Featured Photographer: Bryant Turffs on Looking Deeper

About the cover photo: This juvenile alligator was spotted just feet from where I had been filming an above water scene. It wanted nothing to do with me and was doing its best to blend in and not be noticed. I managed to quietly approach and sneak in a couple frames without startling it, before moving on, and leaving it in peace.

 

By Bryant Turffs

I was born and raised in Sarasota, Florida where I developed an early connection to the local environment. I especially gravitated towards water including Florida’s marine environments and her freshwater ecosystems such as the Everglades and springs. These connections have had a deep influence on my life and my photography. Watching these habitats decline with human encroachment inspired me to study biology and capture conservation messages in my imagery.

Underwater Photo Copyright Bryant Turffs

I love nothing more than the Florida outdoors and I empathize with fisherman, having once been an avid one. That said, I often witness environmentally detrimental behavior and our ever-growing population inevitably has negative impacts on fish. I always encourage responsible behavior when enjoying the outdoors to avoid wasteful and sad scenes like this.

Over the past decade I have spent significant time living outside Florida, often on the move, but I always find myself returning and have again put down roots, this time in Palm Beach County.  As divers and photographers, we all dream of travel to the world's most exotic destinations. I am no exception, but I believe that the most productive photographic opportunities and stories are often in our own backyards. We can most easily interpret and predict the places we know best. Intimacy affords deep insight, allowing one to find intrigue in something overlooked. If in no other way, photographing our backyards allows us to try again when we inevitably experience failure.

Underwater Photo Copyright Bryant Turffs

The Bowfin, Amia calva, inhabits North American freshwater ecosystems including those in North Florida. It belongs to an ancient family that coexisted with dinosaurs. Bowfin are capable of breathing both water and air. They are ambush predators and this one is lurking in an algae mat, ready for its next meal.

In a world saturated with beautiful images I am always on the lookout for a new story or perspective. Photographing Florida allows me the best opportunities to find new angles. Many of my friends have taken the opportunity to photograph alligators in a captive setting, but only the most dedicated have underwater images of gators in the wild. Photographs of Manatees in Florida’s springs are fabulous, but how many tourists notice the fascinating and ancient bowfin fish, Amia calva, that also inhabits these waters? Blue heron bridge, in Riviera Beach, Florida, is a wonderful, often photographed, dive site. To shake things up on one dive I decided to photograph the microhabitats of passing moon jellies.

Underwater Photo Copyright Bryant Turffs

During a dive at the Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach, Florida, I noticed many moon jellies floating above. I decided to photograph the larval fish sheltered in them. It was a fun photographic experience though I tangled myself in my dive float many times trying to drift with the jellies at the surface.

Another key to capturing rare moments is to always be prepared. I almost always have a camera in my car and will often bring my Ikelite housing too, even on trips inland. Photography is still a part time pursuit for me so I try to make the most of any opportunity and many of the best moments occur unexpectedly! The opening alligator photo was captured when I decided to bring my underwater rig on a day that was supposed to be dedicated to above water photography in the Everglades.

Underwater Photo Copyright Bryant Turffs

Blue Shark Green Water - Simon’s Town, South Africa

Of course I love world travel too! I have visited some incredible destinations on traditional vacations, but most of my travels have been for jobs. I have worked variously as a dive instructor, commercial fisherman, boat captain, and educator. I often choose jobs based on the adventure they afford over other attributes. I recently completed my circumnavigation as captain on board the sailing yacht Argo, my final leg being a journey from the Virgin Islands to Tahiti via the Galapagos!

Underwater Photo Copyright Bryant Turffs

Nudibrach - Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Finding opportunities for personal photography on professional trips with other purposes can be very challenging. Such opportunities are fleeting and unexpected. My camera may remain in storage for weeks, then, out of no where, an incredible moment will arise with no warning. Like a time in French Polynesia when a fever of manta rays appeared and began feeding around our anchored boat!

Underwater Photo Copyright Bryant Turffs

Manta Ray and Biologist Jessica Pate - Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico

The images featured in this article were captured with my Ikelite housing and Canon EOS Rebel SL1. I had hesitated to enter the world of underwater photography for a long time. I was afraid of the costs associated with high end systems and the potential limitations of lower end ones. This compact and affordable set up has proven itself to me in so many ways. It is small and light enough fit behind the driver’s seat on endless Florida road trips and to have lived under my my bunk on a sailboat. Its ease of use and reliability allow me to be ready at a moments notice. When equipped with quality lenses it is a powerful camera capable of capturing everything from exquisite macro detail to beautiful wide angle scenes and subjects. It even leaves enough in the bank so that you and your camera can take that next trip.

Personally, I am looking forward to photographing the mullet run in Florida and diving archeological sites in Egypt!

See more of Bryant's work on Instagram @elusive_endeavors and on his website bryantturffs.com.

 

Underwater Photographer Bryant Turffs

 

Additional Reading

Building the Next Generation Backyard Underwater Photo Studio

Shooting Florida Gators with Shawn Jackson

Planning a Trip to Photograph Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

Capturing the Elusive Mouth Brooding Jawfish

Crocodiles, Cenotes, and Chinchurro with Ken and Kimber Kiefer

Dive Diversions: On Safari in Uganda with the Sony Alpha A7R III

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