In an ongoing series, Scubaverse.com’s Underwater Photography Editors Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown talk to underwater photographers from around the world that they admire.
This week’s interview is with UK-based underwater photographer Paul Colley.
Paul is a former Royal Air Force top gun instructor who pursued a long-standing ambition to be a wildlife photographer. He quickly attained high recognition for his underwater photography, including top honours in international competitions. His book Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera achieved critical acclaim for the contribution that it made to the research, education and application of underwater photography. Paul is currently Chairman of the British Society of Underwater Photographers (BSoUP).
N/C: How did your underwater photography start?
PC: I learned to dive at the turn of the last Millennium, took my first compact camera underwater in 2006 and never looked back!
N/C: What is your favourite u/w camera equipment (past & present) & Why?
PC: My favourite piece of equipment is a remote control Olympus compact camera. This is because I designed the system, which makes the results I get with it very rewarding. It allows me to take images of fish in fast flowing rivers in a way that marks them out as distinctly my own work.
N/C: What would be your advice to anyone new to underwater photography?
PC: Get onto a photography workshop, which will allow you to dive in the right places, at the right times, with the right advice from the right people and at a pace consistent with making good images. For me it was a revelation and I now love to run my own.
N/C: What, or who, has been your single biggest inspiration for your underwater photography?
PC: I think that Alex Mustard has been a huge influence for me, because he provides so much good information in an easy-to-understand way. He is one of the true contemporary masters of underwater photography and a real inspiration. My success with remote control photography is largely down to his advice to experiment with my own work.
N/C: What are your boundaries on post-editing image manipulation?
PC: I have no boundaries, just a personal mantra to be honest about what I have done. Post-processing is part of the digital workflow and we should embrace it. I always seek to improve the overall composition, but I also generally want to get it as good as I can in-camera and then just restore the essential truth of what I saw through the viewfinder. But some art and some commercial requirements need much greater manipulation; for example, composite scenes that cannot be photographed with one image. It’s not a sin to manipulate an image to a major extent if the image is to be a poster for marine conservation, for example!
N/C: Where is your favourite dive location, and is it for the photography?
PC: It’s difficult to pin down any one site, because there are so many that are so good for so many different reasons. But I love Egypt for its convenience and splendid reefs like those in the Straits of Tiran and in Ras Mohammed national park.
N/C: What are you views on marine life manipulation, moving subjects?
PC: There’s no requirement to manipulate marine life. It stresses and even kills animals, so we should never encourage it.
N/C: What do you look for when you are making your images?
PC: The same that I encourage my students to seek. Good composition and specifically high contrast, which allows the subject matter to grab attention, and balance, which is how the different elements are organised within the frame. You can read about this in great detail in my book, ‘Winning Images with Any Underwater Camera’!
N/C: What motivates you to take u/w photos?
PC: A great part of it is making images count in conservation. I work a lot with marine and freshwater conservation agencies, for example the Blue Marine Foundation and Fauna & Flora International. This has helped two countries to establish major marine reserves around Ascension Island and in Cambodia.
N/C: If you could photograph any one thing/place what or where would that be?
PC: I would love to free dive with and photograph whales. I don’t mind where, as long as the water is warm enough!