While many people can easily take a photo, not many can do it underwater and do it well. Au Yong Seok Wun, a PADI Open Water Scuba instructor with 3000 dives, spends her time underwater also as a camerawomen/photographer withÂ Scubazoo – bringing us magnificent images of what lies beneath our oceans.
Seok Wun dives out of the water to share with us her love for the sea in this exclusive ChiqClicks interview, in celebration of World Oceans Day tomorrow. Be prepared to wish you had fins to live in her amazing underwater photos.
1. Describe yourself in one sentence
Passionate, spontaneous, love the sea, and very much an outdoor person.
2. How and why did you specialize in underwater photography?
I got into diving in 2003 during a break from my IT job in Kuala Lumpur. It was then I decided to leave the big city, get out of my comfort zone, and become a full time diving instructor. My first job was working in a resort in Mabul/Sipadan (East Malaysia) area and after 2 years, I joined Scubazoo as a underwater videographer. I picked up underwater photography during my freetime on the island.
Juvenile Sweetlips (Kapalai Island)
3. Can you tell us 5 things which most people don’t know about underwater photography?
I’m not sure if I’m right about what most people don’t know, but here’s my top list of what I didn’t know before getting into underwater photography
- Know your camera inside out – My first attempt of taking an underwater picture was with a point a shoot. I kept trying to get something I’ve composed in my head, but all I got was mostly over exposed pictures or full of backscatters. Only after knowing the right settings and what the camera can do gives me better results. Point & shoot is easy on land, but certainly not as easy underwater!
The importance of knowing fish behaviors and being patient - Sit with the subject and observe its behavior before taking the shot always helps. I usually spend at least 5 minutes with one subject, sometimes even up to 60 minutes! You’ll never know when a frogfish is going to yawn, or when a flamboyant cuttlefish is going to mate.
Jellyfish (Brunei) Â© Au Yong Seok Wun
- Colors – I usually prefer macro with good background colors.
- Don’t chase the fish – fish swims away if you chase them, and it’s quite unlikely one can ever keep up. Great buoyancy helps you to stay calm and relaxed, and approach the fish slowly without any rapid movement.
- Always be aware & alert - underwater photography is a natural history thing. Most of the time, things just happen and they usually don’t last more than a few seconds (for example a shark swimming past you and the right direction and ideal lighting). Always be ready to take the shot.
Silhouette of a Manta Ray (Maldives)
4. What equipment do you use?
Nikon D100, Nexus housing, Nikons SB105 strobes,Â Nikkor 60mm & 105mm for macro andÂ Tokina 10-17mm for wide angle.
5. Can you name a few key differences between normal (on the surface of the earth) photography vs. underwater photography?
Much bulkier equipments because of the underwater housing and strobes, limited time underwater (depth & air).
6. Can you show a photograph which may look simple to someone new to underwater photography, but was very difficult to achieve (using flash/strobe?). And, how did you achieve it?
Spine-cheek anemone fish (Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Kota Kinabalu)
Anemone fish are always moving around and it’s hard to get them looking at the camera. I wanted to create a moody lighting with this picture and used 1 strobe for the effect, but took me quite a while to get the right composition with this fella constantly swimming in and out of frame.
7. Diving and spending time on exotic islands is your job. For most people, that’s what they call a holiday! Is there anything you don’t like about your job?
It’s hard to drag myself out of the bed to go out to the sea when the storm hits! And sometimes during the rainy season, it can rain everyday continuously for a few weeks, sometimes months. Another thing is sometimes during the busy season where I have to dive non-stop for over 3 weeks., it can be very tiring.
8. Diving is often considered an extreme sport. Do you agree with that labeling?
No I don’t. With proper training, diving is one of the safest sport. I’ve taken divers who are over 70 year old, and once a half paralyzed man and they love being underwater.
Ribbon Eel (Brunei)
9. What is the most dangerous situation you’ve been in while photographing underwater, and what prevention measures can be taken to avoid getting into such situations?
Getting too carried away and almost ran out of air. Of course, can be easily avoided if you monitor your air from time to time.
10. What is your best underwater experience?
To dive with a pod of dolphins for over 10 minutes in Maldives. It was during our safety stop at the end of the dive, suddenly they just came from the top of the reef (which is very rare because they are usually found in the open sea). I thought they would just swim pass us and that’s it, but they kept coming back to check us out. Best of all I filmed the whole experience!
11. If someone is interested to start underwater photography, what would you advice them to get them started?
Depends on what they want to achieve. If it’s just a personal hobby, get a good point and shoot and do research before buying (ie. Canon G10 is a good camera). If you want to get your photos published, magazines usually only accept DSLR pictures. Budget and plan.
Shoals of baitfish (Maldives)
12. What is your opinion on the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?
Very sad and disheartening. I can only hope they’ll take measures to prevent this from happening again.
Shrimp on starfish (Brunei) Â© Au Yong Seok Wun
13. Closer to home, a coal-fired power plant is proposed to be built near Sipadan Island – one of the world’s top dive sites. Are you involved in petitioning against it?
The new proposed site is in Lahad Datu, and it’s a beautiful pristine place. Yes I am involved in the petition, and people of Sabah will keep fighting to protect this beautiful land. I have seen a documentary about a small village in Lung Kwu Tan in Hong Kong, and how the local community suffers from the pollution by coal-fired power plant there. I really hope we don’t see that here.
14. In your opinion, which are the top 3 dive sites in the world?
- Raja Empat
15. Who are the other female underwater photographers that inspire you?
I don’t know many female underwater photographers but I like Takako Uno’s work.
Pygmy seahorse (Mabul Island)
When Seok Wun’s not underwater, you can find her playing ultimate frisbee by the beach.
Published works in:
Scubadiver Australasia, front cover (issue 3 2007)
‘Coral Reefs of Brunei Darussalam’ (Lyndon De Vantier & Emre Turak)
Diver Alert, front cover & portfolio (Issue Apr-June 2008)
Scubazoo photos: http://scubazoo.smugmug.com/