INTERVIEW WITH DIGANT C. DESAI
DIGANT DESAI is one of the most talented and best marine photographers of our generation. He has won international and national awards. His underwater photography work is considered exemplary and it inspires the photographers to venture into a less explored world. We are honored to have Mr. Desai sharing about his passion and inputs on Marine Photography.
When did you start photography and how did you begin your journey in this field?
Photography was always on my mind, but the journey began in the mid eighties with a heavy leaning on Nature and Wildlife. Having won some awards and being published in a few magazines, this gypsy lifestyle came to an abrubt halt when my first child, a daughter was born in 1996. Domestic life and responsibilities took a firm hold for 10 years at which point the itch was back. So I took the plunge again, literally, and decided to abandon terra firma photography to explore and photograph the underwater realm. This was end 2006. The world was now digital and I had only experience with films and transparencies, so the learning curve was a heavy one with so many parameters that the digital realm has to offer. Starting off with a small prosumer camera/housing/strobes, I moved to micro 4/3rd’s and now use a DSLR with housing and other accessories.
Can you write a few lines about underwater photography?
First, you have to become a good diver with all skills properly understood and mastered, most important being buoyancy. Photography has an inherent ingredient, ‘LIGHT’ that makes or breaks a picture. So understanding light in underwater is of paramount importance, as you loose the colour spectrum in the reverse order of VIBGYOR, starting with red after about 8-10 meters and progressing to orange, yellow and so forth, till one is in pitch darkness after about 60 meters.
Third and most important is to realize that objects look closer than they are in water and therefore getting close to the subject is very important followed by the next rule, which is getting even closer. Using lights or underwater strobes is equally important to bring out colours.
Finally, studying and understanding underwater habitat and marine denizen and their behavior allows you to recognize, as also take some great photos.
How did you get interested in underwater photography? What are the challenges involved in it?
Like I said earlier, having ‘been there and done that’ as far as terrestrial nature photography is concerned, I wanted to try something new. So on a holiday in Mauritius in 2006, a trial dive in the pool hooked me. Post that, I went for my very first ‘discover scuba’ dive in the open ocean. What an experience that was! There was an Italian couple and myself with the dive master. Adrenalin pumping, I was totally ready to jump in. My fellow co-divers seemed a little nervous though. Off we went, ‘back rolling’ into an aqua world. On our way down to the reef, which would have been around 8-10m, there was a feeling of ‘spacelessness’, difficult to describe. And then to behold the myriad colors of varied species of fish and coral was like a painting I had never seen. All my nervousness vanished, and I was completely enamored and engrossed by this moving palette, oblivious to the dive master and my co-divers. Suddenly the dive master was struggling to keep the co-divers below as they seemed a little panicky. They seemed to be floating upwards, which is the last thing that should happen on a dive. Holding the two of them, he made me kneel down on the sand and asked me to wait there…. alone!! Time stood still. At first I was calm and the fish swimming around me had my complete attention. But as time passed I started to get a wee bit nervous. The relief was herculean when I saw the dive master return. He then took me on a 20-minute dive. This was “that’ moment in time. I was totally hooked and decided to capture this beautiful world on camera.
Assuming that you already understand the basics of photography the challenges underwater are myriad. A few important one’s are:
• The better the diver you are the easier it will be to get good images.
• Patience and then some more patience is required to not only handle your gear underwater but to also set it up and then post dive, care for it. Cause one tiny mistake will flood the housing and ruin your equipment. Also improper care post dives, can ruin your housing and controls due to corrosion, as salt-water exposure of your equipment is a constant ingredient.
• Understanding light underwater is one of the key challenges to getting good images.
• Its best to predetermine what you want to shoot as it’s not always easy to change from macro to wide and vice-versa underwater.
• Time is limited due to the air in your tank, so visualizing, conceptualizing and then executing in a short duration is not easy. Each dive on an average, depending on depth and currents etc. can be around 60 minutes.
• Equipment is not cheap and most times the housing is more expensive than the camera.
• Placement of lights is also important and a huge challenge as there is a lot of particulate matter floating in the water, which can ruin the images.
Can you write a few lines about your frame of mind, thoughts and emotions when you get into the water for photography?
Photography underwater for me has a complete rejuvenating effect, physically, emotionally and mentally. Completely enveloped with a feeling of spaceless-ness diving and photography take me to states of ‘ekagrata’, or in other words, ‘one-pointed’ awareness or concentration, the ability to focus the mind on an object without distraction for extended periods of time. These silent and peaceful moments, totally engrossed, away from the devil called mind is the driving emotive force.
Did you anytime feel threatened or unsafe while doing your photography under water?
I believe that it’s always a good idea to respect the environment you are in. Its also not a good idea to have a footloose and fancy free attitude underwater. There have also been times that I have aborted dives due to the weather or lack of confidence in handling my gear in the given environment on a particular day, but ‘no’ I have not felt threatened or unsafe.
Do you feel that underwater photography is picking up fast in India or is it taking time as people are apprehensive about trying it assuming that it is difficult?
Diving is certainly picking up at a very fast pace in India especially after movies such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dubara. And as I understand, capturing those moments is the next step once you are hooked on to diving. So yes it is indeed picking up. There have been many that have asked me for equipment as also taken lessons.
What are your goals and future plans related to Photography?
My primary goal is to capture the underwater realm for people to see and in turn help in its preservation and conservation. Next in line is to get a coffee table book on the marine environment in and around India and Asia. This is already in the pipeline and work is in progress. We already take dive trips for Indian divers around the world and starting 2017 am starting underwater photo classes as well as an underwater equipment advisory.
What is your advice to the photographers on underwater photography? A few lines on do’s and don’ts?
• Please respect the environment and its residents.
• If your inherent nature is not the extremely patient kind, please rethink before jumping in.
• The better the diver you are the easier it will be to take pictures underwater.
• Be clear in your head before getting into underwater photography. Ask questions such as Why do I want to take images? What would I do with the images? Do I want to take this up professionally? Such questions will clear your mind as to what kind of camera equipment you may need.Budget options start from point and shoots, going up for prosumer, mirrorless, DSLR’s and full frame cameras progressively.
• Its best to select camera’s that have manual capabilities i.e. you have the choice to select shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and shooting in RAW is feasible.
• Finally, nothing ventured nothing gained. Go out and try new techniques, don’t procrastinate, try new gear. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed are your subjects underwater. This is especially true for large pelagics, sharks etc.
• Do not push yourself beyond your limits.
• Good Luck and Dive Safe.
Thank You Mr. Digant Desai for sharing your experiences and underwater photography tips with us.
With Love & Passion
Smile Art Beats