Engbretson Underwater Photography

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News From Behind the Scenes at Engbretson Underwater Photo and Stories about the Freshwater Environments We Visit.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Working with Fish Models: The Best Angle To Photograph Fish

Recently, a friend of mine commented on my photography: "I can always spot your fish images when I see them in magazines...", he said. "It's because you always show the fish from below".  I haven't thought about that for a long time, but he's right.  

When I first began taking portraits of fish underwater, I was almost always hovering above the fish looking down on them.  It was just more convenient for me to shoot pictures that way.  The images were Ok, but this angle tended to give them a flat and uninteresting look. It also made them somehow insignificant or easily dismissible. Every beginners book on photography points out that pets and children will always look awful when photographed from above and that you should try to shoot them at eye-level.  I began trying this underwater with fish and noticed the immediate improvement in my images.  

Later, I was reading about Vogue and Cosmo photographers and how the pros never shoot a super-model from below unless she has a terrific jaw-line.  It occurred to me that fish, with their gills, all had great jaw-lines, so I began getting below eye-level and photographing them from below.  The results were so breathtakingly stunning that I began to try to compose every fish picture this way.  Over time, it's become a distinct hallmark of my work.  I'm convinced that it's the best angle to photograph fish underwater.

I think it's incumbent on all wildlife photographers to portray their subjects with as much style and beauty as possible.  This is easy to do with cuddly puppies and furry baby seals, but with reptiles, amphibians and even fish, we often have to work hard to convey their inherent beauty to our audience. People will always care more about pretty things than ugly ones. That's just human nature. 

As a fish photographer, I feel a responsibility to my subjects to try to portray their magnificence in every picture I make. Because of this, I usually won't shoot fish with split fins, scars, injuries or other physical deficiencies. Instead I look for fish that are healthy and vibrant. I want the best ambassadors of each species to represent the entire population. If I want viewers to care about fish the way I do, I have to make it as easy as possible for them to appreciate and embrace these finned marvels.