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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 Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

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Frontline workers honoured with free dive trip to Yap

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The remote island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia is among the few places in the world that remains free of Covid-19 thanks to its ocean border and a strict travel ban that has kept its residents safe.

Nonetheless, Yap has been affected, too. As one of the world’s premier, award-winning destinations for divers, this paradisiacal location in the western Pacific Ocean has had no outside visitors to its rich shores and reef for nearly a year. But while there may be no virus, the island hasn’t been cut off from the economic impact experienced around the globe.

Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers by A. Tareg

That didn’t stop Bill Acker, CEO and founder of the Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers, from doing something, though.

Last March, soon after the island went into lockdown, Bill began to realize the effect of the virus on daily life beyond the island. “Yes, we are closed, have no divers, had to send our employees home and prepare for difficult times,” he said. “But we’re lucky in that we have, for the most part, avoided the human suffering and death this pandemic has caused.”

Thinking about the problems faced by his family business, they paled when he compared them to those endured by the healthcare workers who have been fighting selflessly around the clock for months on end for the well-being and lives of others.

“One evening, while checking the news online, I saw pictures of frontline workers who were tending to desperately ill and dying people when families and friends could not be with their loved ones. It was heartbreaking,” he added.

The next day, a meeting was held with the resort’s staff and Bill invited suggestions for ways they could do something to honor healthcare workers. The result was the idea to award twenty divers who are working on the frontline to save other’s lives during this pandemic while risking their own, with a free week at the resort.

Manta ray, Manta birostris, gliding over a cleaning station in M’il Channel, Yap, Micronesia by David Fleetham

Divers around the world who had been guests at Manta Ray Bay in the past were invited to submit the names of candidates for the award by December 31, 2020. “We received nominations for 126 individuals from as far away as Germany, the U.S., Australia and Canada,” he said. “It was not easy choosing the winners but our committee of staff members took on the job and selected the 20 finalists.”

“While trying to choose the people to reward for their hard work during this Covid-19 crisis,” Bill added, “by reading the nominations we saw that every one of the nominees was doing things above and beyond the call of duty. Sadly, we don’t have the finances to offer over 100 free weeks in Yap, but we do want to recognize the contributions all of them are making to our world. So, we are offering the rest of the nominees a free week of diving in Yap which includes room, hotel tax, airport transfers, breakfast, diving and Wi-Fi.  The only requirement is that they travel with at least three other people and stay in two rooms or more.”

“We do not yet know when Yap will open its borders,” said Bill, “but when it does, we will welcome these important guests to Yap to relax and dive with the manta rays and the other beautiful denizens of the ocean surrounding our island home. They are the true heroes of this devastating, historic time and we look forward to honoring them with a well-deserved dive vacation.”

Watch out for our exclusive trip report from a healthcare worker from the UK who is one of the 20 to have been awarded this amazing dive trip!

For more information on Manta Ray Bay and Yap Divers visit their website by clicking here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Dream Dive Locker Build Out. Part I: Demolition (Watch Video)

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It’s finally here! Time to start building the greatest dive locker the world has ever seen! Part I: Demolition! #dreamdivelocker

This is the first of a series of videos showing the evolution of building out my dream dive locker. My dream dive locker needs to be dive gear drying and storage, dry storage, workshop, office, editing suite, You Tube studio and classroom. That’s a lot of functions for a small space!

The first step is planning out the space and demolishing the laminate flooring. Then I taped up the walls to get a feel for the space. We have a lot of work to do!

But finally we will have a purpose built space to house all of our dive equipment! Subscribe to our channel to follow our progress! 

Thanks for watching, Team!

James


Subscribe here: http://bit.ly/DiversReady

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Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk to book your spot!

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