Olympus TG Photo Tip: Go Abstract

Choosing to photograph those small fast fast-moving reef fish is arguably one of the hardest subjects you could choose underwater. Trust me, I know it’s tempting and borderline addicting, and please don’t hate me for saying this, but reef fish just aren’t the right subject in most cases. Hear me out, please. Photographing reef fish from wavy surfaces as they erratically dart in and out of the reef beneath us is like trying to photograph rabbits from a turbulent helicopter. One in fifty photos might be in focus, sharp, with the subject facing the camera, and correctly composed without excessive cropping. If you want to consistently get great photos, and ones that aren’t cropped down by 50-75% ruining any chance for enlargements and framing, then reef fish really aren’t the right subject to be focusing on. If you only want to get ID photos to help you identify them later on, then go nuts. But if you want to take your underwater photography to a level that’s going to interest even your non-snorkeling friends beyond one or two photos, then the trick is to go abstract. 

Taken with an Olympus TG-6

Going abstract with your snorkeling photos can be one of the easiest things you can do to help elevate your images. It doesn’t take much more than training your eye to look for those unique details within the reefs and corals and then knowing how to execute the photo with your trusty camera, which I’m assuming is an Olympus TG camera in or out of a housing. Here are some simple steps you can follow to help get you those stunning shots that will make even your non-snorkeling friends’ jaws drop and begging for more. 

Shallow Water

For best results, stay shallow. Look for subjects within arms reach. Even if you can dive down without too much difficulty, staying down and composing a shot with minimal movement can be a challenge. Every little movement can create motion blur and ruin a nice crisp image. As you get better at composing these types of images then start exploring a bit deeper with your camera. 

Two snorkelers photographing hard coral reef

The Right Subject

The right subject will be simple, beautiful, easily accessible, mostly stationary, and offer you as much time as you need with it. Basically corals. A few examples of subjects with great textures, colors, and patterns are sea anemones, giant clams, sea fans, sponges, tunicates, brain corals, and just about every other kind of coral out there. Even things like leaves or seed pods floating in the water can make a stunning shot. 

Taken with an Olympus TG-6

Fill the Frame..or Don’t

For some shots, I’d suggest filling the frame with only the details of the subject. For example, if you have a beautiful anemone up in the shallows, frame it so that just the tentacles fill the frame. Don’t worry about the shy fish, just go for the anemone itself. Or, focus on the intricate latticed structure that makes up a sea fan’s fan. If you can find a way to keep two-thirds of the detail in the shot and make the rest clear blue water, or angled up towards the water’s surface, try that as well. The big thing is to keep it simple and keep all the distracting elements, primarily the bits of rock or reef that surround the anemone or sea fan, out of the shot.

The Right Settings

The settings are quite simple. Just use your standard underwater modes. Get as close as you can, anywhere from one foot to six inches is ideal, and then zoom in anywhere from 25-50% more to help fill the frame. Keep in mind that the more you zoom in the more camera shake you’ll have so you’ll need to hold the camera very steady. If you are within six to eight inches from the subject you can turn on the flash, that will help give you a nice crips image. 

Taken with an Olympus TG-6

About Author

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Alex Lindbloom
Alex is a Snorkel Venture and Dive Safari Asia guide as well as the video and photo pros for both companies. Alex is also a field editor for a popular underwater photography magazine. Prior to joining Snorkel Venture in 2018 Alex lived and worked all over the world working as an underwater cameraman, with five of those years living/working on a yacht in Indonesia. Alex's images and videos have garnered many international awards such as Underwater Photographer of the Year and can be seen on NatGeo, Discovery Channel, the UN Building, and various magazines.