Some of the most exciting underwater photographs published feature models with fish or other forms of marine life. Perhaps the general viewing public considers these to be the best of all photographs. Certainly there is more of a relationship with the water when marine life is included in the photographs.
The best marine life/model photographs are the result of proper skills, techniques and an understanding of the environment. These kind of shots are the ultimate team challenge for both model and photographer.
Fish photographs with a model are fun yet they can be very demanding. There are a few general rules in capturing good fish/model photographs that should be employed. The first of these is not to chase the fish. Instead, swim a path that will allow you to intercept them. Another rule is to relax. Many fish are territorial and tend to remain in the same area. Photographers/models with patience can simply position themselves and wait, many times (not always) the fish will swim into the desired position. This is especially true of angelfish and triggerfish. When approaching a school of fish, the model may swim a wide arc which initially takes him/her away from the school of fish, but ends with the school of fish between the model and photographer. When a school of fish, such as large jacks, is approaching, quite often if the model remains still, the school will swim right to the model.
Bribery is another way to obtain good fish/model shots. You can take down some food and coax the fish to take it from you. This works with most species, provided a little patience is exhibited. Whenever possible, try to have the fish closer to the camera than the model. Do not pass up the dramatic shots with fish, especially the ones with sharks in the background. Although photographs of fish in the background are not overall as appealing as those with fish in the foreground, they can still be exceptional.
Some of the more exciting fish to work with and often easiest are puffers. With a little skill and patience, the model can catch these fish and excellent results can be obtained by holding them in various poses. Always show off the fish’s most attractive angle. Please note that the wearing of gloves does have its benefits here. Keep the hand nearest the camera down or at an angle to avoid distortion.
Most of the angelfish family are born hams and with a little coaxing or feeding they will really strut their stuff for you. Angelfish are curious and often swim up to a diver. Do not chase these fish, simply coax or feed them and they will spend a great deal of time with you. Frequently, an angelfish will follow you, especially after having been fed.
Moray eels are easy and fun to work with. Again patience is a virtue with these critters. Viewer excitement can really be enhanced with close-ups of a model and moray. Feeding them may make it easier to obtain good photographs, but do not crowd them. Also, remember that a bare hand radiates warmth and may invite your subject to bite off a little more than you expected.
Nurse sharks are common in many areas of the Caribbean and are relatively easy to work with. If no sudden movements are made and perhaps a little gentle scratching is employed (working from the tail forward to the caudal fins) most nurse sharks behave like puppies. Indeed many have ticklish caudal fins. If you approach their heads too fast, they become nervous and will move about – silting out the area – or leaving. Don’t rush the shot. Take your time and exciting results will follow. Always bear in mind, though, that the nurse sharks are still sharks, so have fun with them, but maintain your respect for them. If they become nervous, back off and let them settle down or leave. Do not block their paths, they could harm you just swimming past.
Barracudas, especially in schools, are also a lot of fun to work with. They are another species that will demand viewer attention. In some dive sites, barracudas are handfed, but this is definitely for experienced fish handlers only. Although barracudas are curious, best results are usually obtained when the model swims an arc around them and places them between the model and the camera. A series of shots can be made, as the model and the photographer move closer.
Large jewfish, groupers, cod, etc. also make dramatic shots. These are easily obtained in areas where fish feeding is practiced. This type of scene will obviously be difficult to obtain in heavily spearfished areas. Always wear gloves and release the food just prior to the fish striking it. Feeding can produce spectacular reef scene shots with a model. These photos will give the viewer a peaceful interaction while viewing the marine environment. Patience is a virtue on these shots, but the rewards of slowly tracking and keeping the fish between the photographer and the model are worthwhile.
Rays and turtles can be used to create moods and show environmental love and concern. Large rays and turtles have to be approached cautiously to avoid frightening them. Sometimes even a ride can be had. Turtles can be guided into a more pleasing background by angling the animals down, up and over where you want them. When you ride a turtle, always hold onto it by its shell.
For dramatic effects and excitement, there is nothing that equals open water shots with pelagic sharks. These are always attention getters and some of the most challenging of photographs to get. They should only be undertaken when you have the discipline to be relaxed with these beautiful and exciting rulers of the ocean realm.
Stonefish, rockfish, lionfish, etc., all tend to produce intense shots. If you have a little patience and respect for these animals, then these can be really fun shots to get. For the brave model, it is possible to hold many of these species; however, as they are poisonous, we do not recommend handling them. Impressive photos can be achieved by photographing them close to the model’s face.
So far we have talked of larger fish and the tropicals. Equally interesting shots can be obtained with nudibranchs, arrowcrabs, etc. The key is in handling, placement and attention. Remember these creatures are small and delicate, so handle them carefully to avoid injury. Owing to their size the best results are usually with the creature in front of the facemask.
Starfish, even sea urchins, sea biscuits and sand dollars, can make fun filled shots. As in all photos where sea life is handled, remember to keep the arm closest to the camera down or at an angle, so it does not look distorted.
Posing with sponge formations, coral communities, etc., also produces a large percentage of the more exciting photographs we see. A colorful and unusual area can be used to enhance the overall image of a dive site. Here the model’s role is even more critical as the pose and appearance will dictate the entire mood of the photograph. While filming, a model may use his/her entire repertoire of poses to ensure the best results.