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Scubaverse Underwater Photographer Interview: Susannah H. Snowden-Smith

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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 US photographer Susannah H. Snowden-Smith.

I’ve been diving for over 25 years, and photographing even longer. I started my professional photography career as a photojournalist. During my time at the newspaper I started photographing ancient shipwreck excavations part of the year. Combining my passions for diving and photography had always been the goal. With that in mind, three years ago, my husband and I moved to Grand Cayman so I could shoot underwater full-time.

My dad was an avid amateur photographer and I loved watching him shoot with his Olympus film camera. In my family, each of us got a camera when we turned ten. My sisters were all using 110 film cartridges in those skinny little cameras. But when the time came for me to get a camera of my own, I wanted “a camera like Dad has” and so my first camera was a 35mm, $35, point and shoot.

I worked as a photojournalist in the States for many years.   In this work, I always sought out the unique angle, the interesting shot; my images were often referred to as “artistic”. I have taken this artistic approach with me to my underwater work (more on that in question 8, below). To date, I have photographed five underwater excavations all over the world. Since moving to Grand Cayman, I’ve expanded my underwater photography from specializing in underwater archaeology to include marine life, macro, fluorescence, modern wrecks, sharks, over-under shots…I love it all, and love shooting it all! I sell my underwater fine art photographs on Cayman and in the States.

One of my proudest moments was having one of my underwater photographs from a 7th-Century BC Phoenician shipwreck displayed as part of an exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. I also landed the cover of Archaeology Magazine (May-June 2016 issue).

I’ve placed in the Underwater Photographer Of The Year contest twice now (2016 and 2017). Seeing my Kittiwake photograph in newspapers around the world was a huge high! And I was “Wrecks Of The World” Champion for 2016: I worked really hard, shooting new images for the contest each month, so having all that hard work pay off was extremely gratifying. I also won all six places in the Scubashooters “Half & Half” contest last August. Split shots are one of my favourite types of shooting, so again, to have these images recognized was really gratifying.

Cayman is my backyard, so I dive here when I’m not traveling. I’ve dived and photographed in Sri Lanka, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Maldives, Rhode Island, Thailand, the Bahamas… But I have so many more places I want to shoot!

You can find out more about my work at www.SusannahPhotography.com. Follow me on Instagram: SusannahPhotography and on Facebook: Susannah H. Snowden-Smith Photography.


N/C: How did your underwater photography start?

S H. S-S: My first underwater camera was a Sea&Sea Motormarine 35 when I was about 12. I’d saved up all my money for it! I took photographs in the local pool, trying to get interesting shots; this involved a lot of photographs of orange golf balls. Thinking back, I guess liked the contrast against the blue pool water. (My mom was not as impressed with the film processing costs and I soon took over paying for them 😉

Around that same time, in 6th-grade, we studied a small segment on underwater archaeology. I was fascinated and set a goal of working in underwater archaeology! I’ve since been the underwater photographer on five shipwreck excavations, from 7th C. Phoenician to 18th C. Ottoman. From underwater archaeology I’ve expanded into photographing marine life, macro, fluorescence, modern wrecks, sharks, over-under shots… I’m loving shooting everything from hammerhead sharks down to dwarf frogfish.

N/C: What is your favourite u/w camera equipment (past & present) & why?

S H. S-S: My Subal D500 housing and Sea&Sea YS-250s are favourites. I love the way the Subal housing feels in my hand. It’s ergonomic, the buttons are where I expect them to be, and it’s rugged. My Sea&Sea YS-250 strobes give out a huge amount of light and the quick recycling is a huge asset.

I love shooting and experimenting with remote strobes. I also love my Nightsea fluorescence kit.

I had a Sea&Sea MDX40 housing that I used for many years. It was very good to me, enabling me to make many images I am proud of.

N/C: What would be your advice to anyone new to underwater photography?

S H. S-S: Stick with it! It’s not going to be instant gratification, and there is so much to learn. I like to tell my students: you’re going to take half of what you know about land photography and chuck it out the window! Underwater photography has a steep learning curve, but the rewards are huge!

N/C: What, or who, has been your single biggest inspiration for your underwater photography?

S H. S-S: Alex Mustard and his work have been a big inspiration for me. I admire his creativity and how he’s always pushing the envelope of ingenuity. I find daily inspriration on Wetpixel, Scubashooters, UWPhotographers and from the scores of underwater photographers who are in my Facebook feed.

N/C: What image are you most proud of and why?

S H. S-S: That’s a hard one. I have photographs that mean a lot to me from different phases of my underwater photo career. I’ve included some of my favourite images for this article, but there are many more that I’m attached to.

N/C: Where is your favourite dive location, and is it for the photography?

S H. S-S: Photography and diving are inseparable for me: anywhere I love to dive, I love to photograph. I have so many favourite places, and so many more that I want to explore (see below). I love shooting in my Cayman backyard but I can’t wait to explore more of the world. I’m excited to get to SE Asia, hopefully soon, for the photo opportunities.

N/C: What are you views on marine life manipulation, moving subjects?

S H. S-S: I’ve been reading a lot about this recently. Horrifying!

N/C: What do you look for when you are making your images?

S H. S-S: As noted above, I am always seeking out the unique angle or interesting way to shoot an image. When I was a photojournalist, I had to photograph the same events over and over again, e.g. the same parade each year. So the challenge was how to cover the same event but come back with fresh, different images each time. Newspaper readers who saw me shoot would joke that I could often be found climbing a tree, or lying on the ground in the middle of a parade. And it was true: I would do whatever it took in order to get the creative shot I had in my mind’s eye. I apply this same creative eye to my underwater work. I’m always asking myself, “how can I make this photo more interesting? How can I take a photo of this subject in a way that I’ve not conceived of before?”

For this, Cayman has been really good for me, pushing me forward in my work. Just like my time as a photojournalist, I’m often shooting the same subjects over and over, which forces me to try and look for a different, more creative image each time. It also means I can experiment to my heart’s content. So when I have with a new lighting technique I want to employ, I can try it out right away.

N/C: What motivates you to take u/w photos?

S H. S-S: A desire to produce creative and unique images. Pushing myself to always improve. Sharing the excitement of the underwater world.

N/C: If you could photograph any one thing/place what or where would that be?

S H. S-S: I have many places and things I’d like to photograph, so narrowing that down to one is impossible. But in the immediate future, I’d like to dive and photograph the wrecks of Truk Lagoon, macro life in the Philippines and Indo, whales and whale sharks…! 😀 I’m looking forward to it all!!

 

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Exhibition: Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research

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From now until 30 October, the photo exhibition “Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research” features 21 photographs at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, as well as a digital edition.

Exceptional photographs highlight how innovative marine experts and scientists take the pulse of the ocean by exploring ecosystems, studying the movement of species, or revealing the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs. Scientific discoveries are more important than ever for the protection and sustainable conservation of our Marine World Heritage. This memorable exhibition comes ahead of the launch, in 2021, of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (“Ocean Decade”). The exhibition was jointly developed by UNESCO and the Principality of Monaco.

The 50 marine sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, distributed across 37 countries, include a wide variety of habitats as well as rare marine life still largely unknown. Renowned for their unmatched beauty and emblematic biodiversity, these exceptional ecosystems play a leading role in the field of marine conservation. Through scientific field research and innovation, concrete actions to foster global preservation of the ocean are being implemented locally in these unique natural sites all over the world. They are true symbols of hope in a changing ocean.

Since 2017, the Principality of Monaco supports UNESCO to strengthen conservation and scientific understanding of the marine sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. This strategic partnership allows local management teams to benefit from the results obtained during the scientific missions of Monaco Explorations. The partnership also draws international attention to the conservation challenges facing the world’s most iconic ocean sites.

The exhibition invites viewers to take a passionate dive into the heart of the scientific missions led by Monaco Explorations in four marine World Heritage sites: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines), Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Colombia), Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), and the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France). It is also an opportunity to discover the work of a megafauna census; the study of the resilience of coral reefs and their adaptation in a changing climate; the exploration of the deep sea; and the monitoring of large marine predators through satellite data.

To visit the Digital Exhibition click here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 7

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for the final part of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Deptherapy expeditions do not just magically happen, they need planning and they need funding.  This expedition was funded by our long-term partners the Veterans’ Foundation.  The funding is part of a grant they awarded us for programmes this year, which were then put on hold because of COVID.

All charities in the Armed Forces’ Sector are struggling for funds. Deptherapy desperately needs support going forward and every penny counts.

We know what we do works and at the end of this blog you will find details of the research studies into Deptherapy’s programmes and how they impact on the lives of our beneficiaries.  This includes details that are hot off the press about the latest study that reports that what we offer through scuba diving and 24/7 support has benefits beyond those found in other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

Well tomorrow we fly home, late in the evening with the journey home for some of the guys who live up North taking around 15 hours after leaving Roots.

We want to make the most of today but with the tide running we are not going to be able to dive until later this morning which means only two dives today.

Oatsie and Swars about to start their sidemount dives

Things, however are really busy over at the dive centre with Swars and Oatsie putting their sidemount kit together for their training dives with Steve Rattle leading to their RAID sidemount qualification.  It has been nice to be able to offer the guys this extra training, given the amount of work they have put in this week.  They have needed to get through their theory quickly but given the RADI online learning system this has not been too arduous.

Steve came diving with us yesterday to get some more photos and was really amazed at the progress that Corey had made. He was quite open in his praise, as in his view Corey has gone from a non-diver to being a very competent OW diver capable of diving, unsupervised, with a buddy.  Praise indeed.

Other than the sidemount course we are diving as a group today: Corey, Keiron, Michael, Moudi and me. Corey has been given some tasks – SMB deployment on both dives and the afternoon dive will be a ‘naturalist dive’.  Guy Henderson has set Corey a task: ‘to identify three species of fish and record the time into the dive and the depth at which each one was spotted’.  Guy runs Marine Biology courses on the reef and knows where the fish are to be found, how long into the dive, and at what time.

The two Toms are getting put through their paces. They have walked their cylinders down to the entry point, but Steve sends them back to the dive centre to collect other kit they should have brought with them.

Our general dive goes well and the sidemount guys appear from their sidemount dive some 90 minutes after dipping their heads under the water.

Corey enjoying being a RAID OW20 Diver

Lots of bubbly chat at lunchtime, a group of really happy divers. Corey really has benefited from the week and over lunch thanked the team for making him a diver. He has very quickly become part of the family and after returning home he published an amazing post on Facebook about his experience.  Corey really gets Deptherapy and had soon realised that we see past mental and physical injuries and see the person inside and work with that person.  He also realised that we want beneficiaries to see their fellow beneficiaries in the same light.  He knows he now has another ‘family’ – a family of brothers in arms who have two things in common, they served their country and they have suffered life changing injuries or illnesses.

Back into the water for the afternoon dive and Corey identifies the fish and records the details on a slate.  The two Tom’s complete their second dive and qualify as RAID Sidemount Divers. Great!

Kit packed away and it is time to return to the camp for a few well-earned last night drinks.

I am often asked why we use Roots as our exclusive base for diving. I have mentioned before that it offers us an ideal retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We are secluded and there are no distractions such as late-night bars etc.

Roots Accessible Room

The second reason is the amazing welcome we receive from Steve, Clare, Moudi and the team.  We have been going to Roots since 2014 and many of the staff have become good friends, they understand our needs and are the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet.

The third reason is the huge investment Steve and Clare have made in making the resort and dive centre accessible for those with physical injuries including those who need to use wheelchairs.  All our beneficiaries can enjoy Roots and, in fact, love it here.  The reef is perfect for us and in non-COVID times we can travel to the Salem Express and other dive sites to enjoy more of the Red Sea experience.

Accessible toilet on the Roots beach

After discussions with the team I was very proud to be able to tell Corey that his progress had been such that we were inviting him on the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust sponsored two-week Marine Biology Course at Roots in June 2021. There is lots of homework to undertake under the guidance of Dr Debbie McNeill of Open Oceans and Corey will be sent the Red Sea Guide which is the basis for study.

While on that programme, Corey with fellow beneficiary Dale Mallin, will complete his RAID Advanced 35 course.  This all builds to a 10-day Red Sea liveaboard in 2022, onboard Roots’ new boat Big Blue where 18 beneficiaries will compare the coral and aquatic life on the wrecks of the SS Thistlegorm and the less known SS Turkia that is to be found in the Gulf of Suez and is rarely dived.

Paul Rose, our Vice President, is supporting the programme and is seeking the support of the UN and the Royal Geographical Society. A comprehensive report will be submitted to our partners in the project and to the Egyptian Authorities.

Last night and chill

What we do works:

In recent years there have been three academic studies into our work:

2018 – A study by a team from the University of Sheffield Medical School.

2019 – A study by The Centre of Trauma at Nottingham University.

Both these studies reported very positively on Deptherapy’s work both underwater but also in terms of the provision of 24/7 support.

The following is from our press release which was issued on 26th October:

‘A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.

This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise. IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.

Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore. The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).’

This is amazing news and sets us apart from other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

We are currently working with our VP Richard Castle who is a Consultant Psychologist and our Dive Medicine Advisor Mark Downs to identify further areas of psychological and physical dive related research.

We end the week on a happy note.  A young man who has learned to dive properly with a RAID OW 20 certification, a new RAID Master Rescue Diver, two new RAID Sidemount Divers, 5 new RAID O2 Providers, many assessments for our DMs but most of all a week of learning, of making new friendships, renewing old friendships, and building on our family ethos.

Until we meet again…

For us, Deptherapy is a journey, a journey that continues to push boundaries in the use of scuba diving in the rehabilitation of those suffering life changing mental and/or physical challenges.  On our journey we want to change the way the scuba diving industry views diving for those with disabilities.

In the new year, we will be launching, with our diver training agency partners RAID, a new and exciting adaptive teaching programme that will offer diving to the disabled community. We can’t wait to share it with you!


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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