Here on the Gili islands we are spoiled with an impressive array of marine life and are very fortunate to have a healthy population of Green and Hawksbill turtles, who make excellent subjects for photographers. So we have put together our top five photography tips to help all divers coming this way get the perfect turtle shot.
As with most animal photography, turtles need to be romanced into behaving for the camera. Take some time to get to know your subject before diving in for the winning shot. Underwater photography isn’t just about getting the exposure and composition right, it’s a learning experience for both the turtle and yourself. Most of these rules can be applied to any underwater animal that comes into focus.
1, Don’t Chase
The best way to get a shot of a turtle’s tail is to swim after it. You can try to catch it but I promise you it can and will swim faster than you. Head-on shots are better achieved through patience and playing to the animal’s sense of curiosity. Approach slowly or better yet, let the animal come to you. As long as they aren’t spooked, they can often be entranced by their own reflection in the dome port. When this happens, set the shutter speed to fast and just hold down the button.
2, Wait for your Shot
Turtles can be deceptively difficult to shoot well. Anybody can point and click, but it takes real patience to put everything in the right place. Even if the turtle is facing the camera and at the right angle (which it won’t often do naturally), the front flippers can awkwardly block the head. When the turtle is being sociable, keep an eye in the viewfinder and a finger on the trigger. Remember, while faster dslr’s may take photos at a rate of ten pics per second, strobes take a few seconds to recycle. Use the artificial light wisely and hold off until the shot comes into view.
3, Create the Shot
Where do you want the subject? Are there other divers in the image? What are they doing? The more detail that goes into the plan, the better the final image will be. When shooting most animals, it is a good idea to shoot at an upward angle.
4, Respect Local Guidelines
DO NOT harass the turtle! Harassment is defined as any action that alters the natural behavior of the animal, which means absolutely no touching or riding the animals. The wording on the laws is intentionally vague, so it is in the best interest of the photographer to be conservative in how they act around protected animals.
5, Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds states that an image is most pleasing when its subjects or regions are composed along imaginary lines which divide the image into thirds — both vertically and horizontally:
The rule of thirds says that if a photo is divided up into “thirds” by lines, the key elements of the composition should be placed near the intersection of the lines.
Using the rule of thirds helps give a photo a sense of balance. This rule is often broken, especially with extreme close up shots, but it is still useful for many compositions. If you are having trouble getting good compositions, use the rule of thirds to help your compositions achieve balance.
As your experience progresses, you will not need to think about “rules”, but use your own intuition for what makes a good design. Many excellent images do not follow the rule of thirds, so don’t be afraid to go against the rule.
Let us know if you have any other good tips to add!