PICS: SA photographer named one of the best Underwater Photographers of 2017

2017-02-15 10:31 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Town - A South African underwater and aerial photographer is making waves with big international names as he has been named as one of the best Underwater Photographers of 2017

Jean Tresfon, South African photographer and conservationist working intensively in the Cape region in SA, was named Runner-up in the Behaviour Category for an incredibly beautiful image showing a humpback whale feeding on krill. 

This is his story - 

"Every summer hundreds of humpback whales gather off the Cape Town coast in a massive feeding aggregation. Working as part of a film crew I was privileged to have a chance to photograph this phenomenon. 

Although the water visibility was really good, inside the krill patch it was much reduced. Without warning the whales appeared just metres away with their pleats distended as they surfaced with huge mouthfuls of krill. 

Realising that they must be feeding deeper down I descended into the darker water to find the thickest concentration of krill. Suddenly a humpback appeared right in front of me, its huge mouth wide open as it sieved the water for the tiny crustaceans. I took several images before it disappeared into the gloom and then I was surrounded by a multitude of massive bodies as the rest of the pod took its turn to feed. 

Not a little intimidating!"

Take a look: 

According to UPY 2017 chair of the jury for 2016 Peter Rowlands, the image stood out not only for the intimacy it provided to the animals' behaviour but also because the "framing is well timed with great eye contact". 

The overall winning title for the 2017 UPY went to Gabriel Barathieu from France for this image "Dancing Octopus". Baratheiu’s photograph triumphed over 4 500 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 67 different countries. 

Barathieu says, "I had to wait for a low spring tide when the water was just 30cm deep so that the octopus would fill the water column. I got as close as possible with a wide angle lens to create this image, which makes the octopus look huge.

"Both balletic and malevolent, this image shows an octopus that really means business as it hunts. The way it moves is so different from any predator on land, this truly could be an alien from another world, commented competition judge, Alex Mustard. It was taken in knee deep water, showing that underwater photography is open to anyone who is prepared to dip their toe in the water," he says. 

You can see the full gallery of winning and commended photographs here: 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year winners

Rowlands says he has been "captivated not only by the winning images but also by the stories behind how those images were achieved."

Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition that seeks to celebrate photography beneath the surface of the sea, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools. British photographer Phil Smith was the first underwater Photographer of the Year, named in 1965.

Today’s competition has 10 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as three categories for photos taken specifically in British waters. This year’s judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Martin Edge and Alex Mustard. 

Tresfon is the only local photographer to be named in the acclaimed international competition this year. We caught up with him to ask him about his love for the diving and protecting the incredible creatures he captures on camera. 

Here are 5 Quick Questions answered by Jean Tresfon: 

Traveller24: Where was the image taken? Why were you filming/photographing in that particular area? 

Jean Tresfon: The image was shot just offshore from Oudeschip, near Hout Bay, in Cape Town. Several hundred humpback whales had gathered in a massive feeding aggregation to consume the huge pockets of krill that were present in the nutrient rich waters of the Atlantic Seaboard. I was part of a film crew team that had a permit to document this incredible behaviour.

Traveller24: What was it like being in such close proximity to the animal? 

Jean Tresfon:  It was quite simply terrifying! As I swam down into the ball of krill the visibility was reduced to just a few metres and the water was dark and icy cold. Out of the gloom, these massive mammals appeared just metres away with their cavernous mouths wide open as they sieved the water for the krill. I grabbed shots where I could but had to look everywhere so I did not end up as a modern-day Jonah.

Traveller24: Practically speaking, walk us through what it entails to be underwater and still be steady and calm enough to do photography?

Jean Tresfon: Taking pictures underwater assumes that you are completely at ease with all your gear and are comfortable with your diving. Once you have mastered all the skills necessary to keep both yourself and the environment safe underwater, only then should you consider taking a camera. We use conventional cameras in watertight housings, and also take artificial light with us in the form of strobe lights.

Traveller24: Why do you do Underwater and Ocean photography and what message would you like to convey with your photography? 

Jean Tresfon: I work as a marine conservation photographer in order to showcase the beauty of our underwater environment and to let people know why it needs protecting. We have some of the most diverse and pristine marine environments in the world but they are under serious threat from poaching and illegal fishing. We protect only what we love, we love only what we know, and we know only what we are taught...

Traveller24: How can aspiring underwater photographers go about to start? 

Jean Tresfon: Go underwater and shoot shoot shoot. Start with subjects you know super well. 
There are three golden rules: 
(1) Get close to your subject
(2) Shoot up towards the surface 
(3) Tell a story with your images. 

Develop a thick skin and ask for honest feedback from known photographers. Keep trying and it will all fall into place...

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