diving. Coincidentally, David Doubilet was asked by the publisher to write a cover quote and certainly noted the difference to his own photography: 'Come, dive into Alexander Mustard's bright blue world', he commented.

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