I have featured many professional photographers here and posted about what I feel is one of the most important aspects to success in today’s markets: being a niche photographer!
Finding something that you love to photograph and then pushing the boundaries can, if done well, quickly bring you wide spread attention. That is just what happened to Australian photographer Mark Tipple.
His Underwater Project has gone viral and rocketed him to global recognition in just a few short years and his work is getting published in places like The Australian, The Telegraph, The BBC, The Independent, National Geographic, and Discovery Channel.
Mark has completed many projects, but it is the Underwater Project that has gotten a lot of attention lately and when you see the images, you’ll understand why. The Underwater Project has purpose and meaning beyond a collection of images, but it is the images themselves that captivate viewers and brought Mark recognition and even won some awards.
Here, Mark tells us about the project and how he accomplished it:
The Underwater Project is an amazing collection of stunning images. Nothing like I have seen before. How did you come up with the idea?
After high school I spent a good few years traveling around Australia filming surfing videos, basically going wherever was going to be good and stalking the professionals. While I was having fun and getting some cool shots of the perfect waves and people riding them, I always wanted something more. I couldn’t put my finger on what I was looking for, but thought that what I was getting could be better. I spent the next few years testing different cameras and different ways to mount the camera on surfboards, trying to get the right angle that would capture the image, but it all just looked the same, and I gradually lost interest in shooting surfing.
It wasn’t until 10 years later that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and trying to deal with the wave breaking over the top of me that I noticed I was next to a group of swimmers who were going through the same struggle, and decided to turn the camera onto them.
Photographing people underwater isn’t a new idea, but it’s something I’ve worked on for the past two years and I think that the progression and diversity is what is setting it aside from the other underwater photographers.
What was your main purpose or goal for the project and what you hoped to achieve?
I started out pretty jaded by the photojournalism world. I was working in a photo agency in Sydney sourcing and distributing world news and human interest features to newspapers and magazines, and having worked on a number of humanitarian projects myself I thought that I could get some of my own work out there. After 6 months of receiving the same refusal emails from editors of publications from the latest reportage by the top photographers in the world in favor for either celebrity or human interest content I thought about starting my own human interest series to raise my profile in order to get the other humanitarian series ‘out there’, and thought about getting back in the water. I started shooting surfing again from below but wasn’t that interested, until the day I was next to the swimmers as the wave broke above.
Most of the images contain people underwater. Were they just swimmers or surfers already there or did you ask them to swim for the camera?
After that first photo I thought of asking people if they could swim under the waves near me, it not only must have sounded weird but it also affected their expression and gestures underwater, I was looking to better that first photo of the boy splayed out underwater but I was getting a lot of peace signs and people waving at the camera underwater. While it was cool and people were stoked on it, it wasn’t what I was looking for. I started to keep a low profile in the water and just shooting people as they dove under, which gave a more natural expression and representation of what they’re going through. Through surfing my whole life I can hold my breath for a while, so I can be underwater before the wave breaks, swim close to where they’re going to dive under, then swim away as they rise. Sounds somewhat creepy, but it keeps their expression genuine.
Some of this water looks pretty powerful. Was this dangerous? (or was there a dangerous occurrence while you were shooting the project?)
Most of the time the waves are just gentle beach breaks, which is great because it’s safe for people to swim and there’s usually a lot of people in the water, but as winter approaches the waves get bigger and the water colder, which makes the impact that much heavier. I was back home in South Australia a few winter’s ago and swam with a friend in some pretty large waves, it look playful and manageable from the shore but by the time we made it past the shorebreak we realized how big it was and how strong the rip was, which wasn’t playful or manageable. Within the first 15 minutes a bomb set came through catching us off guard, we both made it under the first wave OK but the next wave cleaned us up and took us back to shore. I managed to make one photo of my friend diving beneath the first one, the white water is about three times his size as he stretches out to avoid the wave, but I didn’t have time to get anything of the next wave though.
How do you stay down to photograph: scuba tanks and lead boots?
I used to use a weight belt so I could stay down for longer, but one day I got smashed by a wave and thrown to the sand and the weight belt cut into my back, so I gave up on that idea. I just wear a pair of surfing flippers as they’re small and easy to navigate amongst the whitewater, and having a fairly good lung capacity definitely helps. One day a few years ago I tried to stay underwater as three waves broke (it was only a small day and a short interval between waves), I saw a man swimming a fair distance away and thought that the approaching set could break nicely, on the third wave I caught up to him underwater just as the wave was passing by and captured him swimming off into the deeper water. I surfaced really dizzy and disorientated, but the photo on the back of the screen is still one of my favorites from the series.
I’ve just shot some underwater video for a documentary project where the director asked for exactly what I do in stills but in video, but with no movement which I needed scuba for, it’s the only time I’ve shot in waves on scuba, definitely a strange experience to be caught inside by a large wave and knowing that I can just lay on the bottom of the sand and wait until it passes, while still being able to breathe.
What type of camera is best suited for this type of project?
I use the Canon 7D, as to capture the slight nuances of people’s expressions or gestures I need a fast frame rate. The 7D shoots 8fps, which is pretty fast and does the job. Generally a wave will pass overhead in two seconds, I start shooting just before the swimmer dives under to just after their head breaks through the surface after the wave has passed, which makes about 20 photos for each wave. Any camera with a fast frame rate and quick buffer clearance will be perfect.
I see you have been recognized by National Geographic. Is there any newsworthy events coming up for you and the project?
Having shot for the past two years I’m moving into short films based around the type of people who have been captured underwater, basically people who base their lives around the ocean for their work, and play. I’ve worked with surfboard shapers, lifeguards and semi-nomadic surfers, to give some context to people who treat the ocean as more than just an entity that’s off our coastline. I usually start and end the interview with ‘What does the ocean mean to you?’, which produces some amazing answers. I’m still shooting The Underwater Project however, I just also want to tell interesting people’s stories to complement the photos. The first one had a great response, and can be seen here.
And now you have a book published as well. Where can it be found?
I’m self publishing/printing/creating each book, which is a huge undertaking but totally worth it. I had a pretty slow start to 2012 with poor weather and not many humanitarian projects coming through so I looked at a few different book publishers and what they offer, but the books didn’t feel as personal as I wanted them to be. I’ve been printing the large format print orders for the past year and finally realized that I could print the book and bind it myself, after a month of testing and refining it’s had an amazing response worldwide. Even though each book takes 2.5 hours to produce, it’s a similar feel to how I shot the series with staying underwater until almost passing out or being slammed on the bottom or thrown back to shore by the waves, and I think a similar effort should go into making each book.
To see more of Mark’s amazing photography or buy the book, click here.
What do you think of this amazing photography? Please leave a comment.