In this ongoing series, we’ll chat with prominent and up-and-coming underwater photographers. Today we highlight Mike Bartick.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a full time underwater photographer, writer and public speaker living in Anilao,
Philippines. I’m currently a photo pro and conduct a series of workshops each dive season, helping shooters expand their portfolios and improve their underwater photography skills. I put in about 500 dives a year with 400-plus in the general area, which allows me to explore the peninsula for new dive sites and rare subjects. I also have time work on my own photo skills and media projects.
How long have you been an underwater photographer?
I took my first camera underwater when I was 16. But in 2004, a local dive magazine published a shot I took of a California bat ray gliding through a kelp forest. I’ve taken a camera on every dive possible since then.
How did you become interested in underwater photography?
Snorkeling with my father as a youngster in Hawaii is where it all started. I’m curious by nature, habitually exploring and touching things and wondering what’s around the next corner. I’m fascinated with how each subject in the ocean fits together with the next, and it seems that the more I dive, the more I learn. Cameras also fascinate me with the simple yet complex way they function. Combining curiosity and photography just seemed natural.
What’s your favorite style of underwater photography?
Macro photography is certainly my favorite and I love using a longer lens to shoot. The 105mm is my first choice on my local dive sites, offering me the most options creatively. I love a strong natural history image as much as a strong concept image. Both pose different challenges and are difficult to execute well. Behavior is my favorite thing to try and capture. Natural behavior often happens in a series of split seconds, and being in tune with the local area has afforded me opportunities that many don’t have.
Any favorite subjects?
I really love all marine animals, but tend to gravitate to the smaller benthic animals due to the complexity of their survival. I’m also interested in larval subjects and enjoy drifting in open ocean either during the day or at night to photograph pelagic drifters. Anywhere you look you could see something; just keep looking and shooting.
Any favorite destinations?
Southeast Asia has my full attention right now, but I also enjoy exploring West Papua, Ambon and South Australia. The U.S. has some incredible diving as well. I usually travel to see specific subjects so this will dictate where I go next but for now, Anilao, Philippines.
What’s your underwater setup?
I’m currently shooting with a Nikon D500 camera and 105mm lens with Nauticam and INON diopters. Occasionally I’ll also use my Nikon D7100 with other lenses like a Trioplan 50mm and 100mm. My strobes are Sea and Sea YSD2 and INON Z240. I have Retra snoots for either set up and my off-camera lights are supplied by Kraken Sports.
Do you have any tips for new underwater photographers?
Lighting is everything in photography but it doesn’t have to be over complicated to enjoy. Learn as much as you can about the marine life you target beforehand and think of how you will capture the best of what that subject is about. What’s the subject’s story? What makes the subject or the area it resides in unique? Research will help you to prepare and engage your subject long before you ever find one.
Above all, treat the environment with respect. Don’t be afraid to try something different; always keep your sense of humor and don’t take yourself to seriously. If you’re not having fun, get out of the water.