How did you get started in underwater photography?
Originally I was a portrait photographer and a huge lighting nerd. While travelling, I unexpectedly fell in love with scuba diving and did a Divemaster course. During that period, I dedicated so much time to scuba and had to leave my camera at home. In the end, I couldn’t decide between my two passions so it was only natural to make them work together. I bit the bullet and bought a housing for my DSLR and haven’t looked back since.
What came first – diving or photography?
Photography – five years before diving.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
Camera-wise, a Nikon D500, Nikkor 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E Ed (the sharpest lens in the game!) with Magic Filter for natural light situations, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AF-S VR MICRO. I also use a Subal Housing with a Zen DP200 Dome Port, and in terms of lighting, two Inon Z330s with 4600k filters.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
So far, I have invested most of my opportunities in Indonesia. Raja Ampat is perhaps the ultimate wide-angle paradise. I would love to see Halmahera again and the Sangir/Sangihe Archipelago north of Sulawesi.
Most challenging dive (and why)?
With a camera, it would be Southern Slope of Cape Kri, Dampier Strait. Either you are limited with a no-decompression limit (NDL) or partial pressure on an enriched air mix while shooting the schooling sweetlips down at 40m, or you are battling to stay down against the upward current above the split point where all the other schooling fish hang out.
It is a true spectacle of nature to see so many different species schooling in a small area but it is near impossible to get near them for a proper composition without getting blown over the reef or disturbing them. The challenge makes it such a fun dive – with or without the camera!
Who are your diving inspirations?
Every time I am on my computer I come across a new image or photographer that inspires me. Anyone who is motivated to pick up a camera and get out there to improve and create beautiful images is an inspiration to me. That mentality is so contagious. I’m going to regret missing some names, but off the top of my head: Paul Nicklen, Andre Musgrove, Daan Verhoeven, Maxwell Hohn, François Baelen, Alex Tyrrell, Alex Mustard, Alex Rose, Greg Lecoeur and Sonja Geier. Look them up, they will blow you away!
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
The Bahamas for freediving in the crystal clear waters with sharks and shallow wrecks, Maldives for the mantas and more sharks, Tonga for the whales, Micronesia for the wrecks, and Mexico for more freediving in the Cenotes in perfect visibility and amazing one-of-a-kind lighting. This list will only get longer with time.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
Making a good image is all about problem solving. The better you get on land, the easier it will be to manage amongst all of the other priorities that come with being underwater such as air supply, NDLs, narcosis, currents, buoyancy, personal safety, environmental preservation and who knows what else. Aside from that, get good at using natural light before going crazy with strobes – they are not always the answer.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
On a self-reliant night dive, I was focused on photographing a nudibranch and when I looked up, I had a box jellyfish swimming in front of my face and it almost stung me. Though I had all the safety and redundancy measures equipped, I was not prepared for that! The exact same thing happened the following night in almost the same location. Quite eerie when diving alone at night.
What is your most memorable dive and why?
Diving the underwater volcano just south of Sangihe – Mataputung (which translates from Bahasa Indonesia into The Eyes of Fire). On that particular day, the visibility was well beyond 50 metres and on one end of the site was lush reef as far as the eye could see, and on the other side was a bubbly sulfur-rich landscape that I had never seen before. The slope of the crater started just below the surface and plummeted deep down beyond visibility. I’ve never had a dive like that before or since. It is worth noting that while at the nearby volcanic island we could also hear and feel the intermittent rumbling of the volcano during our dive. I have never felt so small!
Tony was born in Odessa, Ukraine but raised in Vancouver, Canada for most of his life. He started photography in 2009 and after formal training through a photography programme, he discovered scuba diving in 2014. Since then he has moved to Asia and has expanded his skill set to include freediving. Currently he is based in Koh Tao, Thailand.
Aside from being an underwater photographer and photography instructor, Tony is a PADI Divemaster/Master Scuba Diver with ~2000 dives. Alongside scuba, Tony is a freediving instructor (SSI Level 2 Instructor and Molchanovs Wave 2 Instructor), currently being able to hold his breath for 6:14 and also dive on breath hold to 44 metres. He continues to photograph and teach underwater with and without a tank – whatever the occasion calls for.