Matty Smith

Matty Smith

Matty Smith

I have always had an attraction to the water and the tricks it plays on light for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of my brother and I snorkeling on family holidays to France and the Mediterranean Sea. I can clearly remember my first experience of watching shafts of sunlight weave down into the deep blue, carved by the rippling ocean surface.

 

I bought my first film SLR camera in my teens to try and capture what I loved to see and I used it to shoot the coastlines of my home country of the United Kingdom. It wasn’t long before my curiosity and appetite for shooting the ocean meant I would have to get in and shoot underwater, so I saved and bought a waterproof housing for my camera so I could explore further.

 

As my photography skills grew I needed to travel more to get the images I imagined, so trips abroad to far off countries followed. I now live in Stanwell Park, Australia after emigrating from the UK in 2007 and I have the worlds biggest playground at my feet, the Pacific Ocean….. And I have truly fallen in love with it!!

 

Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year – Animal Behaviour 2016
Capture Magazine Emerging Professional Documentary Photographer of the Year 2015
Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year – Overall Winner 2014
Ocean Geographic 2014 Pictures of the Year 1st, 2nd and 3rd Place Prize Winner
BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 Prize Winner

For more info, please visit mattysmithphoto.com.

A Parallel Universe: Windows Beneath the Waves

For me one of the most wondrous parts of any dive is the moment that the water engulfs my mask as my head slips below the surface. I think it’s the suspense of the unknown of what lies beneath, the transitional part of moving from one element to the next that feels so magical and the thought of what alien creatures I might encounter. That is what draws me to taking half over half underwater images. I try to convey to the viewer that majestic feeling in a picture format. It’s maybe the best way I can communicate to a non-diver what it’s all about, to marry a wet and unfamiliar world with a dry and more familiar one.

 

I view my half over half underwater images as a landscape photograph; I prefer brooding and atmospheric skies over a blue sunny midday and a composition that compliments both the above and below elements. I undertake many location scouts with my snorkel gear on. Whilst doing the scouts I will take reference pictures so I can plan how to make my final image when a suitable location has been found. A final image in my portfolio is often a well-researched and planned affair.

“Bluebottle Army” – Bluebottle cnidarian, Bushrangers Bay, NSW Australia

Despite their potentially dangerous sting, the bluebottle cnidaria is an amazingly beautiful creature. I wanted to demonstrate this with careful lighting and composition. The blue of the zooid colonies underneath these animals ignites with glorious translucent blue in my underwater camera flashes, I thought this would look magnificent in front of a glowing orange sky. After many early mornings I eventually got my shot.

 

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5 F2.8 Fisheye Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing

“Physalia Physalis” – Bushrangers Bay, NSW Australia

Lighting was the most critical component of this image, I needed to retain the desired darkness of water yet pick out the detail of the animal. This took lots of experimentation with different techniques over several weeks. Eventually employing the use of fibre optic snoots on my underwater flashes enabled me to pick out just the right amount of detail without over exposing too much of the surrounding ambiance.

 

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5mm f2.8 Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing

“Smiling Assassin” – American Crocodile, Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

I wanted to make an image that had both strong eye contact and visible teeth to bring out the character and personality of this animal. I slowly and cautiously approached it maintaining strong eye contact and light fin movements to avoid stirring up the silt. The crocodile remained motionless with just it’s yellow periscope like eye staring straight back at me, it felt like stand off, who would falter first? Now it’s very seldom I remember the exact moment of pressing the shutter on “the shot of the day” but I do remember everything about this one; pulling focus, framing up, the sweat beading on my forehead and holding my breath. Confident I had my shot in a couple of frames I slowly backed away and got back in the boat. Mind blown!!

 

Nikon D810 Nikkor14-24 F2.8 Lens, Aquatica AD810 Housing

“A Silky Encounter 1” – Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

Shooting these silky sharks off the coast of Cuba was actually an incredibly difficult task. Not because they were hard to find, on the contrary, there were often too many and they move real fast in these open and rough seas! So to single one out for an intimate portrait was quite frustrating. It required a high amount of concentration; luckily this one slowed down just long enough to capture the shot.

 

Nikon D810 Nikkor14-24 F2.8 Lens, Aquatica AD810 Housing

“A Silky Encounter 2” – Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

An intimate moment between two silky sharks at Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) off the coast of Cuba. I had specially constructed a huge 18″ dome port to shoot open ocean half over half underwater images and in these rough conditions really it came into it’s own.

 

Nikon D810 Nikkor14-24 F2.8 Lens, Aquatica AD810 Housing

“Crimson Tide” – Waratah Anemones, Port Kembla, NSW Australia

This image is shot right out the front of where I used to work. During my lunchbreak walk I had found this tiny rockpool containing these wonderful bright red waratah anemones, I had to make a picture of them. I knew I could only shoot at the lowest of tides and I wanted to coincide it with a nice sunrise, it was to be a long waiting game!! In the meantime, whenever I could get access to this tiny pool, I experimented with what camera accessories (ports, lighting etc) I could fit in such a small space to take the shot. I had to strip my housing right down, removing handles and lighting brackets etc. Then the perfect morning arrived. I remember there was a fairly strong, hot summer breeze that dried the exposed part of my port in seconds, so I had to constantly ladle water over it, but my plan played out wonderfully and the picture worked how I wanted it to!! The silver gulls hovering in the background were a very lucky addition to the shot though.

 

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5 F2.8 Fisheye Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing

“Midnight Nudi” – Bushrangers Bay, NSW Australia

Being an ocean photographer has led me into some strange and curious habits. Wading around in low tide rock pools in the middle of the night is one of them. However, the rewards can be endless from a photographers point of view, such as finding this Hypselodoris bennetti in inches of water. Photographing it from a low angle just beneath the surface has created this wonderful reflection. This species of nudibranch is endemic to south eastern NSW, you’ll find it no where else in the world!

 

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 40mm F2.8 Micro Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing

“Legal Immigrant” – A Long Finned Eel, Botanical Gardens, Sydney

A long finned Eel living under the shadow of the iconic Sydney skyline in the botanical gardens. Born just off the coast of New Caledonia this eel would have made the 2000km journey to the east coast of Australia and one wet night climbed out of Sydney Harbour, slithered across the grass and into this freshwater pond where it will live for up to 30 years. Eventually the urge to breed will take back across the South Pacific Ocean. A journey its ancestors have been making for millions of years, long before the first humans settlers to this land and all without a passport or papers!

 

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5mm F2.8 Fisheye Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing

“A Shock of Blue” – Bushrangers Bay, NSW Australia

Despite their potentially dangerous sting, the bluebottle cnidaria is an amazingly beautiful creature. I wanted to demonstrate this with careful lighting and composition. The blue of the zooid colonies underneath these animals ignites with glorious translucent blue in my underwater camera flashes, I thought this would look magnificent in front of a glowing orange sky. After many early mornings I eventually got my shot.

 

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5 F2.8 Fisheye Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing

“Your Move” – American Crocodile, Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

So for this shot I’m deep in a Cuban saltwater mangrove snorkelling in about 2 feet of murky water and looking at this through the viewfinder, the business end of a wild 2.5 meter American saltwater crocodile (not an alligator). Now my photography has led me into a few interesting situations in the past, but this takes the cake. I’m staying as still as can be and mumbling profusely to myself “Focus, frame, just get the shot” One of the most exhilarating moments of my life! After our brief standoff he turned around and drifted off into the cloudy green water.

 

Nikon D810 Nikkor14-24 F2.8 Lens, Aquatica AD810 Housing