How did you get started in underwater photography?
When I lived in France I practiced studio art nude photography. I arrived in 2007 in Tahiti, and came quickly to the evidence that a studio was not the best place to be, and that nude was not in the mood over there. As I was a diver, I started to make some underwater photography. Then I started in 2009 to swap fish with mermaids. And forgot about fish quickly.
Underwater model photography was the new challenge!
What came first – diving or photography?
I’ve been diving since about 1990 in La Guadeloupe and south of France. I started underwater photography when I moved to Tahiti in 2007.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
As little as possible. I have two Nikon D610 with 15mm and 20mm lenses. An Ikelite case (full of epoxy repairs), two GoPros for the videos (two in order to have one working) and plenty of homemade accessories like stands and lights.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
Definitely Tahiti as I’m living there. There are plenty of other fantastic destinations for shooting models underwater, but the difficulty to go there with cameras, accessories and models is such that it makes it very occasional.
Most challenging dive?
In my memory there are a couple of quite scary situations that occurred at the very beginning. My first shooting with tanks and a freediver model, when everything was still experimental, and the limits were not clearly defined – not for me or the model.
I never quite show the ‘making of’ of my shootings for this reason. Don’t do it for play, you can very easily find yourself and the model in a dangerous situation. Taking models underwater requires rules and experience.
Who are your diving inspirations?
No diving inspirations, but for underwater photography, I would say Elena Kalis.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
I want to return to the Komodos and go to Raja Ampat next year with models.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
Always be very careful about your security and your model’s security. Take assistants with you. Start in shallow water. Avoid weights on the models as much as possible. Then be creative!
What is your most memorable dive and why?
Last year when snorkelling with humpback whales I found myself in an incredible situation. I was in the water looking for the mother and baby that we had been following with the boat for some hours. They appeared finally, and passed their way some 10 metres in front of me, looking at me with one of their big eyes. The mother then suddenly made a U-turn and came in front of me, nose to nose, and stopped at one metre. Then we both hesitated and crossed right and then crossed left – I was so surprised, so confused! I made zero photos of that. But I will never forget!
Christian Coulombe (alias SMARTSHOT) has been living in French Polynesia since 2007.
He is originally from Marseilles, France, where he practiced artistic nude photography in the studio, but made the transition to underwater photography, becoming an underwater portrait and fashion photographer.
Check out his work at SMARTSHOT