For a long, long time I really disliked having people in my images. I wanted to keep my images free of my fellow human, full of fish and coral, with nothing in the way of lumbering neoprene-clad mammals. Over the years, however, I have changed my mind.
Take these two images of my good friend and dive buddy Colette. I’m always grateful to her for putting up with me on a dive and helping out with a bit of modelling. In these images I needed to illustrate that we were looking for life in these deep dwelling (approx. 40m – that’s deep for open circuit scuba) gorgonians. There’s no better way of showing that search than getting an image like these. Now that sounds obvious of course, but for years I resisted, until it dawned on me that I needed to show the activity rather than the result. As a working photographer, I needed to show people something they ‘could’ do rather than what I ‘did’. Perhaps I should have realized that from the start, but having an interest primarily in biology, was I biased to image the critters first?
Since then I have enjoyed making a nuisance of myself by persuading dive guides and buddies to pose alongside corals or with wrecks. Editors seem to prefer it too. I assume it allows the reader to consider ‘this could be me’?
I suppose the inclusion of people in an image also puts a shot in context. In the image above, the divers at the surface are waiting to be picked up after a dive on a shipwreck. Not only does the image demonstrate the clarity of the water, but without those silhouettes it would have been a very dull shot indeed. I’m not saying it’s great even now, but it can be used to illustrate a narrative.
One trick UW photographers use is to ask our subjects to carry torches. Very often, even in tropical waters, a torch is useful to help find critters and reveal colors, though most divers will only use them on a night in these conditions. Personally, I like the inclusion of a bright light source in a darker area of an image, it adds to the ‘looking for things’ narrative, but I can understand that some viewers might find it contrived. I shall explore this more fully, in my next post.