There is something about the ocean that leaves us all in a continuous state of awe. The waves consistently gliding over themselves onto shore – as if the ocean itself were attempting to spread its inner beauty hiding just beneath the surf. We tend to take notice, soak in the experience and attempt to share at least a piece of it with others.
I trained with Fiona Ayerst on her Underwater Photography Training Internship, operating at Guinjata Dive Centre, Mozambique. I became aware of that inner beauty the ocean held. Beneath the blue blanket that covers 71 percent of our earth, there are beings many of us didn’t even know existed. The coral reefs, like cities, thrive with various communities. As interns, we became aware of the diverse species working together in a network, with so many scenarios yet to play out and be captured on camera.
Mozambique was an escape to paradise, a great opportunity to develop camaraderie and make lasting friendships. It was a 2-month long learning experience, as well as a chance to boost my abilities as an artist all wrapped up in one.
Building the next generation of wildlife and environmental media specialists
10 Lessons I Learned in Mozambique
1. Scuba diving is a chance to explore a new world, and likewise a lifestyle that is easy to fall in love with.
Scuba diving with wild animals in itself is an exhilarating encounter. Throw in an underwater camera and photographic experience… and presto! You have before you an image you could only have dreamt to capture! By becoming more knowledgeable about scuba, you will be more relaxed in the water. Feeling more relaxed can lead to more dive time, in turn leading to further chances of obtaining that prize-winning shot. Take time to look at and study the reef models provided at the Dive Centre. This will allow you to become more familiar with where the animals you would most like to photograph reside. Becoming more comfortable with scuba diving is just as much a part of the underwater photography experience as the actual capturing of the photograph.
2. Underwater Photography preparation is tedious—but worth it.
From cleaning o-rings, checking the batteries in your strobes and camera, making sure that your memory card is loaded cleared for the next days’ use, to arranging the arms underwater for the perfect lighting. It is important to take time to carefully check and double-check EVERYTHING. The last thing you want is to be out in the water, ready to take that awesome shot, only to have your camera malfunction due to a simple mistake. Get to know your equipment and changing your settings. Spend time reading the manuals and practice using your camera on land. You don’t want to waste ANY time underwater figuring out what is what before the animal you dreamed of shooting swims away.
3. Knowledge is power.
Study your subjects, read about them and observe natural behavior. It is intriguing and fun to learn about not only the animals you are viewing, but their behavior as well. Gaining knowledge about a particular animal’s behavior can greatly affect the resulting photo. An example would be when we learned about the natural “cleaning stations”, in which small shrimps and cleaner wrasse reside. These animals have a symbiotic relationship with much larger animals, and understanding this behaviour led to more interesting photos.
4. Adapt your “Renaissance Eyes”.
This term is borrowed from Levi Fenton, an Instructor at the Dive Centre, who is a master at discovering the smallest of animals hidden from the passing eye. Essentially, it is like playing “Where Is Waldo?” except with nudibranches (tiny marine gastropod mollusks), porcelain crabs, seahorses and the like. Many animals use camouflage and hide themselves very well within the reef and beneath the sand, and I can guarantee, not all is what it seems!
5. Stay calm, relax and let them come to you.
Avoid the “predator approach”, which they will assume you are if you begin to chase any large or small animals you encounter. They can feel your excitement and swift movement, which can make them very wary and stay further away. Let their natural curiosity work for you and they may even be so intrigued as to come and circle you.
6. Subjects on land are just as interesting.
On land, photography is great practice for the time spent in between lessons and diving. Remember, before obtaining photographs of local residents, it is important to ask the permission of those you encounter. You must keep cultural differences in mind, since in various cultures, some may believe that their soul can be taken when a photo is taken of them. Just be polite, ask, and if denied – find another interest!
7. Get your creative juices flowing and visualize the dive beforehand.
One of the most important lessons I learned was to visualize taking a photo before you even take the camera into the water. Talk to others about what you want your photos to look like, where you want the subject in the shot, and what kind of effect you’d like to achieve. As a studio artist, I began to paint the subjects I encountered. This made me become more aware of what position I should place myself in while taking the photograph, so as to not only obtain a great photo, but have my subject in a position that would be flattering to later paint. A friend of mine, and field-specialist, Shalini Tewari, recommended I begin putting the images next to each other, which led to a series called ‘Painted Images’.
8. Work with nature and work with the currents.
This is one of the most challenging things about underwater photography. When you begin to feel and take notice of which way the current is pulling you, you don’t exhaust yourself trying to constantly swim against them to get at your subject. Also, be cautious and aware of your surroundings – Steer clear of sea urchins and refrain from touching the reef or any animals.
9. Keep an open mind.
Enjoy the little things, don’t fret if the subject you wished to photograph is not available or in the area. Usually you will find something better and have that opportunity to take a shot you didn’t even expect. Keep your eyes open and be willing to be flexible. It’s good to visualize and aim for a specific animal before diving, however, if it is too much of a struggle – you will be spending more time struggling and lose out on other great opportunities.
10. Never pass up on fun and make photography part of it.
Some of the best shots that were taken were during our “free time.”
Kyra is a recent graduate from Michigan State University, and currently a Freelance Studio Artist and Divemaster. Her artwork focuses on raising awareness and appreciation for all animals-specifically revolving around sharks and marine life. Many of her paintings, sculpture and photography focus on issues of overfishing, shark-finning, pollution, and the exploitation of marine life.
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