Tanya Houppermans Blog

In April 2014, I bought my camera with the goal of taking images that would inspire people to save and protect our oceans and the creatures that live there, including some of the sea’s most vilified inhabitants – sharks. And now, over 3 ½ years later, as a full-time underwater photographer and marine conservationist, these are still the goals I strive for in every shot that I take.

The underside of a sand tiger shark surrounded by thousands of tiny bait fish off the coast of North Carolina.

Making compelling images that resonate with the public is no easy feat, but there are a few techniques that I try to implement to make my images stand out. First, I look for unusual angles from which to shoot. Whether it be an image of a shark taken from directly underneath, or a jellyfish drifting through light rays in the water as the sun is seen above the surface, these unique vantage points grab the viewer’s attention. Once I have the viewer’s attention, I want them to feel a connection with the animals in the image. While humans may not share many attributes with underwater creatures – we don’t have fins, scales, or gills – one thing we do share with many of these animals are eyes. When we look into the eyes of another living being, I think that we can’t help but form a connection. I often try to capture the eyes of my subjects to show the viewer that these are living, thinking, feeling creatures, not just an object in a two-dimensional photograph.

A moon jelly drifts through the shallow waters off the coast of Key West, Florida, USA.

My personal photographic style is to show a lot of details, which I think helps to pique the viewer’s interest. The underwater world is a place that many people will never have the opportunity to see for themselves, so I want to share the incredible beauty that lies beneath the surface of the water, down to the tiniest detail. This can be quite challenging, considering that a layer of water lies between me and anything I photograph (and oftentimes that water is not crystal clear, but instead cloudy or full of particles). The first trick is to get as close as possible to my subjects to minimize the amount of water between us. Being close is also critical since I shoot with a fisheye lens, which inherently makes objects appear farther away than they really are. I also shoot with a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action of my subject. The highest sync speed for my strobes (these are the flashes that we use underwater) is 1/320 of a second, so most of my images are shot between 1/250-1/320. Lighting is also critical to bringing out details, so I have to ensure that my strobe power and placement are optimal.

A close-up of the eye and glistening metallic-like skin of a blacktip shark at Aliwal Shoal, South Africa.

When all of these elements come together, the result is an image that will draw the viewer in and immerse them in an environment they may not get to experience otherwise. Hopefully they will feel a connection with what they see, which will motivate them to want to learn more about, or even actively try to protect and conserve, the ocean and its inhabitants. It is this belief in the power of photography to make a positive impact that led me to partner with WorldPix, with our shared goals of improving the lives of those living not only on land, but also beneath the sea.

The brilliant colors of a Caribbean reef squid under a cloudy sky in the waters off of Grand Cayman.

A manatee surfaces for a breath at Crystal River, Florida.

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