Behind the Lens: Photographing a Hawksbill Turtle Eye | Sport Diver

Behind the Lens: Photographing a Hawksbill Turtle Eye

Photo by Ellen Cuylaerts

I photographed this image of a hawksbill turtle's eye at the dive site Delwin's Delight while diving with Grand Cayman's East End dive operator Ocean Frontiers.

I saw the turtle taking little bites of a sponge. She spotted me and looked at me. I waited (I wouldn't want anybody coming up to me when I'm eating). And once she had enough, she swam very slowly past me, leaving me enough time to adjust my settings (ISO 200, f/14, 1/125 sec.). I used my strobe since I had a macro 105mm lens in and wanted to try and get more detail on the eye. I only used one strobe, manual on 4/12th of the power. (Shot was taken with D800 in a Nauticam housing, 105 Nikkor macro lens, YS-250 pro strobe.)

What is it that prompts us divers to get in the water, again and again?

Cold, dark, wet, sunny, hot, windy weather, blue water, green water, black dives and everything in between — nothing can stop the avid diver. OK, some of us are less fond of the cold and prefer warm, blue waters while others choose to enter the water like the Michelin man, dressed in layers of underclothes and a dry suit. But in the end, we're all connected. We all like to go down under — it's our choice and nobody forces us.

But what draws us? Is it an escape from everyday life, nobody asking you questions at the office, forgetting the daily buzz, a timeout from the usual responsibilities? Or is it something more — the silence and peaceful surroundings? (Although the things we sometimes witness underwater are not always peaceful, but great sources of adrenalinec... great white dives anybody?)

I enjoy every moment of the dive, even packing, preparing gear and rinsing it. I can't imagine my life without diving. Now, I try to capture the underwater beauty but I never chase pictures — my precious moments are when there is contact, a connection, with an animal.

There is no bigger reward for me as a diver than having an encounter with an animal that chooses not to swim away. Instead, the creature looks at me, with the same curiosity and respect as I look at him/her, checking each other out, thinking, what strange encounters you can have when you're having lunch on a sponge, for example.

Not only to have that contact and enjoy it, but to be able to capture it and share it with others who might never witness this beautiful underwater realm, that is my life's elixir! To look in the animal's eye and lose myself in it, so many emotions running through my body, in awe of the moment.

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.

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