I enjoy creating animal portraits that exist within a whole ecosystem context. Unlike land photography where we have the luxury of spending hours patiently waiting with our telephoto lenses to capture tight shots of animals hundreds of feet away, photographing mammals underwater is a different beast. It’s close up, it’s unpredictable, it’s fast paced, and you’re shooting in what amounts to a hostile human environment that requires a life support system just to keep breathing. While challenging, these conditions also make it endlessly exciting and rewarding. The California sea lion colony of Los Islotes in the Sea of Cortez is an intensely fun place to make photos, and I was ecstatic to capture this moment in the life of one of the most charismatic marine mammals on our blue planet.
How I got the shot
I have returned to this specific dive site several years in a row and determined that October is the best month for both sea lions and big schools of sardines. (People are diving and snorkeling with these sea lions nearly every day for nine months of the year, so they are extremely accustomed to the presence of humans.) I desperately wanted to capture one of these pinnipeds blasting through a ball of fish, but it all happens so quickly and, without planning, it’s easy to miss these shots. By the end of my dive, after watching this female sea lion swim figure eights around the same rocks, I finally timed it correctly and positioned myself right in the thick of the fish and waited for her to pop through.
What I used
I shot this image with a Canon 5D Mark iii and Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens in an Aquatica housing complete with two Ikelite DS-161 strobes. Camera settings were 1/200 at f11, and strobes were on manual with the left one dialed up higher than the right one to avoid blowing out the very reflective fish.
My home base is in Woodridge, Illinios, a quiet area in the western suburbs of Chicago, but I’m gone about half the year for work. I’m the science editor of Ocean Geographic Magazine, a quarterly ocean conservation publication headquartered in Sydney, Australia, where I serve as an underwater photographer and environmental journalist. I’ve been shooting professionally for about five years, and I always say that I’ll go anywhere there’s water! That being said, Raja Ampat, Indonesia, and the high Arctic are probably my two favorite places on Earth. So far.
I come from a science background, and am an insufferable biology nerd who never seems to run out of unsolicited animal facts or terrible nature puns. I just can’t kelp myself! Silliness aside, my fascination with organismal biology means that I’m always on the lookout for behaviors to photograph that will tell a compelling story about an animal, and understanding the science behind a behavior makes it easier to capture.
My photographic journey
As a biologist, I find nature endlessly fascinating. After I began writing environmental pieces for work, I decided to really buckle down with my photography so I could create images to accompany my articles, and I’ve been intoxicated by the craft since. The incredible underwater photographs of Ernie Brooks, Michael AW, David Doubilet, and Jennifer Hayes have remained a constant source of inspiration for me, and I am incredibly fortunate to now call them not just mentors, but friends.
NANPA and me
I am new to NANPA just this year, but have wanted to join for quite some time. With all the weirdness that is 2020, I’ve been looking for novel ways to connect with the photographic community. I’m excited to attend webinars, meet like-minded individuals, plan future trips, and work towards creating ever more impactful images.