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The art of underwater photography

Composition and form

by David George

Reproduced from in focus 8 (Feb. 1985)

A resumé of the Basic Course talk given at the January Meeting.

Some people believe that the 'aesthetics of a picture' (awareness of good composition) is founded upon an inner awareness (genetically inherited). I believe that it is more likely an awareness developed and clarified by years of observation (a learned response). It is possible to gain a knowledge of certain principles of composition that will make your photographs more attractive.

Simplicity. Keep your photographs as simple as possible. You will nearly always need a centre of interest.

'Rule of Thirds' -placing the subject in the most pleasing position. If you imagine your viewfinder or framer is divided vertically and horizontally by lines one third of the width and height respectively from the edges of the picture.
These lines are in the thirds position.

a) Keep your main subject in the thirds position. Away from the centre of the picture. Away from the edge of the picture. Moving or leaning into the picture, not out.

b) Keep horizontals or verticals in the thirds position . Avoid strong lines dividing the picture into two equal halves. Try to disrupt strong verticals or horizontals even if they are in the thirds position.


a) A high viewpoint, looking down works occasionally. It is good for symmetrical animals or plants and for patterns.

b) A low viewpoint, looking up does two things. Gets rid of fussy backgrounds. Gives the subject power and dominance.

c) Getting as close to a subject as possible cuts out surrounding matter, which could tend to distract.

Selective focusing.

Isolate the subject from potentially intrusive objects around it by increasing the and reducing the depth of field.

Framing and lead lines.

a) Break up the sharp edges of the picture by using natural objects such as the reef edge, cave roof or overhangs to lead the eye into the scene.

b) Similarly the inclusion of objects in the foreground can lead the eye towards the subject.

Repetitive lines, patterns, forms and textures.

a) Diagonals

b) Diverging lines

c) Patterns

Balance and arrangement.

a) Objects should in some way relate to each other. This makes for unity, both visual and mental.

b) Balance principle shape by another smaller less intrusive one.

c) In general avoid symmetry unless making a deliberate feature of it.

Contrast. Can heighten awareness.

a) In Black and White -by highlighting subject against background, either black on white or white on black.

b) In Colour -strong colours such as reds and yellows lift the subject from the background.


a) To improve position of objects in frame

b) To make subject of interest larger in the frame

c) To cut out unwanted or distracting matter.


a) Removal of distracting material before the photo is taken i.e. beer cans, polythene bags and other non-animate objects.

b) Cut out unwanted objects after the picture is taken by spotting with dye, knifing or bleaching.

Visual appeal and impact

a) Something that catches the eye or holds the attention can transcend the artistic merit of a picture.

a) Clarity or novelty impact i.e. photograph of a Coelacanth.

b) Emotive i.e. Dolphins, whales, sharks, turtle, manta rays, wrecks etc.

Appeal of money or seeing your photograph on book covers.

a) Vertical format

b) Colourful with impact

Reproduced from in focus 8 (Feb. 1985)

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