Scuba Diver talks to Underwater Photographer Simon Lorenz Q&A
What inspired you to first get into underwater photography
Even on my very first dive I had an immediate impulse to take photos. Having always been a photographer above water it seemed logical to immediately start taking pictures. I love showing people photos to explain different animals and their behaviour. So against the advice of my dive mentors I got my first camera with only 15 dives under my belt and proceeded to gobble up even more air than before. A continuous cycle of camera upgrades followed and I never dove without a camera, only taking a break while I did my divemaster and instructor certifications.
Do you have a preference for either Macro or Wide angle
Being in the water is the most important thing, so depending on where I am I like to vary the photography to what makes most sense for the environment at the time. Often I switch lenses between two dives. In Hong Kong, where I live, the visibility is often poor, so my wide-angle lenses stay home most of the time.
But, given the choice, I am definitely a wide-angle guy and particularly wildlife. I like wreck diving and photography but caves for example bore me after a bit. There is the thrill of being close to wildlife and underwater we can get very close. It is a game of not disturbing the animal and getting as close as possible – the more you play it the better you get.
In wide-angle photography I feel there is more behaviour observation and interaction with the subject. Sometimes there are palpable signs of acceptance and even trust from the animals.
With macro I find that I peer at my subject through the viewfinder like through a microscope, but I really enjoy the wider creative possibilities which is why most of my photo workshops are primarily dedicated to macro. Macro is much more of a creative outlet for me.
What lead you to set up Insider Divers
For me and my friends I was always the trip organizer. I would work hard to get the best possible season, operator, and trip. It would irk me to have to compromise on the route or the activities just to make it right for a few people. And few of my friends wanted to do the crazy trips I had in mind, so many trips remained in draft stage – or I had to go by myself.
But, diving is so much better in a group of like-minded people. When I couldn’t get a big enough group together it would frustrate me when certain dives were not possible because we were sharing the boat with divers with different interests. Operators are not ready to change their plans for a small group, but as a full charter I can do what I think is best.
Since running my own trips I can tailor-make the activities to fit our intentions – which is to learn something about the marine environment and get great photos.
I find many dive operations too focussed on providing a show of wildlife, rather than a learning experience. So, on our trips we always focus on learning a bit during the trip – by meeting experts, participating in citizen science or having talks about relevant topics. I want us all to be Ocean Insiders – which is how I came to choose the name of the company.
What is has been your greatest achievement.
In 2018 I received the award for German Underwater Photographer of the year. This was a major breakthrough, as the Germany has some of the best underwater photographers in the world. I think I got lucky that year, but I am still immensely proud.
How have you been keeping busy through the pandemic
At first I started Insider Academy a platform for webinars about the underwater world and diving. We hosted around 30 talks before the overall webinar-fatigue ended cooled that off after a while.
Since the first lock down travel for us has been completely restricted, which lead to an explosion of local diving in Hong Kong. A friend asked me to help set up a new dive shop in Hong Kong, Sai Kung Scuba. Now Sai Kung Scuba has fun diving, a dive school and a shop, so that kept me busy for the majority of 2020.
Currently I am working on a book and a project to teach school kids more about the ocean.
How has using Prescription lenses changed your dive?
Total game changer. I always hated contact lenses, especially under water. When my eye doctor told me about the risks of iris infection due to salt water I got clip-in lenses in a Mares mask but I never felt like I could see properly.
When I got my first Prescription Lens set up for my Hollis M1 mask at OzTek 2015 I could hardly believe that I had dived for 10 years without such clear vision. Both in my work as a photographer and dive leader, perfect vision is paramount to spot creatures and line up shots. I would never dive with a normal mask again.
Which destination would you most like to visit?
The number one on my destination-wish-list is Dominica. I have started free diving a lot more in recent years and have been running whale snorkelling trips with blue whales, pilot whales and humpbacks. But my big dream is being in the water with Sperm Whales, and Dominica is the place to be.
I also have some a list of places that I want to explore – Tahiti and Malpelo are high on the list. St Helena has recently opened flight connections and first boats are going to Helen Reef now.
And I have a dream to dive with a GPO – Giant Pacific Octopus – on the North-west coast of America.
A question we always ask in our Q&As is, what is your most memorable moment in diving?
One key dive was diving in South West Rocks with all the sharks around with just one buddy. Australia has given me some of my very top exeriences. In fact my first published article was about the diving in New South Wales.
Another top moment was the last dive of a week in Palau. We had arrived just after a typhoon had left so the amazing sites were not as clear water as usual. On the last day we had still not seen the mantas and it was just at the beginning of the special Jan/Feb season where the mantas can be seen feeding in the mouth of German Channel. We had tried the site in the morning just to encounter green and empty water.
My group didn’t want to waste the last dive of the trip, and in fact of 2017 as it was new year. But the guide and me had a good feeling and pushed it through. After about 5 mins we have 10 Manta Rays barrel feeding within touching distance in clear water. For the entire dive. The combination of seeing this unique manta behaviour and the success of a gamble made this one of my very best dives.
On the flipside of that what is your worst diving memory?
Probably my worst dive was my first working day after receiving my divemaster qualification in Komodo. My instructor thought it was funny to let me guide the Cauldron a.k.a. Shotgun, one of my favorite dives but a tricky dive at strong current. I lost two divers who got sucked over the canyon and the other divers ran out of air. That not enough the two lost divers took their jolly time surfacing and I almost had a seizure when they joyfully appeared after 20mins.
But embarrassing moments in front of my guests have been memorably for my guests too. For photographers preach to do three test shots on the camera – in the camera room, on the boat and just under the water line. To lead with a bad example I showed a big group at Blue Corner in Palau how it is not done. When we reached the site I lined up the first shot and realized I had left my lens cap on. It was going to be an epic dive with many great photo ops and an unusable camera rig in my hands. Its become a running joke amongst some of my regulars.
What does the future hold for Simon Lorenz?
For now everyone in the dive industry is hoping that the virus will be contained and we can travel again. Currently I am hoping that by August 2021 we can start our trips again which would mean Kalimantan, Maldives, Truk Lagoon, Timor Leste and Socorro Islands.
For Insider Divers we are working to expand our offering particularly for whale trips and more expert group leaders, we call them Insiders. We have a couple of special trips in the making – for example a shark citizen science trip and exploring far-off reefs like Helen Reef between Palau and Raja Ampat.
But until travel is possible again I will be working on a dive book about Hong Kong dive sits.
My biggest inspiration are photographers who create new photographic directions like Christian Vizl, Tobias Friedrich and Eduard Acevedo. These days every photo competition brings out new talents some of which quickly become inspiring influencers like Shane Gross, Grant Thomas or Alex Kidd. I am fascinated by Florian Fischer’s Behind the Mask, who are able to create videos that make your heart beat uncontrollably with longing for the next dive. As a dive leader I am inspired by people like Amos Nachoum and Andy Murch who created the most outstanding and daring experiences for dive groups.
Click here for Scuba Diver ANZ issue 31