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Underwater Photography Essentials: Part 4



Rule of Thirds

Tips, ideas and advice for budding underwater photographers

by Nick Robertson-Brown FRPS

Part 4: Composition – Rule of Thirds

Rule of ThirdsSo far in this series we have discussed the technical aspects of how we get the right amount of light onto our subject in order to present it as we would like people to see it, i.e. as we imagine it looking through the viewfinder or on the screen. This technical part of capturing the image has more than a small element of artistry, as changing the f-stop will create a greater or lesser depth of field, allowing more or less of the background to be a part of the image. However, composition is pure art, and as you manoeuvre the viewfinder to your eye, or look at the screen on the back of your camera, you should now be thinking about how you want to frame the situation that you have in front of you. If you have got all the technical aspects, correctly set, then all you now need to do is to compose the scene.

The first thing you have to decide when composing or framing your image is to know what the subject is. This may seem like a ridiculous thing to say but you need to decide on a single focal point; something, or someone you want to draw the viewer’s eye towards. This does not mean that you can only photograph one subject in the image, but you should make one individual, or one group of individuals, the centre of your attention – the subject. It shouldn’t necessarily be in the centre of your framing either, rather you should try to lead the viewer’s eye line through or towards it. You may capture a fantastic image of say a cuttlefish in aggressive mode attacking it’s reflection in your lens, but if the background is messy or interfering with the shot, then the image probably will not work. Anything in your image that distracts the eye away from the subject should be eliminated. Another important factor is the negative space, and any negative space that you use in an image can be as important, sometimes more so, than your subject. Negative space is simply the area that surrounds an object and so this, by definition, defines the boundaries of the positive space that you are using for your subject.

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds There may, of course, be occasions when you deliberately want to put your subject in its environment. A common, but often successful, use of this technique is the anemone fish protecting or guarding its host anemone or another example is a pygmy seahorse in its sea fan.

In any photography book, you can find rules and guidelines about composing images, but you should always remember that they are just guidelines and some of the best pictures can break all the rules. It is, however, a good idea to have them in your head as it has been proved many times over that there are certain formats that the human mind find appealing.

Rule of Thirds

The first of these is the rule of thirds, and this should be one key component to consider when you are framing your image. The idea of the rule of thirds is to divide your frame into nine equal sections and using this imaginary framework, you can then decide where to put your subject. Many cameras have a function where you can see this grid on the screen to help you with this. This can be very helpful as it may assist you in composing your image in a variety of ways. Firstly, you should look at the four centre crosses where the lines intersect, and rather than putting the centre of interest (your subject) in the middle of the frame, you should pick out a prominent feature from your subject and place it at one of these intersections. Putting your subject right in the middle of the image is called bullseye-ing and generally, although not always, doesn’t work.

Rule of Thirds

Another way to view the rule of thirds is to look at the horizontal divisions where, for example, the top third could be used as negative space, with the subject placed across the middle and the supporting baseline, running along the bottom. This technique is particularly useful when photographing subjects such as underwater landscapes or a wide-angle shot of a wreck. You can use the foreground as a supporting baseline, with a reef or a wreck along the centre and the top third should be the negative space, although this would also work really well with a diver or other subject hanging in it to balance the overall image.


Nick bookDo you want to learn more? You can pick up a copy of Nick’s book “Underwater Photography Art & Techniques” by clicking here. For a signed copy, click here.

Underwater Photography Courses

Contact Nick for information on the Frogfish Photography Complete Underwater Photography Award, designed for 1:1 and small group sessions to improve your underwater photography at your pace.underwater photography

           |  | +44 (0)161 9177101

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit


Ocean Art 2020 Winners Announced!



Ocean Art Contest Announces the Best Underwater Photos of the Year

The prestigious Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition, organized by the Underwater Photography Guide, has announced the best underwater photos this year with its 2020 winners. Despite global travel restrictions and the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 9th annual competition attracted an extremely high caliber of photos from oceans around the world. Underwater explorers captured photos locally, in select destinations currently open to travel, or revisited their archives to bring us some eye-catching photography. This unique assortment of photos could not have been possible without the help of our generous sponsors who have all had to navigate a changing travel and dive industry. Many of these same sponsors helped the Ocean Art competition raise money earlier in this year to raise money to donate to the WHO and CDC in their fight against Covid-19. These photos showcase the perseverance of underwater artistry amidst the adversity of the times.

All the winning photos can be seen at the Underwater Photography Guide at

The Best of Show is a once-in-a-lifetime moment of an octopus taking a selfie with the photographer and his curious family in the background. The photo was captured by photographer Gaetano Dario Gargiulo close to his home in the tide pools of Kamay Botany Bay National Park, New South Wales, Australia.  Other extraordinary winners include astonishing scenes of animal behavior, images that bring hope for the next generation of sea creatures, displays of ingenious photographic technique, and conservation scenes that reflect on not just the need to conserve our planet, but our species as well. The judges evaluated thousands of entries from 80 countries before selecting the final set of images as Ocean Art winners.

Ocean Art 2020 judges included prestigious underwater photographers Tony Wu, Mark Strickland, and Marty Snyderman.

Over $45,000 in prizes have be awarded, making the Ocean Art prize value among the highest in the world.

Ocean Art prizes are provided by some of the world’s top scuba diving resorts, liveaboard dive yachts, and underwater photo gear manufacturers. Grand prizes include a choice of 7 or 8 nights for two aboard the Coralia Liveaboard in Raja Ampat or Komodo, a 7 night liveaboard trip on the M.V. Bilikili in the Solomon Islands, a 7-night dive package with Villa Markisa, a 7 night dive package at Siladen Resort & Spa in Bunaken, a 12 night Passport to Paradise with Murex Dive Resorts and Lembeh Resort to three different Indonesian destinations, a 5-night dive vacation with AquaMarine Diving Bali & Ramayana Candidasa, a 7-night dive vacation at Atlantis Philippines Dive Resorts, and a variety of gift certificates from Bluewater Photo and Bluewater Travel. Premium travel prizes are provided by Volivoli Beach Resort (Fiji), Crystal Blue Dive Resort (Philippines), and Solitude Liveaboards & Resorts (Philippines and Indonesia). Premium gear prizes are provided by Sea & Sea and Ikelite. 12 different categories ensure a competitive contest for all levels and disciplines of underwater photography.

The photographic ingenuity from competitors is getting better every year – making judging very difficult and demonstrating that the winning images are some of the best in the world. Bluewater Photo and Bluewater Travel owner and Underwater Photography Guide publisher, Scott Gietler commented, “The Ocean Art team was thrilled to see that so many photographers were able to get out, dive, and immerse themselves in photography this year. The Best of Show was especially impressive. My only concern is that the octopus should get its share of the prize, as it did assist in taking the shot!” 

For more information, please visit 

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Gear Reviews

Gear Review: SeaLife SportDiver housing for iPhone (Watch Video)



In a video shot exclusively for, Jeff Goodman reviews the SeaLife SportDiver housing for Apple’s iPhone, used with the Sea Dragon 2500 Light.

For more information about Sealife Underwater Cameras visit the website by clicking here

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