My big break

NPhoto - - Contents - Brian Sk­erry is one of the world’s best known un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phers. He has been a con­tract pho­tog­ra­pher with Na­tion­alGeo­graphic since 1998, and has spent more than 10,000 hours un­der­wa­ter over the past 30 years. To see more of his work visit www.brian

Un­der­wa­ter pro Brian Sk­erry de­scribes the pres­sures of shoot­ing for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic

Work­ing for Na­tion­alGeo­graphic is some­thing that most pho­tog­ra­phers can only dream of. But as Brian Sk­erry can tes­tify, this is when the pres­sure re­ally be­gins. Brian joined the leg­endary mag­a­zine in 1998, but three years later, he felt he had yet to prove him­self. “Although I had done a few sto­ries, un­til you hit a few home runs you’re never go­ing to be fully ac­cepted.”

His first ‘home run’ was not an easy un­der­tak­ing. He pro­posed a win­ter as­sign­ment to doc­u­ment the birth and early life of harp seal pups on the sea ice in Canada. “I char­tered a 65-foot crab-fish­ing boat, I hired he­li­copters, I hired guides; I was do­ing all this stuff and prob­a­bly bit­ing off more than I could chew.”

For two suc­ces­sive win­ters, in 2002 and 2003, he worked tire­lessly above and below the frozen ex­panse of the Gulf of St Lawrence in Canada. “It’s a pris­tine, icy wilder­ness. I wanted to pho­to­graph the seals on the sur­face, to get the courtship, the pup­ping, but also I wanted the un­der­wa­ter world.”

While div­ing be­neath eight-me­tre-thick ice dur­ing his first win­ter on the story, Brian took the shot that he now re­gards as “the one pho­to­graph that was that big break for me.” He con­tin­ues: “The pup was about 14 days old. It was just per­fectly posed, a lit­tle curve to his tail fins and his flip­pers, and look­ing right at the cam­era with those big doe eyes. It was shot on Ko­dachrome, so I had no idea what I was get­ting.”

Shoot­ing blind

Us­ing a Nikon F5 with a 24mm wide-an­gle lens in an un­der­wa­ter hous­ing, Brian lit the seal pup with two strobes. Shoot­ing with film meant he was in ef­fect shoot­ing blind, with no means to check his fo­cus­ing or ex­po­sure. To add to the pres­sure, his films were sent back to Na­tion­alGeo­graphic for pro­cess­ing, which meant the mag­a­zine’s ed­i­tors would see Brian’s im­ages long be­fore he did.

“It was pure tor­ture,” he re­calls. “I was wait­ing by the phone and I re­mem­ber my ed­i­tor, Kathy Mo­ran, call­ing me, and she’s de­scrib­ing the pic­tures I had made, look­ing at the light ta­ble, and I re­mem­ber the words dis­tinctly: ‘There’s a few nice lit­tle gems here of this pup look­ing at me un­der­wa­ter.’”

Weeks later Brian went to the Na­tion­alGeo­graphic of­fices in Wash­ing­ton DC to see the cho­sen pic­tures for him­self. The re­sult­ing 24-page fea­ture was pub­lished the fol­low­ing year, and this im­age was used as the open­ing spread. “That was my first cover story,” he re­flects. “It was a big idea, I pro­posed it and I went out on a limb, but to me it was val­i­da­tion.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.