Every day we see stunning photos from our peers in the 500px community, but not often do we turn the lens back upon the photographer. The Portrait series focuses on remarkable 500px users who may have something to teach us about their field of photography. This week's feature is Dmitry Miroshnikov, interviewed by Jen Tse.
Tell us a little about yourself, Dmitry.
I'm 32 years old and I live in Moscow, Russia. I've been shooting underwater photography for three years, and this year I've been lucky enough to receive some awards: I was shortlisted in the "Nature & Wildlife" category of the Sony World Photography Awards 2011, shortlisted in "Golden Turtle'5" Russian wildlife competition, and won third place in the "Best photographer'11" amateur wildlife category.
Next year looks very promising to me: I've got very good footage from South Africa. I was shooting the sardine run
migration there—one of the greatest migrations on Earth. Some of my pictures were published in the British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph last week—thanks to 500px! Solent News and a photo agency found my photos on 500px, and contacted me about marketing them to UK newspapers.
You're an IT professional—how did you fall in love with the sea and diving photography?
It all started 5 years ago. My boss was a diver too, and he asked me if I wanted to learn how to dive. I did... and all of my vacations instantly turned into diving ones on live-aboard ships. On one vacation I met Alexander Safonov, a famous underwater photographer. Talking to him was very interesting, and I wanted to try underwater photography for myself. It's not a cheap hobby—housing for cameras costs a lot more than the cameras themselves, but, by chance, Alexander was upgrading to a new camera with a new housing, so I bought his old housing with a good discount. I started learning underwater photography with a bit old, but nice Canon 350D camera. I think it's a good idea to buy used equipment when you first start shooting.
What gear do you shoot with? What else must you wear or take with you as a diver?
I have to carry lots of equipment. Usually it's 25kg of diving gear: wetsuit, Buoyancy Compensator Device (BCD), regulator, fins, etc. And 17kg of photo equipment: my camera (today I use Canon 5D Mark II) with aluminum housing, lenses (wide-angle and macro), ports for lenses, 3 underwater strobes, arms, clamps and so on.
Your shots are breathtakingly intimate with your underwater subjects. Do you have a specific method for capturing them feeding and playing, or otherwise in their element?
Yes, I use different methods for different kinds of animals and situations. For example, if I shoot hammerhead sharks, they are very shy and very seldom approach divers closely. To make a good picture I must hold my breath: if I breathe out, the shark instantly turns around and goes. If I shoot booby birds, they are very curious, and they react well to divers approaching the surface, confusing them with dolphins.
And for my most recent series of pictures from the sardine run, I had to find a good spot with action going on. I spent 12 days on a boat, each day being 6-8 hours long, just to get 90 minutes total of diving time, but that time was superb.
What are some of your most interesting or exciting experiences underwater?
Diving in the sardine run was one of the most amazing and adrenaline-filled experiences of my life. Scuba diving is usually a very silent thing...not in this case. Dolphins' attacks on sardines start with a very loud, high-frequency whistle—the dolphins communicate with each other to coordinate the attack. In seconds the whistle is followed by pack of dolphins, charging themselves into a baitball, usually from below. Sardines are trying to escape, so the baitball curves itself like a liquid, approaching the surface... and it comes close enough for gannets
to reach it. Cape gannets are very good divers. They fall from 20-30m into the water with a speed up to 120 km/h, diving to 10-12m deep. The water around instantly becomes full of bubbles—traces of the birds. If a bird hit you, you'd be in trouble, but they have very good eyesight, so they're not a threat to divers. The sound of birds entering the water is also very loud. It's like someone smashing giant hammers into water.
In some of your pictures, you get really close to sharks! Have you ever felt your life was at risk, or do you have any safety precautions or training to deal with more dangerous creatures?
Everyone thinks it's dangerous (mainly due to the movie Jaws
), but it's actually not. Sharks don't attack divers. We smell bad, breathe noisy bubbles, and we are much bigger then their usual prey, so there's point attacking us. But of course there are some rules of proper diving with sharks. One of these rules is not to dive in dirty water, where sharks can mistakenly attack divers.
Do you have a favourite underwater creature?
Lots of them: manta rays, different kinds of sharks, eagle rays, sea lions...
Which photographers or artists inspire you the most?
Surrealist painters: Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali. They have inspired me to some of my latest pictures: "Surrealistic Run" and "The Empire of Colors". "The Empire of Colors" is named after Magritte's painting "The Empire of Light," where the night landscape co-exists with the day sky. On my photo the same contradiction exists: I've made photos from the deep, where all colors are dimmed. But in my photo, birds and fishes that are deeper are painted in more intense colors.
What advice do you have for photographers who might want to try diving photography?
First, you should be a good diver. I think about 100 dives' experience is good enough. Then, you need to find equipment. Don't be tied to your current camera, because it's much easier to sell it and buy a new one than to find good housing with a reasonable price. A used camera is a good choice for diving photography. It will take a lot of time to develop underwater photography skills—it differs a lot from other kinds of photography. Study what other underwater photographers are doing, know the trends, but don't go along with all of them. And... good luck!
For more of Dmitry's photography, check out his 500px page and his website.