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An Underwater Expedition with Stephen Frink

His career as a photographer spans over three decades. He's the world's most celebrated underwater photographer and is the publisher of Alert Diver magazine for the Divers Alert Network (DAN America). We at Fotoflock are excited to bring to you an interview with renowned photographer Stephen Frink who not only teaches master-level courses in underwater photography but also leads dive travel expeditions all over the world. Read on and discover a whole new world of underwater photography.

 

You almost had a blink-and-miss early tryst with underwater photography before you finally became a pro at it few years later. Can you describe to us what attracted you to photography? When and where did you learn to dive? And, when did you find your calling as an underwater photographer?
I went to graduate school for a degree in psychology, and just for fun I took some photography classes. I found that far more compelling and never did work in psychology. My career was photography, but topside only at the beginning and mostly as a darkroom technician. While in school I wanted a job, part-time cleaning yacht hulls. They said they’d hire me but I had to be a certified diver.

"A good underwater photographer needs to have good dive skills and extraordinary buoyancy control in order to gain proximity to skittish marine life.”

That’s really the reason I became a diver, and the underwater photography happened much later, in Hawaii and the Florida Keys. As emotionally connected as I was to photography in general, it was a small fin-kick into underwater photography. But, it wasn’t until I made the decision to move to Key Largo to open a studio to rent cameras and process E-6 film that I truly began to earn money with my underwater photography.

What sets this (underwater) genre of wildlife photography apart from the others? What are the virtues of a good underwater photographer?
The physics of underwater are self-limiting. Water is 800 times denser than air and has a cyan color filtration. This means we have to work close to our subjects. Also, color goes away as a function of depth, so to restore color we use artificial lights … submersible strobes. A good underwater photographer needs to have good dive skills and extraordinary buoyancy control in order to gain proximity to skittish marine life.

Is post-production inevitable in underwater photography? How much of post-production work do you do on your images?
Post-production is inevitable with digital photography. I tend to not do too much, but perhaps some exposure tweaks and boosting the blacks in Lightroom on most images. But, these are more refinements than large shifts in image integrity.

"Learn to be a good writer too. Photos aren’t enough these days, and in fact it wasn’t enough even back when I was starting out in the early 1980s. I had to be able to write articles for print, and now I suppose it is for blogs and social media too."

I don’t use Photoshop except for backscatter removal and maybe some content aware cloning of excessive logos for some stock photo agency’s requirements. I edit in Photo Mechanic, process in Lightroom, and occasionally go to Photoshop for special tasks.

What tips would you give to aspiring underwater photographers?
Learn to be a good writer too. Photos aren’t enough these days, and in fact it wasn’t enough even back when I was starting out in the early 1980s. I had to be able to write articles for print, and now I suppose it is for blogs and social media too. Be conscious of your legal rights and exercise them rigorously against any infringements or misappropriation of photos. It is easy to do on the web, as we all know in this era of Facebook and Instagram. But, just because it may be fun to share, don’t allow that mindset to demean the commercial value of your work.

What would you say is a perfect day for you on assignment?
Slick calm, 84-degree water, 200-foot viz, and schooling great white sharks and queen angelfish. Of course, neither are fish that would school or even be together. But you asked for perfection, not reality.

What is the most old-fashioned piece of photography technology that you can’t live without?
There is an exposure test slate we use when I teach my Digital Masters Classes. It is VERY old school, but quite handy in testing strobe power and distance estimation.

What gear do you shoot with and what other equipment apart from the camera do you use on your assignments?
SEACAM housing for Canon 5DMKIII at the moment, with both Ikelite and SEACAM strobes.

How long do you generally spend on a single assignment and how much of planning is involved?
3 to 10 days on location is typical for me, and my wife coordinates much of the travel through our reservations and travel company, WaterHouse Tours.

If you were allowed to showcase just one photograph from your entire collection, which one would it be and why? (Can you please share the image too?)
There is an image I took of my daughter swimming with a bottlenose dolphin when she was just 3 ½ years old. She is 21 now and graduating from Duke University this year. She is very respectful of the ocean and the fish and marine mammals that swim therein. I like to think encounters like this helped to make her a better world citizen.

Having been associated with the underwater wildlife for so long, you are a first-hand witness to adverse effects of the climate change, shark fishing, and other unmentionables.  Would you please make a plea for our readers to as and how we can do our bit to help protect Earth’s marine life?
Don’t eat what you love. The world’s fishing fleets are extracting at an unsustainable rate. They are too efficient and indiscriminate. To blindly devour whatever fish is put upon one’s plate is unconscionable. They should research what fish is sustainably caught or farmed and choose dining options accordingly. I find it so ironic to be with someone on a dive boat who is happy to eat a grouper they might have photographed a few hours earlier.

Ocean is full of wonders. But what would you rate as your favorite underwater subject to photograph?
Great white sharks.

What are the latest projects you are working on? Can you brief us on some of them?
As publisher of Alert Diver Magazine I am juggling many projects simultaneously. Currently I’m editing and writing about our recent photo expedition to Komodo, Indonesia and prepping for a humpback whales excursion to the Silver Bank of the Dominican Republic.

Where can our readers keep a track of all your works and the news you make? (Please share all the links web / social media where we can find your work)
https://www.facebook.com/sfrink
www.stephenfrink.com
www.waterhousetours.com
www.stephenfrinkphoto.com
www.alertdiver.com
www.instagram.com/stephenfrink

More Photos by Stephen Frink

QUICK 7
  • Favorite location: Bahamas
  • Favorite subject: My wife and daughter. But, additionally, great whales and sharks.
  • Favorite non-photography equipment: Porsche 911
  • Best advice received on photography: Hold on to your copyright!
  • Best compliment received on your photograph: “You must have composited those leaping dolphins in Photoshop!”
  • Something you’re still learning: Learning to make the very best printed magazine on press with Alert Diver.
  • Photographer you admire most and why: Paul Nicklen, for the physical and geographic lengths he goes to get the shot, and the skill and intuition he applies in every shooting scenario.