At some point you might attempt shooting reef scenes, large subjects with an interesting background or a wreck. You may quickly run into problems as you start attempting these shots. When you get close like you should you won’t be able fit the desired scene into the frame. At this point new underwater photographers have a tendency to backup and take the picture from a greater distance. If you are shooting with strobes, they will not be capable of properly lighting the scene and instead you will get backscatter all over your photo. If you are shooting ambient, you will get a very dull result because of the extra water column between you and your scene. As an underwater photographer, you cannot break the proximity rule. The more water that light must travel through between the subject and the lens the less will arrive at the sensor transporting the information required to produce sharp, colorful images.
You will need to add a wide-angle lens to your gear to capture these types of shots. As always, the water conditions can sometimes be more forgiving when it comes to sloppy fundamentals. If you are diving in 100 plus feet of visibility at shallow depths you might get away with backing up more than you should and still get decent shots. But, along the Emerald Coast where good offshore visibility is typically around 30-40 feet, if you break the proximity rule, it will be evident and there is only so much that can be done in post-processing.
A wide-angle lens can make a dramatic difference in your field of view and allow you to abide the number one rule of underwater photography, getting close while still being able to frame the intended scene. It will take a little practice after adding a WAL to adjust to how close you can get to fill the frame compared to without the lens. Part of the learning curve will also be remembering not to ram the much larger domed lens too far into the personal space of your subject potentially scaring it away.
Once you get acquainted with the lens and adjust your approach you can use your strobes to provide the desired foreground lighting while the background is lit mostly by ambient light. You can create some dramatic scenes using a wide-angle lens with interesting foreground and background subjects, but remember even when shooting wide scenes the proximity rule remains, get as close as possible and try to be no further than 3-4 feet if you are shooting with strobes.
One of my favorite wide-angle shots from my Emerald Coast diving this past season was at White Hill reef, a local favorite dive site. It’s deep, 85 feet to the sand, but the natural limestone reef attracts a lot of marine life including frogfish, batfish, toadfish, moray eel, jacks, and a lot of the usual reef fish. Also, it isn’t uncommon to get a glimpse of a sandbar shark or see a resting nurse shark.
I shot this from 1-2 feet from the reef edge using my UWL-04 lens so the reef and schooling tomtate still fit in the frame.