In an ongoing series, we’ll chat with prominent and up-and-coming underwater photographers. Today we sit down with Matt Smith.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m U.K. born and bred. After emigrating to Australia in 2007 to further my photography career, I’m now based in Stanwell Park, NSW. I fell in love with the Pacific Ocean and have now made it my permanent playground. I’ve always had a profound love for the ocean as far back as I can remember. I recall my first try at snorkeling in the Mediterranean Sea as a child on family holidays; I was about 7 years old. My parents couldn’t get me out of the water and I’ve been hooked ever since.
How long have you been an underwater photographer?
I’ve been a photographer in general for 20 years or so. My background was in surf photography to begin with, which I started in around 1997. I always shot in black and white and had a darkroom in my basement at home. I shot the waves around the U.K. in black and white because we rarely had blue skies on good surf days. Everything I shot was dark and moody on fast grainy film. I switched to dive photography around 2010 after I settled in Australia and discovered some great local dive spots.
What got you interested in underwater photography?
Well, I’ve always had my head in the water since I was a kid. Then when I received a second-hand film SLR as a gift for my 20th birthday, it was only natural it would soon end up in a waterproof box and in the ocean with me.
What’s your favorite style of underwater photography?
I’m a wide-angle kind of guy at heart. I love big stuff — the big animals and colorful reefscapes. Over-under photography is also a great passion of mine; it’s sort of become my signature style. I do shoot macro a fair bit however; I think it’s wise to master as many skills as possible. Most dive sites near my home are macro sites.
Any favorite subjects?
Anything that’s a challenge I guess. I do like shooting in shallow water so I can use ambient light to dramatic effect.
Any favorite destinations?
Right now, it must be the Solomon Islands. I’ve done a few trips there and I’m returning next year. I love the diversity they offer. It’s wild and remote and you never know what you’ll see on any given dive — whales, mantas, sharks, schooling fish, crocs, caverns, wrecks — you name it. There are heaps of little stuff too.
What’s your underwater setup?
I use Nikon cameras and lenses: D810 and D500 bodies with a range of wide-angle and macro lenses. My go-to to lens is usually my Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 for the D810 and 60mm f/2.8 Micro for the D500. All that goes into and Aquatica digital housing and ports with INON Z240 strobes.
Do you have any tips for new underwater photographers?
Safety first. Know your limits and have fun. Underwater photography is crazy addictive. For fast-track learning — if it’s within your budget — book a trip with a photography tutor. Hands-on instruction in the field with an experienced shooter will relieve a lot of the beginner frustration and get you producing great shots reasonably quickly.