How did you get started in underwater photography?
I’ve never had a photography background, but after a trip to Bali and Gili Trawangan in Indonesia back in 2013 something clicked and I was adamant that I wanted to become an underwater photographer. Having the joy of seeing manta rays for the first time while there but only capturing record shots was suddenly not good enough for me. On my return home I scrolled the internet and enlisted the help of Frogfish Photography to improve my skills.
What came first – diving or photography?
Diving certainly came first, although I’d been doing a lot of travelling with a point and shoot. It was diving that made me want to learn about photography.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
My underwater photography kitbag includes an Olympus EM10 with Nauticam housing, 8mm fisheye lens with dome port, 60mm macro lens and port, 9-18mm lens and port, two Inon Z-240 strobes, Nauticam CMC-1, Retra LSD snoot and video light. I also have a GoPro to shoot video while I take still shots.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
This is a tricky one as I’ve had some truly special moments in a range of places. I love the diversity and macro life of the Philippines. While I love the sharks in the Bahamas and mantas in the Maldives. Socorro and Baja California are great for big pelagics too. I think Jardines de la Reina, Cuba has to be my most successful trip for photography though. Swimming with Crocs is one of my new favourite things after visiting there last year.
Most challenging dive?
My most challenging dive came in Revillagigedo Archipelago (more commonly known as Socorro). We dropped on top of the reef and worked our way to the edge to drop off. However, the swell was just like being in a washing machine and threw us up and down over the edge. My fin got ripped off as it caught on a rock. Luckily for me it hit my dive buddy and he was able to hold on to it and bring it to me once we got out the swell. The strap had broken, which made finning quite difficult and the dive ended up being the shortest of the trip.
Who are your diving inspirations?
As I say, I learnt with Nick and Caroline of Frogfish Photography, so they’ve been a big influence on my development through the years. Other photographers such as Alex Mustard, Paul Nicklen, Brian Skerry and many more continue to inspire me through their work.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list?
It’s a big world out there with lots more to explore. Orcas are high up on my list. I would also love to visit the Amazon and photograph anacondas and caiman crocs as it would be a new experience photographing freshwater predators. In terms of location, then Raja Ampat, Galapagos and Cocos Islands are the top three for me.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
I honestly can’t think of anything that really stands out. At first I was probably naive to think it would be a lot easier to make a career – or at least a part time career – out of underwater photography. It’s a lot more difficult than I initially thought, but too be fair I was told that by many people at the start of my journey. Now I continue to work hard at improving my skills and marketing myself. I then take everything as it comes and am grateful for any opportunity I get.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
It was probably when I decided to go for a swim at night with 20 plus silky sharks hanging around our liveaboard boat. Many of us got in the night before with them and with so many people in the water it was a lot less intimidating. However, on this particular night I got in on my own and after half hour the sharks were getting more and more inquisitive with me, and I found myself getting approached from all sides and being bumped. It’s not often I feel the need to leave the water because of sharks, but I didn’t want to push my luck in this situation and decided it was best to get out.
What is your most memorable dive?
Again another difficult one as there has been some very special dives along the way. One seems to spring to mind more than others and that was in Mabul Island, Sabah, Borneo in 2015. It was a night dive on the house reef with a new dive buddy I’d met on the trip. I’d recently purchased a macro lens and the number one critter I wanted to photograph in my new macro venture was a blue-ringed octopus. So imagine my surprise when I found my first one while cruising the reef at five metres! No need for a guide either, making it that much sweeter and I also got some photos I was really happy with.
Sean Chinn’s journey into underwater photography began after a trip to Bali and Gili Trawangan in Indonesia back in 2013, where his mission with a camera in hand started. He is a contributor for www.scubaverse.com and you can check out his work on Instagram @GreatWhiteSean or his website: http://greatwhitesean.com