Photo by Ellen Cuylaerts
Living where I live (in paradise, yes, I know), I meet a lot of very nice people: locals, tourists, divers, photographers, videographers and so on. The underwater photographers and underwater videographers are kind of a special breed, especially the amateur professionals, the ones who have a daytime job, mostly not related to diving, but who spend every holiday under water and every dime on camera gear (sound familiar?).
When they arrive at their holiday destination, in this case Grand Cayman, unpack their gear, prepare their camera, set up their dive gear and are ready to go in the water, they are sometimes so tense and excited that a little spark or a little insecurity, can ignite a huge explosion of frustration! Why, you ask?
Because underwater photographers often focus only on the nicest, biggest, greatest animal encounters — the action, the epicentre of what there is to see at a certain place. They all want the shot, an epic picture to show family and friends, maybe a picture that will get published and will give them the recognition of their patience and skills.
Well, I can assure you, fellow picture hunters, by staying calm and finding your peace, and by letting go of expectations, you can get great shots even when you are part of a busy underwater scene (lots of other divers).
An example. For this moody picture, I joined my husband Michael, who was at that time an upcoming videographer, at Devil's Grotto, just off Eden Rock Dive Center. We had heard the silversides had arrived and after experiencing that phenomenon a year earlier, we had to get in the water that day. We entered the water, made our way to the buoy at the main cathedral where we hoped to see them, descended, and yes, bingo: Tarpon and silversides at the entrance of the cave signalled the silverside frenzy inside.
We worked on our settings and entered the grotto and were immediately overwhelmed by a tick curtain of little silvery fishes, a wonderful moment. Michael saw great video opportunity, turned on his very powerful SOLA lights and started shooting — blinding me and causing blow-outs in the pictures I tried to take.
I followed the PADI rule: Stop, Breathe, Think, Act — and then I let go of the pictures I had in mind. Instead, I entered a little sideways. Sunrays trickled through a hole in the cavern and formed beautiful patterns on the sand. A small bunch of silversides swam together in the unity that's so typical of their behavior. I watched the light, the unity, the movement, and then worked on my settings, tried some shots, corrected settings, waited patiently for the missing link until the little fish formed a dense ball in the scarce sunlight: Click!
My karma for not getting frustrated! Beauty is everywhere!
This picture of silversides was taken with an Olympus EPL-2, FE 8mm, ISO 200, f4.5, 1/200 ambient light. Devil's Grotto, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.
Ellen Cuylaerts relocated four years ago from Belgium to the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman. She studied history in Antwerp and got her master's degree in modern history and education. Cuylaerts homeschools her two gifted teenagers and decided to take up scuba diving in June 2011. Soon, she became a Master Scuba Diver and took up her childhood dream of being a photographer and combined it with the wonders of the underwater world. After diving a few months, Cuylaerts signed up for a workshop on the island with renowned underwater photographer and marine biologist Dr. Alex Mustard, and she decided to use the skills she learned to spread awareness of and contribute to the conservation and preservation of the fragile marine environment.
Within the year, she won three first prizes in The Cayman National Cultural Foundation (categories: Underwater, Arts & Culture and Nature Wildlife), and last November, she placed second in the International CITA Photo Competition (Scenic and Creative) and received honorable mentions in all other categories.
Cuylaerts's basic concern is the decay of the oceans by pollution, overfishing, the brutal act of shark finning, and dolphin and whale slaughtering. By showing the beauty of the underwater world, she hopes people will start protecting what they love like Jacques Cousteau once wished.