Fish art

Words & artworks by Michal Štros

When Michal Štros, a Czech biologist, scientist, and underwater photographer, couldn’t go diving throughout the pandemic, he found an alternative way to get close to the ocean. He started to create computer-animated underwater fish art.

Shooting photos of the mysterious world below the surface can produce stunning and very arty underwater images. If you want to capture the abstract beauty of the marine environment in a different way and seek to push the boundaries of underwater photography further, dream away and turn your ‘standard’ underwater photos into ‘underwater art images’ by processing your photos in graphic design editor programmes.

During the pandemic, like so many other people, I was not allowed to travel. I wasn’t able to dive, nor could I take new underwater photos. To bridge the waiting time until I would get back into the water, I decided to take some of my previously shot underwater photos and run them through post-production experiments by using graphic editors. I quickly noticed that there are many ways to create impressive underwater fish art photos on a computer. Some of them include creating photo collages, the other take advantage of various filters in graphic design editing software.

It is common knowledge that, in underwater photography, you can’t always pick and choose the most appropriate background for the main object in your photograph. The background can make your photo more interesting and make it stand out or it can completely ruin it. Unfortunately, many weird and rare marine species can be found on the sandy ocean floor which is mostly unremarkable. But don’t despair – by processing your underwater photos in graphic editors, you can replace the unimpressive background by a more colorful one. One that might better serve your artistic intent.

The mandarin fish, also known as mandarin dragonet, is one of the most colorful and truly ornate looking fishes, reaching only about 3 inches in length. During the day, they tend to lay low and hide within the branches of staghorn corals. However, at sunset, they leave the reef and perform magnificent and flamboyant mating rituals.

My photo collage Time for Love depicts a mating ritual of two mandarin fish in front of a background with a sun setting over sea. Another photo collage, Jawfish, combines the underwater photo of a jawfish taken in Lembeh Strait with colorful reflections from Rubik’s cube submerged in a swimming pool. Another example of a photo collage is my Alien image which portrays an ‘extra-terrestrial’ mantis shrimp. Mantis shrimps have a unique way of seeing. Their eyes are constantly – and independently of each other – moving, and their complexity and ability to recognise light of different wavelengths (visible, ultraviolet and polarised) surpasses the human eye. Nevertheless, in the Alien collage, I allowed myself to ‘implant’ the human retina into the eyes of the mantis shrimp to put the mantis shrimp in the context of an extra-terrestrial world.

At first glance, the behaviour of some marine animals goes against our established ideas about these creatures. One of them is the upside-down jellyfish, which unlike other known jellyfish species, loves to lie on the bottom of the sea and move its underside towards the sun. The Latin name of this jellyfish, Cassiopea andromeda, led me to the fanciful notion of the jellyfish traveling to the Andromeda galaxy. The little crabs, hidden inside the jellyfish, are travelling as ‘stowaways’. Here, I have combined an underwater photo of the jellyfish Cassiopea andromeda with an image of the Andromeda galaxy taken by the Hubble telescope. The resulting photo collage, Andromeda, looks like it is from the realms of science fiction, evoking the idea of a link between the underwater world and the infinity of the universe (Andromeda received an honourable mention in the Underwater Art category of the Ocean Art 2020 photo competition).

Fractal images represent another fascinating art form to explore the underwater world with the computer. The term fractal (‘broken’ in Latin) describes a geometrical shape that divides into parts, where each of them appears as a smaller copy of the whole, obviously a process that can continue to infinity. Fractals are of considerable complexity, but they can be found all over the place in nature – such as in certain corals, sponges, octopus tentacles, flowers, and even in spiral galaxies.

There are many ways to create fractals. Most of them involve complex mathematical formulas and fractal software programmes. The easiest way to simulate fractals is by using the ‘Fractalius filter’ (Redfield Plugin) in Photoshop. There are several ways how to create underwater art images with the Fractalius filter, all of them depending on the artist’s intent. Nevertheless, additional post-processing of each of the fractals is necessary to produce the desired underwater art photo. I accentuated the blue rings of a blue-ringed octopus with the Fractalius filter in my Blue-ringed Octopus artwork. The luxuriant mane of a seahorse and its body texture became more prominent in the fractal-based digital image of this marine species (Long-snouted Seahorse). Finally, fractal images can also have a wonderful effect in different art styles, such as the ‘pop art’ style, as seen in my Fish Pop Art image.

It becomes evident that the informative content of artistically processed underwater photos is significantly reduced in favour of its aesthetic value. Creative processing of underwater photos in graphic design editors pushes the boundaries of our imagination and its greater extension in the digital era is undoubtedly just a matter of time.


You can find more underwater art photos in Michal’s recently published book, The Silent World through the Lens of Underwater Art Photography (available as Kindle eBook and paperback on Amazon).