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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 supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit


BSAC launch #DiscoverUKdiving video competition



BSAC is launching a new video competition which aims to get the diving community sharing and discussing the highlights of UK diving to inspire others to give it a try and discover it for themselves.

They are inviting you to share short UK diving or snorkelling videos – tagged #DiscoverUKdiving or #DiscoverUKsnorkelling – to be in with a chance of winning a Fourth Element Hydra Neoprene Drysuit worth £999 (or an alternative non-diving suit if a snorkeller wins). There are other prizes up for grabs too, with a Fourth Element duffel bag going to second place and a year’s BSAC membership for third.

The #DiscoverUKdiving video competition aims to get the diving community talking about the highlights of UK diving and/or BSAC club life by sharing short videos to surprise and inspire others to discover it for themselves.

BSAC is looking for videos that show an exciting moment, unique insight or anything that exemplifies why diving in the UK is so much fun and can encourage others to take up UK diving. People will be invited to vote for the entries they find most inspiring on the competition gallery website.

BSAC CEO Mary Tetley said: “We want to show others who haven’t experienced UK diving why we love it so much, and we need your help! Use your phone, GoPro or pretty much anything to share a short video that encapsulates why you love diving in the UK. Ideally, showing off UK diving the BSAC way!”

The competition will be open for entries until midnight on Monday 30 November.

The videos can be either be above water (e.g. a RIB ride out to a dive site), below water (e.g. exploring a wreck with your buddy) or a combination of both. Each video should be short (no longer than 15 seconds) and you can enter up to three videos. The winner will be the entry that receives the most votes. Voting will remain open for a further week and close on Monday 7 December. The winners will be announced the week of 14 December, good luck!

Full terms and conditions, including how to enter as well as how to vote on your favourite video can be found here.

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Henley Spiers: Black & White Photography at the September NUPG meeting (Watch Video)



The September NUPG meeting saw Henley Spiers take to the virtual stage. Henley decided to divide the evening into two topic areas for discussion: Black and White Photography and Pelagic Encounters – his two biggest passions in underwater photography at the moment.  Henley showed off his stunning black and white images to the NUPG audience, talking about why he selected each image to convert to monochrome and was generous enough to share the photoshop techniques with the group too. He then went on to wow the group with images from the deep blue sea, with some simply stunning pelagic encounters. 

As always, the NUPG members also had a chance to show off some of their images in the monthly competition. This month’s theme was “Invertebrates” and it saw a range of ideas and images from the group.

The winning shot of a sea lion was taken by Maggie Russell

The runner-up was by John Spencer

Third place was taken by Justin Beevor

The next meeting was held on Monday 12th October, a talk from Simon Rogerson: Difficulties with Sharks. Check back soon for the video!

For more information about the NUPG please visit the website by clicking here.

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