Singapore-based underwater photographer William Tan, 48, has been diving for decades and shooting professionally for nearly as long. He was certified to dive in 1994 and immediately began shooting underwater.
Sport Diver Asia Pacific: Where did you first start diving?
William Tan: I was certified as an open water diver in 1994. First overseas dive trip was to Manado.
SDAP: What camera did you first use and what camera system do you use now?
WT: I bought a Sea & Sea Motor Marine II with a Sea & Sea YS60 strobe in 1994. Barely a year later, I switched to a Nikon F90X in a Nexus housing with two YS120 strobes. Since 2012, I shoots with a Canon 5D3 in a Nexus Housing with two Inon Z240 strobes.
SDAP: What type of photography do you prefer?
WT: I find macro photography challenging. Not only do you need to know the behaviours of your subjects you also need to react fast enough to tastefully compose those split-second moments. Before the days of powerful wet filters, I discovered a method to shoot super macro up to four times life-size. That helped me claim a niche in the industry. My eyesight is getting worse now, and when the guessing of minute focusing differences became too cumbersome in the recent years, I discovered the joy of wide-angle photography.
SDAP: Underwater photographers seem to have an ability to look at the underwater world and know what sort of picture could be made, in a way that's not obvious to the nonphotographer looking at the same site. Is that something you are born with or a learned trait?
WT: I think it is through years of experience that underwater photographers learn to assess conditions to predict if it is possible to get good images at a certain site with the setup that they are so used to.
SDAP: What is your most memorable moment underwater?
WT: Having a two-month-old rescued orphaned baby dugong resting quietly within my arm, occasionally descending to suck on my toe. I couldn’t stop smiling for days after.
SDAP: Any scary moments underwater?
WT: Experiencing a strong underwater earthquake in Ambon and being pulled down deep by the sudden current was probably the scariest moment I experienced.
One time, we discovered sperm whales behind Manado Tua, and I went in the water to photograph them. When a curious adult moved towards me, I swam quickly towards it with my eyes fixed on the camera’s viewfinder. Instead of getting the whale to gradually fill up the frame through my fisheye lens, I was puzzled when it became smaller and smaller. It was only when I took my eyes off the camera, I realized my guide was grabbing onto my waist, frantically swimming in the direction of the boat, trying to get us to safety.
SDAP: Where have your images been published?
WT: Other than two published books, Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise and Silent Symphony, my work has also been featured in Scuba Diving (USA), Marine Photo (Japan), DivingWorld (Japan), Sukeltajan maailma (Finland), Sportdiving (Australia), Mergulho (Brazil), Scuba Diver Australasia (Singapore), Asian Diver (Singapore), Daily Telegraph (England), TravelCom (Taiwan), EZDive (Taiwan), Chinese National Geographic (China), and ProDiver (China).
SDAP: What are you proudest of?
WT: Assisting in discovering and naming of a new Genus and species of pygmy pipehorse (Kyonemichthys rumengani). Instead of getting my name on it as many had suggested, I convinced the scientist to name the species after the local dive guide who discovered the animal.
SDAP: Are there any underwater photographers you admire?
WT: Ned Deloach and David Doubilet are two mentors who shaped my style in underwater photography. Ned also always informs me on the latest discoveries in new critters and the newest behavior observations, while David usually pulls me aside to shows me his most updated camera equipments and talks about the techniques to use them. I am indebted to their kindness forever.
SDAP: What advice do you have for beginning photographers?
WT: When you meet a professional photographer, buy him a beer and ask him questions. If he is not talking, buy him something stronger!
SDAP: Where are you going next?
WT: By the time you read this, I’ll have returned from Lembeh Strait. I am also looking forward to Brunei this June and Mabul in November.