Capturing beautiful underwater images depends a lot on blessings from Mother Nature. The first day I went out snorkeling, the water was choppy and visibility was miserable. Strong currents with windy conditions can turn up sand, plant materials, and debris on the ocean floor, making visibility poor—especially at depths suitable for snorkeling.
The second day I went out, the wind was calm, the ocean smooth, and visibility incredible. I was guided by Ian Bellino, a local tour guide employed by the Kayak Shack in Islamorada on the Upper Matecumbe Key.
We snorkeled the Alligator Reef, just east of Indian Key Historic State Park, and were blessed with thousands of brightly colored fish and gorgeous corals and plant life. Alligator Reef is located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and is in protected (no fishing) waters.
Composition is important and the one thing I can control while underwater. I entered the water with the idea of a beautiful scenic image showing fish and plant life and including the snorkeler as a detail in the frame. While floating on the surface, I was able to see a sandy ocean floor spot with some good rocks to hold onto. I could see colorful plants and corals and thousands upon thousands of fish. I made a couple of dives to see how long I could stay down while holding onto the rocks.
Once I made the commitment to the spot, I dove down, held on, and waited. I probably made 20 dives, each time waiting as long as my breath held for the fish to come into the frame. I wanted and was hoping for a fish to come close to the camera, giving me a dominant foreground as well as the contributing background of the snorkeler. I kept adjusting my underwater position a bit to keep the snorkeler in the upper part of the frame, a challenge while fighting buoyancy, composing the image, and holding my breath.
This image was made with the new GoPro 4 black camera, with the optional viewfinder screen attached to the back in waterproof housing (of course). I used the viewfinder screen to watch the fish swim across my picture and frame the other snorkeler in the shot.
The GoPro shoots a fairly flat image, so in postproduction I used filters to add the real life look that is hard to capture when shooting through water, recreating the image that I was able to see through my mask under 15 feet of water. The camera was set at 1/190th of a second at F/2.8 and ISO 100.
See more photos by Steven Martine on Instagram at @StevenMartine.