Insights and ideas from Chris Ross
Exploring underwater worlds
I spend a great deal of my life underwater. As a commercial marine photographer, revealing the mystery and intrigue that lies beneath the surface is not only my job, it’s my passion. But, the ocean doesn’t come with an underwater studio, which is why Adobe® Photoshop® software plays a prominent role in my production process. It lets me balance the qualities of the natural light available to create dramatic, realistic images of the beauties and beasts that live beneath the waves.
For me, understanding the marine environment has been a life-long interest. I grew up idolizing famous underwater explorers like Jacques Cousteau because he made the ocean seem like such a magical place, revealing a world full of captivating, unique creatures that many people never get to see. I take my camera with me on every dive and try to create that same sense of adventure and discovery with my photography.
Whether I’m shooting for National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, or other commercial clients, the ocean is the central character in my work. My background in advertising helps me visualize the types of images that will work for client projects and work through the story I’m trying to tell. I fish and dive all over the world with my camera in hand because I see marine photography as a difference maker with big brand campaigns. I usually have a pretty good idea of what my clients want before I even leave for an assignment and once I’m in the water, I’m able to shoot freely, capturing any image that just feels right.
Underwater photography poses unique challenges because you’re always checking your air, worrying about what’s around you, and dealing with a different refractive index. There isn’t time to set up the ideal composition or get the lighting just right. Being vigilant about my surroundings forces me to simply make the best of the lighting conditions to get the shots I want, dealing with the narrative as it comes. I rely on Photoshop to help me deliver the perfect final images my audience is expecting.
Even in the murkiest of waters, Photoshop helps me crunch the blacks and make colors pop so intricate details shine through. Of all the great features in Photoshop, Layers is the crown jewel. Almost every image I edit requires multiple layers, making adjustments to layers, and adding masks. Once the big edits are finished, I can use the rubber-stamp tool and a variety of brushes for additional touch-ups before I declare the image complete.
My pursuit of capturing the essence of marine life has led me on some wild adventures. I was fortunate enough to participate in the National Geographic Channel’s Expedition Great White documentary. Few people have the opportunity to swim with sharks in the wild and take up-close and personal photographs of these magnificent creatures.
On a shoot like Expedition Great White, I admit some of the shots I try to get can be quite daring, but I’m caught up in the moment with the shark. Our crew is all in it together to make the show a success, and when I can capture all of that drama with a single photo, it’s exciting. I’m comfortable around the animal and honestly when I’m looking at the shark straight on he’s not that concerned.
Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to do this. I think my passion for marine photography is evident and is appreciated by clients and colleagues alike. I firmly believe that my success wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t found the work that suited my interests and personality. And, of course, if I didn’t have access to the wonderful tools that help me take raw images and turn them into works of art.
Chris’ color crunch Photoshop action: