Our intelligent bodies always want to keep us alive.
In free diving we act completely against what is reasonable for our protective mechanism—we hold our breath and swim away from the surface.
The alarm bells go crazy. The body tells us we need to return to the air source and breathe.
Overwriting this sophisticated system is the hardest part of free diving—it is the mind that needs to expand over the body.
Often I dive down, cruising along the reef on a nice, relaxing, long breath hold and take in what Mother Nature has to offer.
It’s like meditation: no thoughts about yesterday, no worries about tomorrow.
I simply enjoy and admire the underwater world’s amazing flora and fauna, which I have been studying for almost a decade.
Suddenly my eyes catch a subject—a beautiful beam of light dancing down the reef or a big fish or marine mammal. Meters and minutes become secondary as I concentrate on photography.
One of the biggest advantages of breath hold photography is that it doesn’t make any noise. Gliding silently through shifting shades of blue allows me to get closer to my objects and move at their speed.
For shooting big schools of fish, or big rays and sharks, it makes a huge difference to be able to follow them around without being burdened by a tank. I can go up and down, and as fast as I like.
Once I know what I want to shoot, I position myself according to the image I want to create and peek through my lens.
Now the real work begins—aligning the strobe arms; adjusting the strobe intensity, camera settings and positioning—and at this point my diaphragm may start to contract.
Being aware of my body and the signs it shows me, I keep concentrating on the image I have in mind and align with the rhythm of the increasing contractions.
I need to know my body’s limits and capabilities very precisely in order to calculate when it really is time to make my way up to the surface.
A good shot usually takes a few dives before it is perfect.
But of course I don’t always get a second chance; a strong current, a moving object or changing light conditions can all affect the final outcome.
Breath hold photography is always a challenge, and my dream would be to free dive and shoot more big fish and marine mammals like sharks and whales. We will see where the current takes me next!
Do you have experience of breath hold photography? Share your images below or on Instagram @momentum.travel.
Main photo: Ethan Daniels; body photos: Diana Himmelspach