How did you get started in underwater photography?
I’ve had a love for the ocean (particularly sharks) since a child and photography has been with me since my teen years, however the two didn’t merge together until much later in life. In 2012 I purchased a GoPro to capture my underwater adventures as I’d missed out on much nostalgia never diving with a camera in tow. So, I started snapping pictures and videos on almost every dive, however, looking back, one moment stands out as the tipping point that ignited my fire to move into underwater photography more seriously. I found myself in just 3ft of water filming wild lemon sharks when I noticed the beauty in reflection from the shark and mangrove roots under the water surface. This striking, symmetrical reflection hadn’t really been documented before, and on reviewing my images I relived the beauty I saw that day, that was it, I was hooked.
What came first – diving or photography?
My hunger for photography actually came as a by-product of diving. I often found myself spellbound and caught in moments beneath the waves to return home recalling the experience over and over again, on repeat, in my mind. These memories however were not enough, I needed a visual. On purchasing my first serious underwater camera I was at last given the opportunity to relive some truly incredible moments through my imagery.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
Nikon D5200 for topside and underwater, a Nikon D7100 with a Tokina 10-17mm lens dressed in a Nauticam housing, (no strobes used, only natural light) with two GoPro’s and a variety of KNEKT rigs and filters.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
I must say Bimini, The Bahamas as this is where most of my photography was taken, however I have very fond, vivid and incredible nostalgia from Borneo, Egypt and The Maldives. Bimini does however have the edge with its almost constant crystal clear waters and abundance of rich and diverse marine life. I’ve dived in Bimini endless amounts of time yet I’m still visiting and seeking out new encounters!
Most challenging dive?
In 2017, I experienced a very challenging, yet memorable and rewarding dive. Myself and the team from Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation were collaborating with divers from The Watermen Project, led by William Winram. William was targeting and tagging a selection of Bimini’s great hammerhead sharks for a scientific project. Unlike their relatives, the scalloped hammerheads, these greats are almost always seen swimming calmly towards the bottom of the water column, however on this dive we had the complete opposite.
Perses arrived with a bang! Perses is a relatively small male with a huge spirit, heaps of confidence and a bold attitude. This shark was not only at the surface, he was approaching divers with masses of self-assurance and on occasions, pushing us out of his way! With the current picking up forcing us all to work overtime and fin insanely hard, a shark controlling our movements and not really giving us an inch to dive, we found our bodies tiring, yet all of us remained focused while enjoying the presence of the shark. Of course regardless of conditions we were all still fighting to get ‘the shot’ of this beautifully rare interaction and pushed through the challenges until Perses decided to move on.
Who are your diving inspirations?
I must say Paul Nicklen for not only his shear talent above and below the water but for his passionate, and relentless voice in helping our wildlife in a whole magnitude of ways. I must also mention my good friend William Winram who remains my ultimate freediving inspiration for not only his technique, but for his experience, passion and love for all life, especially my beloved sharks.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
Sawfish are currently ranking in as my #1 species to share the water with. Sawfish are the most imperilled group of marine fishes on our planet, and I would relish the opportunity to dive with these absolutely fascinating creatures who possess a prehistoric weapon for a ‘nose’! My #1 location to visit would be the Philippines. I actually visited the Philippines in 2010 but never saw the famous thresher sharks that are commonly seen there, and for that reason, it’s back on my wish list!
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
To go for it. I spent too long justifying why I shouldn’t spend the money on a good underwater camera setup. Life has a way of encouraging people to spend money ‘more sensibly’, and it’s a trap! If you love photography, go for it and take a chance on a good rig. I have so many wonderful images taken on ordinary equipment and it’s heartbreaking to imagine what I could have captured with my current set up.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
Too many to list! As a freedive photographer I find myself always pushing boundaries and limitations but one dive stands out as my hairiest. In 2017, myself and friend Kara Norton were diving in search of eagle rays when, to our total surprise we stumbled across 30! We knew our time was limited with these rays and found ourselves caught in the moment. We both dived, captivated by the flying eagles whilst oblivious to what was going on above. We both heard boat traffic but had no idea which direction it was coming from, and from what distance. We relaxed, kept focused on each other and surfaced only when we had no choice. It was scary, it was foolish and it will never happen again.
We all get caught in moments of pure adrenaline, however my take home message will always be to plan ahead. Whether it’s checking your equipment before a dive, running through emergency protocols or simply ensuring everyone has a buddy, for me, planning is key. We should have scanned the horizon before diving, yet we didn’t. We did it on every dive as per our protocol yet we made a mistake in a moment of excitement, and that’s all it would’ve taken for a serious accident to happen. As they say, you don’t get a second chance at life, stay safe everyone.
What is your most memorable dive?
One of my most memorable dives was meeting Medusa for the first time. Medusa is one of Bimini’s most recognizable great hammerheads and her personality is bursting with sass and confidence. On freediving down to the sand I laid as flat as possible to entice her closer and to give her the feeling of control, and it worked. She swam directly towards me without hesitation and with her cephalofoil almost touching my dome port she bowed ever so slightly and glided on past. The first moment of eye contact, my heart rate lowering and my body resting on the sand created an utterly liberating experience. I was at one with this much loved apex predator with nothing but the air in my lunges, the memory carved in my mind and this image to relive the moment for future years.
Annie is a freediving underwater photographer, educator and ocean advocate. Annie’s photography and voice has been featured by giants such as National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Oceana and Shark Week, to name a few. Her passion and ambition to help save our oceans sharks has seen her donate imagery to conservationists, scientists, enthusiasts and schools to inspire the next generation, whilst challenging those who jeopardise marine ecosystems through single use plastics and unsustainable seafood choices.
Image by Matthew Potenski