Behind the Shots: 2020 Underwater World Shootout Finalists

Blue Linckia starfish perched high on the reef watching the sun go down in Ha’apai, Tonga • Best 5 Images 2020 Finalist • This image was shot with very a similar plan to my paddle boarders image with regards to sunset and low tide timing, however the focus of this image is more on the underwater portion. My idea here was to use a very narrow aperture which then creates the flaring effect on the sun and in turn makes it look like another star. I feel that this helps to join the two portions of the image together and create an artistic flow between the two halves. • Photo © 2020 Grant Thomas

Wonder what's behind some of the best photographs taken underwater each year? We caught up with a few of our Ambassadors who have made it to the finalist category in the 2020 Underwater World Shootout, one of the most prestigious competitions currently running. 

Best 5 Images

Grant Thomas (UK) is a finalist in two categories: Best 5 Images and Wrecks of the World. Here he talks about his Best 5 Images work.

I was very fortunate to find out recently that a collection of my images made it into the finals of this years World Shoot Out ‘Pictures of your life’ photography competition in the ‘Best 5 Images/ Portfolio Category'. I chose the following images based on the fact that they are all split style images, which all share the same theme of combining our every day terrestrial world with the less explored and less familiar underwater water world.

Humpback mother and calf Tonga Copyright Grant Thomas Ikelite Housing

Humpback mother and calf starting the long migration back to Antarctica from Tonga • Best 5 Images 2020 Finalist • Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV • Photo © 2020 Grant Thomas

Humpback mother and calf starting the long migration back to Antartica from Tonga. I shot this image while leading tours in Tonga to swim with the humpback whales. Tonga has become a very special place for me as I have been travelling there every year for the past 6 years to see the whales. During this particular day, late in the season, we had a storm rolling in and the sea conditions became very rough with heavy rain, gusting winds and big waves tossing us around. Just as we were heading home for the day we spotted this Mother and calf pair cruising south, most likely back to their feeding grounds in Antartica. We jumped in the water and had a brief encounter as they passed us and continued on their journey. What I like about this image is the moody atmosphere created by the dark brooding skies and choppy sea conditions. I also like the position of whales as the diagonal composition helps create depth and makes it feel as though they are almost coming out of the image.

American Crocodile in Cuba copyright Grant Thomas Ikelite Housing

American crocodile in Cuba basking in the afternoon sun • Best 5 Images 2020 Finalist • Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and dual Ikelite strobes • Photo © 2020 Grant Thomas

American crocodile in Cuba basking the afternoon sun. I shot this during a trip to the amazing Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), undoubtedly one of the best dive locations in the world and one of the only places where you can safely and consistently get in the water with these amazing reptiles. On this day the conditions were very calm and flat which made it easier for me to create this under-over style picture.

Swans in Loch Lomond Copyright Grant Thomas Ikelite Housing

Pair of swans searching for food on Loch Lomond, Scotland • Best 5 Images 2020 Finalist • Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and dual Ikelite strobes • Photo © 2020 Grant Thomas

Pair of swans searching for food on Loch Lomond, Scotland. This image is very special to me as it was taken close to where I grew up in Glasgow, which is a place I don’t normally get to spend a lot of time due to most of my work being based in the Asia-Pacific region. Getting the shot took a lot of research, planning and multiple visits to find the perfect location and co-operative swans, which was definitely the hardest part. Conditions on the loch are perfect for split shots as the water is usually very calm, making it easier to create a smooth and symmetrical meniscus across the dome. When developing the idea in my head, the aim was always to try and have two swans with their heads crossed and after several thousand shutter actuations it finally happened.

Paddleboarders at Sunset copyright Grant Thomas Ikelite Housing

Paddle boarders at sunset in Ha’apai, Tonga • Best 5 Images 2020 Finalist • Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and dual Ikelite strobes • Photo © 2020 Grant Thomas 

Paddle boarders at sunset in Ha’apai, Tonga. When shooting this image there were a lot of factors that had to come together to create the final result, some were luck and some were due to careful planning. Firstly it had to be shot at low tide in order for the water to be shallow enough to capture the reef, which meant looking at tide times and pairing them with the sunset. Then I had to hope for a fiery sunset, calm water and some friendly paddle boarders who could paddle into the perfect position in front of my camera. Luckily everything came together to create one of my most memorable images to date.

Want to start shooting images like this? Sign up for a 1-on-1 class with Grant custom tailored to fit your goals and shooting style.

 

Ikelite Ambassador Grant ThomasAmbassador Grant Thomas left Scotland with a degree in Engineering and a desire to travel. His travels developed into a passion for photography, a PADI SCUBA Instructor certification, and an underwater housing. Since then he's established himself as an award-winning underwater photographer including a distinction as British Underwater Photographer of the Year in 2018. He now works as a freelance photographer and expedition guide, leading tours and workshops to encounter and photograph animals like humpback whales and orcas. Read more...

 

Best Picture of the Year

Jeff Milisen (USA) is a finalist in three categories: Best Picture of the Year, Best Macro, Best Blackwater.

Parabaccus antarcticus spawning Copyright Jeff Milisen Ikelite Housing

Parabaccus antarcticus Spawning • Best Picture of the Year 2020 Finalist • Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a 60mm lens and dual Ikelite strobes • Photo © 2020 Jeff Milisen

Kona is best known for big wildlife encounters: dolphins, mantas, and sharks. Even local dive professionals often don’t realize that Kona has world class muck diving if you know where to look. I dove at sunset and everything was spawning. I found 2 different species of sand octopods, nudibranchs, flatworms, and a rich variety of larval fishes. Just as I was getting ready to head back, I noticed this slipper lobster in the middle of sand and as far away from a reef as I could get. As I stared at it, I realized that it was so gravid, eggs were literally falling off of its tail! I lined up to shoot the macro eggs when it faced into the gentle current, stood on its head, and released thousands of eggs in a beautiful display of fertility. 

I love the metaphors that this induces. A lot of people are struggling right now to keep their heads above water and grasping for hope. The whole world has entered into something of a financial desert. When I found this, I was sifting through the sand looking for any signs of life that I could find. Then along came this oasis of productivity, erupting with enough life to sustain the coastline. The point is that many of history’s greatest achievements have roots in times of struggle where people are sifting for creative ways to stay afloat. To me, this lobster represents the start of new beginnings.
 

Jeff Milisen Underwater Photographer Ikelite AmbassadorAmbassador Jeff Milisen is an internationally acclaimed underwater photographer who has specialized in blackwater photography since 2009. He is a recent addition to the Ikelite ambassador team. His upcoming book, a Field Guide to Blackwater Diving in Hawaii, will help both newbies and seasoned blackwater veterans identify the strange animals they encounter. He currently shoots with a Canon EOS 7D Mark II and dual Ikelite strobes. Read more...

 

Sharks of the World

Glenn Ostle (USA) is a finalist in the Sharks of the World category. 

I’m honored that three of my photos have reached the “finals” in the World Shootout competition. I’m further honored to be there in the company of two other excellent Ikelite Ambassadors, Grant Thomas and Jeff Milisen; two people who sadly I only know through their reputations and exceptional photography.

The “Sharks of the World” category required submitting three shark photos. Those that I entered showed three different types of sharks: Tiger Shark, Great Hammerhead Shark, and Bull Shark. All three photos were taken during dives in Bimini in early 2019, a time when all these types of sharks are known to be in the Bimini area.

Tiger shark and Great Hammerhead copyright Glenn Ostle Ikelite Housing

Tiger Shark and Great Hammerhead Shark • Sharks of the World 2020 Finalist • Taken with Nikon Z6 and dual DS160 strobes • Photo © 2020 Glenn Ostle 

The photo of the Tiger Shark and Great Hammerhead together, is one I never thought I’d ever be able to shoot. To get two such apex predators in the same frame was a rare treat. After viewing it later, I elected to convert the picture into black and white as it seemed to add more drama to the scene.

Hammerhead with Entourage Sea of Cortez Glenn Ostle Ikelite Housing

Great Hammerhead Shark & Entourage • Sharks of the World Finalist • Taken with Nikon Z6 and dual DS160 strobes • Photo © 2020 Glenn Ostle 

The photo of the Great Hammerhead Shark surrounded by fish, was one I almost didn’t get. I was checking the photos on the back of my camera (gotta quit doing that!), and looked up just in time to see this large shark passing very close by. What I like about the photo is that it is unlike typical shark photos which tend to show sharks as either menacing or somewhat bored. This photo is much more lighthearted and almost humorous, as if the shark seems to be resigned to having to drag around an entourage. 

Bull Shark and Remoras copyright Glenn Ostle Ikelite Housing

Bull Shark • Sharks of the World 2020 Finalist • Taken with Nikon Z6 and dual DS160 strobes • Photo © 2020 Glenn Ostle 

Back at the marina, the dive shop had attached a small cage to the dock, serviced by a hookah surface-supplied air system. By dropping down into this cage, I was able to get a close view of the 8’-9’ Bull Sharks constantly swimming lazily around boats in the marina. I like several things about this photo. First, we just happened to be there at the right time of day so the sun was in a perfect position to give the water a nice green glow and provide some nice sun rays as a dramatic backdrop. I also like the two remoras that are working hard to stay attached to the large bull shark as it zipped around the marina. They are a nice element that adds some life to what would otherwise be a typical type of shark photo.

 

Ikelite Ambassador Glenn OstleAmbassador Glenn Ostle has been taking underwater photos for more than 25 years, starting with Nikonos cameras in the 90s. Since switching to housed cameras, he has owned seven Ikelite housings. Before he retired, he spent 30 years in industrial marketing and 10 years as publisher and editorial director of a leading trade magazine. During that time he also contributed articles and photos to a Florida-based travel magazine, which he continues to do today. Glenn and his partner, Pam Hadfield, travel and dive extensively around the world. Besides underwater photography, he is also an avid bird and land photographer. His photos can be viewed at featherandfins.smugmug.com, and he posts photos regularly on Instagram @ostleglennRead more...

 

Wrecks of the World

Grant Thomas (UK) is a finalist in two categories: Best 5 Images and Wrecks of the World. Here he talks about his Best 5 Images work.

Wreck Copyright Grant Thomas Ikelite Housing

Underwater military museum in Aqaba, Jordan • Wrecks of the World 2020 Finalist • Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Ikelite strobes • Photo © 2020 Grant Thomas

Underwater military museum in Aqaba, Jordan. While diving with a group of talented underwater photographers we all decided to work together (for once) on creating something a bit different. We combined all of our lightning equipment and recruited some very generous volunteers to model and help get everything in position. The idea was always to spot light the tank as the main feature and then include a human element (the diver) to give context for the viewer. I must say a huge thank you to the Diverse Divers team for always going the extra mile to help us get the shot!

 

 

Additional Reading

An Insider's Guide to Blackwater Photography

Cousteau's Aquarium | Sea of Cortez with the Nikon Z6

Tonga Underwater with Humpback Whales and Grant Thomas

Techniques for Photographing Sharks

Planning a Trip to Tonga to Swim with Humpback Whales

Behind the Shot: DEEP Indonesia Best of Show Over-Under

How to Shoot Split Shots (Half-In, Half-Out of the Water)

 

 

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