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Underwater Photography

Recreating magic

By Michel Gilbert & Danielle Alary

Special, unstagged moments, like when diver Mike Lusk and this manatee connected, are difficult to recreate. Photos: Alary-Gilbert/SUB-IMAGES

Once in a while luck strikes and you make an exceptional image. Often, you come up with a good picture and, later on, give it another try. How do you repeat a great shot?

Does history repeat itself?

You are familiar with the subject, you photographed it many times. One image had a special feeling and you want to repeat it.

Setting your camera and strobe(s) exactly as you did before, you locate the subject and wait until it behaves in a similar fashion as it did before and bam! You trip the shutter release.

The results have appeal, but they are not exactly the same as your original…why?

We’ve had this discussion with some colleagues and most of them agree: replicating an exact image is difficult, if not impossible. The reason: there is more to a photograph than strobe power, shutter speed, aperture settings, and ISO selection.

With a photograph, we capture an instant along a continuum. Nature is not a studio. You are not doing still life images in a totally controlled environment. You are isolating a single frame out of a movie called life. This remains a highly dynamic process.

We’ve all gone back to the same location to redo some images simply because the first result was not what we visualized. However, once you get it, it becomes almost impossible to replicate. 

This is especially true of many of the iconic images we all admire. Think about Ansel Adams and Moonrise over Hernandez, or David Doubilet’s picture of Dina Halstead in the middle of a circle of schooling barracudas in Milne Bay.

Barracudas still swim in schools and in circles; however, making the exact same image would be virtually impossible. How do we know this? Because David himself once discussed with us the repeatability of images, in general, and he said that he had tried it, like we all do, and that it doesn’t work.

The takeaway

So, what lesson is to be learned?

First, never assume that you can come back to a location and redo an image. Work at making the most out of the situation on your first excursion. If you need to redo it, then start with a fresh mind.

Second, in addition to pure technical skills, you need to hone your ability to see the potential in a subject or a situation and capture the essence of it.

Third, don’t agonize over repeating an image because it was shot in 2001 with a 6 Megapixel camera that did not handle low light very efficiently. It is unrealistic to expect to capture exactly the same atmosphere. Go out, shoot the subject again, but tackle this task without thinking about your initial image. Visualize it as a completely new situation. Let go of your preconceptions and seize the moment.

Four, we may be completely wrong, and you can do it again…which is fine. But don’t go out there thinking it will happen, because it most probably will not.

Don’t you do it?

Yes, we do it sometimes, but we do it without expecting the very same results. What we anticipate is something that will be appealing, with its own aesthetics, its own feeling, its own message.

Pictures are like snowflakes: all different, but sometimes alike, and always beautiful.

Happy bubbles! 

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