In this ongoing series, we’ll chat with prominent and up-and-coming underwater photographers. Today we highlight Matt Testoni.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I started diving eight years ago, but it took me a few years to purchase an underwater camera and the obsession began. I learned to dive and take photos in Sydney, Australia, but it wasn’t until I moved to Melbourne that my photography really started to leap ahead. I tend to shoot all types of underwater images, however my real passion lies in big, wide-angle shots that are filled with color and amazingly beautiful sea creatures.
How long have you been an underwater photographer?
I received my first camera, a tiny waterproof compact, as a gift four years ago and have become and underwater photo addict ever since.
What got you interested in underwater photography?
I was going to do a bit of work on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia on a dive boat and thought I best get a camera so I could capture some memories. Luckily, I received a small one as a gift before the trip. From my first dive on the Great Barrier Reef, I knew it was going to become an obsession. I had an overwhelming urge to capture a snap of every single type of fish I could find.
Every dive in the Maldives produces amazing moments, so much so that sometimes you must swim away just to catch your breath and gather your thoughts. Swimming along a shallow reef, I spotted a small school of fish hanging around outside a cave -like crevice in the rock. Lining up my photo, I was pleasantly greeted by an enormous 6-foot (2 m) honeycomb moray eel, who stuck its head out to see what all the commotion was about. The fish in front didn’t flee but simply parted like an elegant curtain on a stage show. Camera: Olympus OMDEM1 with 8mm fisheye lens, 4-inch Zen Optics dome and a single strobe
Where the water depth starts to drop away drastically in the Maldives, young whale sharks feed before they make their migratory journey south. This young individual, still enormous and awe-inspiring at over 15 feet (5 m) long, was just over half the size that it will hopefully one day would reach. Most whale-shark encounters happen quickly as the creature swims by much faster than any diver or snorkeler. This one, however, was perfectly at peace swimming along with me by its side taking the occasional photo. I only took a few shots as I didn’t want to take my eyes off such a spectacular animal for more than a few seconds. After 10 minutes of examining each other, it flicked its huge tail and descended into the ocean below. Camera: Olympus OMDEM1 with 8mm fisheye lens, 4-inch Zen Optics dome and dual strobes
Floating just above the seaweed-covered seafloor of Westernport Bay in Victoria, Australia this amazing weedy seadragon drifted along in search of unsuspecting prey. Using its camouflage to imitate algae floating through the water, the seadragon is truly unique. I took this shot one evening as the sun was setting behind the cliffs, when the angle of the sun created a beautiful burst of light beneath the water’s surface. This helped fill the shot with a mystical vibe, fitting for such unusual animals. Camera: Olympus OMDEM1 with 9-17mm wide-angle lens and dual strobes
A vibrantly colored red velvetfish stalks the kelp-covered ocean floor for prey near the small town of Eaglehawk Neck in Southeast Tasmania, Australia. These amazing fish are rare and few people are lucky enough to see one. The bright red becomes dull when deeper than 6.5 feet (2 m), so they become extremely hard to spot. I love this shot not only because the fish is rare, but also because it represents hundreds of hours of practice with my camera. I only had two shots before it darted off into the seaweed below. Camera: Olympus Omdem1 with 9-17mm wide-angle lens and dual strobes
Floating through the waters of Victoria, Australia these amazing comb jellyfish often sparkle when light shines on them. This individual was just touching the water’s surface and produced an amazing reflection against the ocean’s underside. The few small ripples in the water on an extremely calm day distorted the image, creating a unique look. Camera: Olympus OMDEM1 with 60mm Olympus macro lens and dual strobes
Diving off the coast of Melbourne, Australia, not many locals realize that in a few feet of water, seahorses swim along going about their daily business. One of the fascinating aspects of a seahorse is its ability to move its eyes independently. I watched this individual for ages, trying to get both eyes to stare at me. Every time I clicked the shutter, one or both would turn away just before I took the shot. Eventually I settled for one eye and ended up with an image that makes an otherwise calm-seeming animal take on a tough persona. Camera: Olympus OMDEM1 with 60mm Olympus macro lens and dual strobes
What’s your favorite style of underwater photography?
Wide-angle photography really stands out as my preferred style. The ability to create huge scene shots that contain hundreds of fish of different species in what often seems to be an underwater ballet just grabs me.
Any favorite subjects?
Sea dragons and crabs really engage me and I can’t swim past one without snapping a dozen or so photos. This does mean that I can be a painful dive buddy. Crabs are always unique animals to shoot as they have such varied behavior, from hermit crabs that slowly cross open, sandy spaces like a nomad in the desert, to decorator crabs that camouflage themselves with intricate detail. Weedy seadragons are one of the most beautiful animals you can hope to encounter underwater. Each one has a unique body pattern that can be used to identify individuals, which means that I must capture each one in the lens of my camera.
Any favorite destinations?
A recent trip to the Maldives blew me away. The opportunities to photograph whale sharks one moment and manta rays the next made it an unparalleled dive destination. The final dive we did near the capital was also a truly unique dive experience. Hundreds of huge stingrays and eels inhabit a single dive site, making it the most animal-action-packed encounter I have ever had.
What’s your underwater setup?
Currently I use an Olympus OMDEM1 in an Olympus housing, with a variety of lenses and ports and various strobes and lights. I really love mirrorless cameras when doing underwater photography, as their compact size allows you to get angles that bigger rigs just don’t allow.
What tips can you share with new underwater photographers?
My biggest pointer would be that you need to know when to take the shot and when to let the moment pass. I often see newer photographers taking photos in bad conditions or at bad angles. Let the shot pass and enjoy the moment. This will make the dive all the more enjoyable and your photos all the better.
By guest author Matt Testoni
For more of Matt Testoni’s work, follow him here on Instagram, check out his website, or follow him on Facebook.