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 interview is with Pete Bullen.
I took my first photograph on a little plastic Ilford copy of a box brownie. I’d been given it for Christmas and was instantly hooked. On Boxing Day it snowed heavily and I was struck by how beautiful the fields, trees etc. looked covered in pristine snow and wanted to capture it. I cocked it up and every shot was vastly overexposed but I still remember the feelings; wanting to capture that moment of beauty, the agony of waiting for the exposed film to come back and the let-down of the poor exposure. But the feeling of wanting to capture beauty has never left me and 50 years later I still take photographs for the same fundamental reasons.
Nowadays I share my love of photography both on land and underwater by offering private guiding and coaching to beginners and improvers here on Gozo, Malta, where I live. I have offices in two dive centres on the island and my guests get all the benefits of a well-run dive centre with the added benefits of private guiding at photographer’s pace to the best sites at the best times. You can find out more about my work at www.oceanfoto.co.uk, www.facebook.com/pete.bullen1, on Instagram: @Oceanfoto and TripAdvisor: www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g190317-d12498897-Reviews-Oceanfoto-Victoria_Island_of_Gozo.html
N/C: How did your underwater photography start?
PB: Being a keen land photographer it was natural for me to extend that interest below the waves very (too) quickly after I learned to dive. I started with a Sea & Sea MX5, then borrowed a Fuji F30, moved on to a Canon G9 and finally moved to M4/3 mirrorless cameras. Nowadays I shoot Olympus EM5, EM5Mk2, EPL5 plus a variety of lenses, strobes, snoots etc.
N/C: What is your favourite u/w camera equipment (past & present) & why?
PB: I love my EM5, the weight and size together with its excellent performance make it my go to camera although if I’m planning a super small macro shoot I may well take my EPL5 as its smaller format can help me get closer to the little stuff.
N/C: What would be your advice to anyone new to underwater photography?
PB: To get great shots that you can repeat you need all the skills; you have to have excellent buoyancy control, you have to understand both how your camera works and what its limitations are. Learn patience and take full control! I almost never shoot in any mode other than manual and that includes manual control of the strobe(s).
N/C: What, or who, has been your single biggest inspiration for your underwater photography?
PB: Alex Mustard is my hero, full stop, he’s a wonderful photographer, a fantastic eye and he understands the animals and environment he works with/in.
N/C: What image are you most proud of and why?
PB: I took a commissioned shot for one of our local dive centres that wanted to advertise their offering of both Freediving and Scuba. We shot it under the Azure window, I nailed it with only 5 exposures and we also rescued an idiot who had thought jumping off the Azure window was a good idea. He broke his back in three places and we probably saved his life. I love the shot plus the memories around it.
N/C: Where is your favourite dive location, and is it for the photography?
PB: I’ve dived in far too many places around the world to really have a favourite but besides Gozo, which I obviously love, I have had some great holidays at Marsa Shagra. I love the freedom to go back to the same spot and the same fish time and time again. Getting to know your subjects and planning around sunlight and angles thereof is a great way to work.
N/C: What are you views on marine life manipulation, moving subjects?
PB: Don’t do it! If you have to move a subject to get the shot then move on and find a shot that is natural. I’ll wait 15 minutes for a seahorse to lift its head if I have to.
N/C: What do you look for when you are making your images?
PB: I think that photographs should fall into one of three categories, they should either tell a story, have an artistic “wow” factor or be good for species ID, I always ask myself why I am taking the shot and if the framing/subject etc. doesn’t meet one of those categories it’s not worth taking.
N/C: What motivates you to take u/w photos?
PB: It’s a fantastic world down there, we owe it to the rest of the world to show how beautiful and delicate it is. I try to be an ambassador for a world that can’t speak for itself.
N/C: If you could photograph any one thing/place what or where would that be?
PB: I have been trying for 6 years to photograph one of our fairly rare Mola Mola, the only one I’ve ever seen was in Swanage bay, swimming round the Fleur, I was a baby diver with less than 20 dives to my name and no camera. One day I’ll get a good series of shots!