Good photographs use light, composition, and mood to trigger an emotional response in viewers. Great photographs also tell a story about their subject, or at least provide enough tantalizing bits to spark the imagination of viewers, letting them create the story on their own. With wildlife subjects, the “story” you might wish to tell is often associated with an interesting or characteristic behavior that is unique to the animal, and that offers clues to the viewer about what the animal is doing, how it lives, and its environment.
While photographing loggerhead sea turtles off the coast of Belize, I spent much of my time just trying to get a decent shot. Once I had a few passable (but uninteresting) photos under my belt, I began the more serious business of looking for unique angles, perspectives, light, and behaviors to capture. The distinction I like to make between the two types of shots is that of “low concept” vs. “high concept.” Low concept shots involve the photographer taking pictures of things, whereas high concept shots involve the photographer moving past merely taking pictures of things, and trying instead to make great pictures of the things he or she is photographing. Okay, I understand that this might be a rather confusing distinction, but it basically boils down to this: the subject is not the focus of the photographer’s efforts, but rather merely becomes an element in the quest to make a great image. On some level, it almost doesn’t matter what the photographer is shooting: whether it is turtles or naked mole rats, the process of creating powerful images is largely the same. Each animal has its own unique characteristics, however, and the photographer should find a way to incorporate this uniqueness into the artistic process.
When photographing the turtles, I mentally catalogued elements that were to my liking: the beautiful blue water, the “reverse” reflections that formed at the surface, a close wide-angle perspective of a turtle as it passed near, and the moment when it briefly broke the surface with its nose, taking in some air before returning to the ocean floor to hunt for food. So I waited for a moment when all of these elements came together. I probably spent three or four hours snorkeling with a group of turtles, making many bad turtle images and just a few good ones. The one below is one of my favorites from the trip, not only because it captures a fleeting moment, but also because it combines interesting light and composition with an equally interesting story about how the animal lives. Canon Powershot S100 with Fisheye Fix Underwater Housing and Fix UWL-28 Fisheye Wet Mount Conversion Lens, ISO 200, f/4, 1/320 second.
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