My big break George Karbus
Born and raised in the Czech Republic, George Karbus moved to the west coast of Ireland in 2004. One of Europe’s leading underwater and adventure photographers, his work has been widely published, and has won numerous awards. To see more of his work visit www.georgekarbusphotography.com
March might be the first month of spring, but near the Arctic Circle on the Russian coast, winter maintains an icy grip on both land and sea at this time of year. Five years ago, underwater photographer George Karbus and his girlfriend Kate, an expert free diver, caught a train due north from Moscow. Their destination was the White Sea, the stretch of ocean adjacent to Russian Lapland and the Kola Peninsula.
“It was a spectacular trip,” remembers George. “We took a sleeper train straight up to the Arctic from Moscow. We just went through the wilderness, stopping at those crazy train stations where grannies were selling cans of beer and fish.”
Two days on the train was followed by a threehour road trip to the dive centre where the sea was covered by a thick layer of ice. The couple planned to dive beneath the ice, something they had never done before, but first two diving holes had to be cut. “It was really thick, so it was quite an effort to cut a hole,” says George. “We started diving on a rope and then, as we got more confident, we went down without rope, just basically climbing the ice upside down, farther and farther from the hole. The water was just about zero, and outside it was about -10ºC.”
It may have been freezing, but the light was strong enough to penetrate the ice. With lungfuls of air drawn through her snorkel above the ice hole, Kate dived to join George, who was using his Nikon D700 and fisheye lens in a waterproof Suba housing.
As she swam between the two ice holes, George framed the scene: “I didn’t tell her to do this. We just dived and it came out like that. She was just playing, so I took the shot. She’s like a stick under the ice.”
George exposed for the light coming through the frozen surface to render Kate as a silhouette; the green colour cast is caused by the algae in the White Sea, although at the time some publications suggested another reason. “When I first published this picture some people said it was taken under the Northern Lights, but it wasn’t. It’s impossible to photograph the Northern Lights from underwater.”
Although George was relatively unknown at the time, this picture was widely published, and was used for several magazine covers. “For a while,” he says, “every time I submitted a picture I won something, but I was a little bit spoiled. These days it’s much more competitive. Every year it’s harder to succeed. This year I’m a finalist in Wildlife Photographer of the Year, so we’ll see.”