Progressive pollution of the oceans. Used marine animal toys and divers
Blue Death


We wanted this photo to tell a story. As keen divers and nature-lovers, the story is that of the increasing negative impact of humans on the oceans.

Oceans represent 70% of our planet. The coral reef only 1% of those and yet, it harbours ¼ of all ocean species. Therefore, we wanted most of the picture to be underwater.

The whole thing is fairly metaphorical, but stick with us:

In terms of timeframe, we wanted to show the increasing human footprint on the oceans, starting from the top, when humans did not exist just yet. We can see a turtle – prehistoric animal – and then progressively descending towards our era, when humans arrived. The turtle is the furthest away from our eye, representing a time gone by. The top is also darker for that reason. That’s the background.

Now, onto the middle ground and when humans started interacting with the ocean. At first, they learnt to fear and respect the waters and their creatures. To show this, we’ve used a peaceful-looking diver, wearing blue as well as cool tones denoting peace and tranquillity. The shark is inquisitive but keeps its distance.

Yet, there’s a clash: already, pollution is starting to seep into the ocean and spreads further down towards the main point of ‘drama’.

The scene at the bottom represents more recent times. Now, the colours are of warning (yellow, orange, red). The animals that are left at this stage seem to be running away from a man fracking the seabed.

For foreground (minimal) we brushed in silt and added smoke.

As the structure of a photograph is also important to consider, we’ve looked for lines in the scenes. As there aren’t any obvious physical lines, we strived to organise the elements diagonally and leave enough ‘space for the objects to breathe’ on top and at the bottom.


  1. Ingredients: 2 rocks, plastic toys (2 divers and various marine animals, paying attention to desired colour palette). String to attach the toys. Lighting: here, only one strobe 45 degree angle above to the left to create a spot of harsh directional light onto the main drama: the diver fracking the seabed.

  2. Unless you own half a dozen clamps and stand-alone devices, you'll probably need an assistant! We held the toys up in the air about where we wanted them and shot them both together and invidually for editing purposes later. We also took lots of empties - shout-out to Jessica McGovern from That Photography Spot here - to compose later in Photoshop. When you do that, make sure you don't change your settings: keep the same lighting and camera settings, focus plane, etc. Otherwise, it'll show.

  3. In LR, we selected the best photo with the rocks, fracking diver, red animals and best lighting and did some basic adjustments. Then moved to PS and there, we edited the threads out, selected, masked and added each individual toy one at a time (other animals and diver). Using the Free Transform tool, we resized them as wished and blurred them further using Gaussian Blur to make the depth a tad more realistic.

  4. To give it an underwater look - we tried to take the photo in actual water, in a fish tank, but the toys floated. We tried to anchor them down but quickly realised we were making it much too hard for ourselves - we used a few adjustment layers: curves, specific colour curves, levels, colour balance and hue/saturation. Adding bubbles above anything that breathes air (here, divers) completed the UW look. The bubbles were taken in a glass of G&T (no judging!) and added as an overlay.

  5. Same for the pollution, which is actually dark blue fountain pen ink in a glass of water.

  6. As for the foreground, the silt was created using a soft brush and surrounding colours, and some smoky texture was added (overlay of a smoke picture we took).

ET VOILÀ! That's how we created this photo. Let us know if you learnt anything, enjoyed this article, and feel free to share tips and tricks with us!

- Equipment: Canon R5, pixapro AD200 with bare bulb, reflective dish and grid (20%?, not sure!). Lens sigma macro 105mm manual focus only.

- Toys: all from Amazon. Rocks: collected from a derelict wall near our place

- All photos and overlays taken by us.

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