Editor’s Note- Recently I saw a +1 post about a beautiful image appearing on National Geographic’s website which led me to Canadian underwater photographer Eiko Jones. He has an amazing approach to underwater photography so I asked him if he would tell us about himself and his photography.
Please tell us how you got started and how long you have been in the business.
I started my journey into UW photography first in 1993 for a couple years. Then in 2011 I went on two diving expeditions in Mexico. First to Isla Guadalupe to see Great White Sharks and then to the Socorros Islands to be with Giant Manta Rays and many species of Sharks. This was the catalyst that really got me back into UW photography.
You shoot a lot of nature photographer but are becoming known for your unique underwater imagery. Tells us a little about your passion and why you photograph those subjects.
Living in British Columbia puts me in some very unique and extreme locations quite easily. I have always looked at things from a different perspective and my photography reflects this. I started diving in the local lakes, rivers and swamps during the summer when the conditions in the ocean are not so good for photography. I quickly realized there is a whole other world of dramatic underwater scenes in some very small and seemingly plain bodies of fresh water. I am not afraid to venture into a dark water swamp and muck around with my camera for several hours at a time. During one of these times I took the unexpected series of the tadpoles that has become quite popular. One of the reasons I think it is interesting is because it puts the viewer into a very surprising and unfamiliar setting which provokes a lot of thought.
The entire watershed from the mountains to the ocean is important and it is a living system. I try to show all the parts of it, not just the familiar.
Most of your work is in the Pacific NW and Western Canada. Many nature photographers venturide seeking diversity in we far and what they photograph while conservation photographers tend to focus more specifically on a location and spend their time photographing it. How do you determine what you photograph?
I started my photography with the goal to travel far and wide to seldom visited locations around the world. I still dream to do this but I have discovered very untouched and unique locations in my own local area to pursue and hone my photography passions. I can go out almost everyday and find somewhere that no one has photographed.
Is there much of a difference in diving and photographing in the ocean versus a freshwater river?
The ocean temperatures in BC don’t get very warm in the summer but the lakes and rivers warm up nicely. I can easily spend three to four hours swimming around a swamp. Even in water only a few feet deep I usually use SCUBA gear so that I can be right on the bottom and crawl along slowly. Most freshwater locations have a lot of silt so any extra movements stir up a cloud of muck. There also isn’t a whole lot of other divers around either to get in the way. I have yet to see another person set foot or fin in a swamp. Photographing spawning salmon in a river has it’s own challenges that took awhile to figure out. Even in a relatively slow flowing river is very difficult to stay in one place and focus. I spent all summer finding locations that I can shoot in and the fish tend to congregate. I also use a small anchor and chain attached to my body to hold myself in place in the bigger rivers.
What sort of technical challenges do you encounter?
In the ocean and forest streams my biggest challenge is often low light situations. Vancouver Island gets a lot of rain and is not known for it’s endless sunny days. Also the water visibility can be marginal sometimes. Getting good sharp images and bright colours can be tricky in this environment. Diving in the ocean here also requires more equipment than in warmer waters. It can be quite a laborious effort to get to some locations with all gear and camera set up.
What’s the trick to great underwater photography?
There are as many tricks as there are photographers. I try to focus on seeing things in ways that others overlook. I am always looking for unique angles and lighting situations to bring out the best in the subject. I like contrast and dramatic lighting with colours that jump out at the viewer. Always look up!!! A lot of good opportunities for shots are missed when underwater because it is easier to look down rather than up. Light is lost very fast underwater so shooting up towards the source of the light creates better contrasts.
I saw an incredible photo of your, the tadpoles, on National Geographic’s website. Do you market and sell your own work and/or use an agent?
I have a website and a Facebook page. I offer prints and downloads from my website. My framed art pictures are also shown in some local galleries. The tadpole picture that has been featured by National Geographic has been a popular image and has sold to people around the world.
You have one book out now: Scenes from Below. What projects are you working on next?
I will make some more coffee table books in the future. My current bigger project is a story and possible a documentary on the river system where I live and the history of the Hydro electricity systems on it. It is one of the largest systems of dams and generating facilities dating back to the 1950s and is going through a massive upgrade over the next 5 years.
I am also passionate about shark conservation and would like to work on a project around this issue.
What advice would you have for aspiring underwater photographers, both the craft and business?
Do what you love and shoot what you want to. Develop a style that is yours and be careful not to try to copy other good photographers. There will always be someone better than you so if you try to measure up to them or do what they do you might be disappointed. Use others work for inspiration but follow your own path and have fun along the way. Spend lots of time in the water but don’t burn out. Marketing is huge and finding ways to get your work out there is very important. You never know where your break will come from so just put your name and images out to the world and keep adding new images. You may get lucky but be practical and don’t expect results too fast. Just enjoy the journey.
Can we look at some of your most successful images and have you describe them and why you feel they are successful?
Absolutely. Here is a variety of my work.
This shot is part of a series I took in a small stream on Quadra Island this fall. Chum Salmon are big, fast Salmon so when I found a small shallow stream with a good Chum run I spent several cold hours in the river with the fish as they were nearing the end of their lifecycle. Their drive to make it upstream to spawn is amazing to see as they fight and struggle to get up small waterfalls and shallow fast running water.
This is my most popular picture and was not a planned event. I was in a swamp photographing the lilies when all of a sudden I saw a black cloud coming out of the distance. As it got closer I realized what I was seeing. A huge school of Tadpoles ( which I later learnt is called a Cloud). There were thousands of them and they kept swimming past me in a huge line that went on and on. I knew I was capturing images that were quite unique but it wasn’t till much later when the pictures got out on the internet that I realized how precious the imagery was. People from all over the world have downloaded or bought prints of these tadpoles and the comments I receive are wonderful. It is an image that surprises and intrigues peoples imagination.
Beautiful rays of sunlight penetrate the depths of the Campbell River in the Canyon and silhouette a diver. Not many people dive in this part of the river but it is a favorite place of mine to dive. It is similar to the Cenotes of Mexico.
While Diving in Browning Passage near Port Hardy BC I took this under over shot of a Lions Mane Jellyfish. Their stinging tentacles make it a bit tricky to get close but they are very photogenic.
Pink Salmon making their way up the Campbell River enroute to their spawning grounds in the Quinsam River. The Campbell River is famous for its salmon runs and people from all over the world come and do the unique Snorkel with the Salmon trip. It is a wonder to see several hundred thousand salmon swirling around you as you float down the river. I anchored myself to the bottom of a deep pool and waited for the fish to swim around me to take this shot.
As the Pink Salmon near the spawning grounds in the Quinsam River their bodies go through a transformation. The colours become vibrant and the males known as Humpies change shape quite dramatically.
These colourful lilies grow enmasse around the edges of some lakes and fill swamps during the summer. It is quite a job making your way through this tangle with SCUBA gear and a camera with a strobe extending 2 feet out. But the results are worth it as this picture shows. The light is magical as it filters through the leaves and down into the water.
While taking photos of the lilies in a swamp near Rock Bay I was being followed by these little Cutthroat Trout. They seemed to be excited by me stirring up the bottom as I swam around. Even though it looks like some of the lens is out of the water it is actually a phenomenon called Snell’s Window. When looking at the surface at less than a 45 degree angle the image underwater is reflected. More than 45 degrees and you see through the surface and capture some of the view on land, in this case the trees and grasses at the edge of the lake.
These large Yellow Water Lilies have huge striking leaves and flowers that range from yellow thru to red. This picture was taken on my first foray into swamp diving.
This image was taken during the early winter and resulted in me almost getting hypothermia from being in the river for 3 hours. But it was worth it as this picture shows a unique view of the top of a small waterfall. The emerald green water is the underneath image of the surface of the water as it flows over a log. The camera lens is split half over and half under the water to create this shot.
This shy and rarely seen Rock Greenling was happy to pose for me while I joined it in its environment which is shallow, high surge rocky areas of the BC coastline. It is one of the more colourful fish in these waters but is seldom seen by divers because of its very limited range
This surreal image was taken in a lake near my hometown that was flooded in the 1950′s as a result of a hydro electric dam. A fire burnt thru the trees before the lake was flooded but even after being submerged for more than 60 years the tree remains look like it just burnt.
A unique way to take pictures of people. From kids playing to underwater modeling, the ideas are endless for unique and ethereal pictures.
Please tell our readers where they can learn more about you.
I update my Facebook page regularly with images and stories. I have just started into the world of Twitter and Blogging. Although I would rather be out taking pictures and editing, it is the way of the future to be as connected as possible, so I do update on in these formats as well.
www.blurb.ca/bookstore/detail/3667348 Book: Scenes From Below
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