15 Mar
Ian Plant By
Posted in: Belize    13 Comments

Every Picture Tells a Story

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. 

This image is available to my readers as a 12″x18″ fine art print for a discounted price of $100 (free shipping to contiguous U.S.). If you wish to order, send me an email (ianplantphoto@gmail.com) along with your shipping address. Thanks!

Ian PlantAbout Ian Plant (414 Posts)

World-renowned professional photographer, writer, and adventurer Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a Contributing Editor to Popular Photography Magazine, a monthly columnist for Landscape Photography Magazine, and a Tamron Image Master. Ian is also the author of numerous books and instructional videos. Ian leads photography workshops and tours around the world to help beginner and advanced photographers explore and expand their personal vision.


  • Nice work! The little fish are my favorite part. Down here in the Caribbean, we have Leatherback turtles and I’ve seen lots of them, but never with fish underneath.

    I admit to being surprised to learn that you were shooting with a point-and-shoot. Why not use a underwater housing for your DSLR? Was it for portability’s sake?

    • Ian Plant

      Mainly cost was an issue. I wanted to do some underwater shooting but without investing too much into it. Even renting SLR housing is ridiculously expensive. So I decided on buying the S100 and housing for it, more expensive than renting but cheaper than getting a good housing for my 5DII, and unlike with renting I’m not just pissing my money away. If I end up doing a lot of underwater shooting, I’ll trade up and invest in a good housing for my camera, but if it ends up being something I do only a few times a year then the S100 seems to be a nice compromise.

      Besides, Canon’s S100 has surprisingly good resolution – for example, this images blows up to 30″x40″ really nice!

      • Wow, 30 X 40?? That’s certainly bigger than I thought! Floris Van Breugel’s recent work from Samoa using a housing for his 5Dmk2 had really got me looking in that direction for my work here in the Caribbean. But, after seeing this post of yours I think I’ve found a better option for me. Thanks for the info.

        • Ian Plant

          If you are serious about doing underwater work I’d go with a housing for the 5DII rather than getting an S100. The S100 is great for casual, occasional stuff but I quickly found its limitations: bit of a shutter lag, no real option for continuous shooting (which would really come in handy as a turtle is passing by), and it gets pretty noisy at ISOs above 200. This turtle image blows up large because it doesn’t have a lot of really fine detail, but other shots of mine with a lot of detail (such as pics of the coral reef) don’t hold up quite as nice. Too be honest, if I end up doing underwater stuff more than twice or three times a year, I’ll get a 5DII housing instead.

  • I really like that shot, Ian. BTW, are you trying some new marketing approaches with the sale of certain prints through your blog? Just curious, and I apologize if you’ve already answered this question elsewhere on your website.

    • Ian Plant

      Yep, that is correct – I’m always seeking to diversify my business, prints is one area I have not focused on before.

  • Is that Frank? =]

    • Ian Plant

      I was waiting for someone to ask that question!

      • Hehe, but seriously, it’s a great photograph!

        • Ian Plant

          Thanks! This turtle was the inspiration for Frank. I spent several hours photographing this guy, he seemed to enjoy my company.

  • Great points Ian and an awesome shot! I love that reflection and beautiful light near the surface.

    • Ian Plant

      thanks bro – when we gonna see more of your Belize pics?