Thursday January 19th, 2017
This month, I attended a small underwater photography exhibition called Ocean Planet in Ginza, Tokyo. One major theme in Japan when it comes to the oceans, and especially at this time of year, is the Tohoku region, which was hit by the March 11th 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Six years since the disaster, it’s still a huge topic, and the exhibition was an opportunity to think about that through a series of photos taken off the Onagawa area, and enjoy more light-hearted subjects such as whale sharks in Mexico and nudibranchs in Indonesia.
Underwater photographer Hiroyuki Tomura is from Saitama near Tokyo, and his work has recently been attracting much attention. Photography became something to accompany his diving, until he decided to study it more formally. An avid scuba diver, he has dived in various locations around the world and is always amazed at the beauty and diversity of the marine life he sees. Through his work and company (also called Ocean Planet), he hopes to raise awareness of our oceans and inspire others who are interested in taking up underwater photography. I took the opportunity to find out more about him and his work.
— What made you become an underwater photographer?
“I used to dive for fun in places like Okinawa and Izu, and began taking photos while doing so. I started to take photography seriously when I decided that I wanted as many people as possible around the world to see, and learn more about, the underwater environment that I was seeing and capturing.”
— What is the most important thing when taking photos underwater? What do you make sure you do?
“I focus on the distance between myself and my subject and check that my diving skills, such as buoyancy, are up to scratch.”
— What skills do you need to become a professional photographer?
“People define the word professional in different ways so it’s hard to answer, but if we are talking about someone who takes photos for a living, not someone who is just very good at taking photos, then he or she would need detailed knowledge of underwater photography to begin with. You need the skills to take good photos, but how can you put those skills to work on land, not just in the water? That’s worth bearing in mind. I’d also say the ability to market your work, convey a message and treasure the encounters you have and the connections you make.”
— What camera do you use?
“I use a mirrorless camera, Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It’s small, and easy to retake photos. It’s easy to operate in the water too!”
— Where do you like taking photos, and how often do you dive each year?
“Recently I’ve been diving quite a bit in Indonesia and the Maldives. I take a lot of photos of shipwrecks, so I like Micronesia, the Philippines and Palau. In one year, I’d say I spend over a third of my time in the water.”
—What’s been your most impressive or dangerous encounter underwater? Any special experiences?
“I’m always blown away by the ocean because it’s full of things that are very impressive. I’m easily impressed when I’m able to capture a subject I’d been aiming for but when I come across something I didn’t think I would…those unexpected encounters…I love those as well. I don’t think I’ve had any dangerous experiences underwater when it comes to marine life. I have had problems with my gear at deeper depths, which has been a bit scary, but luckily my buddy was there to help.”
— At the exhibition, you displayed a set of photos that were taken off Onagawa in Tohoku. How do you think the ocean has recovered since the disaster? Can you tell me a bit about changes in marine life, topography and seabed?
“I dived in the affected areas about a year after the disaster, and to begin with the seabed was covered in rubble. I saw a lot of things such as daily items and fishing gear. But thanks to friends who have been persistently removing rubble from the water and cleaning the seabed, the number of such items has gone down considerably in Onagawa. Incidentally, that is where I usually dive when I go to Tohoku. But the amount of debris is only going down because people are entering the water and working as hard as they can. I have heard that some areas still cannot be reached and a lot of debris remains. Compared to immediately after the disaster, marine life has recovered and towns and houses are being rebuilt, but it’s too early to say that the region has completely recovered.”
— Can you tell me about your future plans, places you want to dive this year, and any goals you have for 2017?
“I’d love to find more and more inspiration from around the world. There are too many places I want to go to right now! My goal for this year is probably to build even more on the themes I have been working on, and for as many people as possible to know more about me and my work. I’d love people to become interested in the sea because of me.”
— Lastly, do you have any advice for people who want to become professional underwater photographers?
“Continue. A photographer who I very much admire said this exact word to me. I would say continue, but always keep an image of the future you want in your mind. Never give up.”
As divers, we have all read books and articles on underwater photography, and there are a lot of amazing photos out there, but sometimes those photos can feel out of reach. What I enjoyed about Hiroyuki’s exhibition was how simple and accessible it was. Looking at his photos, I felt that I, too, may one day be able to take such photos. Not only was the exhibition thoroughly accessible, but it was also easy to understand, and a good primer for those of us who are passionate about diving and want to capture our experiences as more than just memories.
To see more of Hiroyuki’s photos, visit his website at http://hiroyuki-tomura.com