These remarkable images getting up close and personal with some of the more colourful and fascinating sea creatures are a photographer’s attempts to remind us to do more to protect the natural world.
Toni Bertran, 45, always wanted to dive as a youngster after being inspired by the work of Jack’s Cousteau, but his parents always thought it was too dangerous, and it wasn’t until he was 34 that he finally went underwater.
Since then he’s been a passionate diver and photographer, and in an interview about his work admitted being shocked at the degradation of the marine environment.
He said: “I wanted to create an account where those characters that are living there have some kind of a voice, something to tell us to maybe change the situation . . .”
Asked if there was a message in his mission, he said: “It´s not exactly a message, I´d like that people empathize with the subjects in my pictures. That is the reason I like portraits the most, because this is the way people can see facial expressions in marine animals just the same as in humans. And it is always easier to persuade people to care and get them involved in preserving something that they can feel empathy for, something that they can come to love.”
The diver and photographer, who lives in Barcelona in Spain, said a major inspiration for his pictures was the French diver and environmentalist Cousteau, not because of his style, but because of the intense love that he had for marine life.
But he said there were others that were both nothing and everything in influencing his work.
He said: “Everyone tries to imitate what he sees and what he likes. The final process (or maybe the beginning) of your own style starts when you try to make a bad copy of all those different references that you like, but then, surprisingly, you end up creating something that you don´t really know where it comes from but you feel more or less confortable with, that is what we call our own style.
“One clear inspiration is Cousteau from my childhood . . . but there is a lot of more. For example, I love Caravaggio or Giuseppe de Ribera’s paintings, so I think I tried to get those contrasted images and black backgrounds because of this.
“And the rest of the photographers I love have the same patterns of light. For example, in nature photography I really love Tim Flach, his portraits are the best and a great inspiration. And in underwater photography my great reference is Steven Kovacs, those aliens creatures are simply extraordinary.
“I hope someday I could take some pictures like theirs, but meanwhile, I´ll go on taking my pictures that I´m not sure from where they´ve come up from, but I feel confortable with.”
He added that one of the things that makes him most comfortable about what he does is that it’s not his day job so there’s no pressure, instead it’s his hobby and his passion and he can really enjoy it.
He added however that slowly he was hoping to combine passion with work saying: “Now we’ve started a new documentary about marine life and climate change with Ifeelms, our independent film company that I lead with Irene Caparrós, so this is my very first experience at taking pictures and making videos as a job.
“But until now my process was only to enjoy what I was doing. I used to dive in our coasts in the Mediterranean sea, which it´s not a place where you can find a big variety of life. For instance, it is not allowed to dive with big cetaceans here unless you have the government permission, in order to assure their protection, which I think is a good idea.
“So you have to learn where you can find your subjects, especially the tiny ones… you have to know where they live or how and what they feed on or where they reproduce to know where you could take the best pictures of them.
“I have to admit I´m not really as good as I’d like to be (in finding them), so I have some friends like Albert Colomé, David Ballesteros, Antuan Puertas or Manuel Armenteros who show it to me and I only have to take the pictures! It is very important to be surrounded by people that compliment you and share your same vision and passion.”
That means that for Toni, it is a passion that sends him into the water as often as he can.
He said: “I spend all the time I can! My last three Christmas I asked Santa Claus to give me some gills so I can live underwater, but I haven’t had the wish granted yet.
“I usually dive on weekends during the whole year, and normally with some of my dive buddies. We are lucky because all of us practice underwater photography so it´s a bit easier. It´s not a good idea to mix divers doing underwater photography with others who don´t, it could be a very boring experience for those that have to wait until the good picture is taken!
“Sometimes we spend more than half an hour in the same place taking a picture . . . the only help I need is to find the subject, then it´s a matter of patience until the subject wants to pose for you. Meanwhile, you prepare your lights and your settings and camera to be ready for that moment.”
He mostly seeks out his subjects in relatively shallow waters, around 15 to 20 m, and the size of his subjects means he rarely encounters anything excessively dangerous.
He said: “I guess my most complicated situation was one day when I lost my group in a shore dive, and there wasn´t any easy way out, rocks everywhere, so I had to get out of the bay using a private ladder that led me to a house. I was pretty lucky that the owners of the house only laughed at me a little while I was doing my particular walk of atonement, like in Game of Thrones, through their garden.”
Interestingly, somebody who’s made a reputation out of photographing the tiniest of the deep sea denizens, he is under no illusion that his real favourite of all sea creatures is the killer whales.
He said: “They are beautiful and very clever. It´s my dream to dive with some of them and take thousands of pictures!”
Speaking about the technical equipment to capture the images, he said: “My equipment right now is a Sony A7RII in a Nauticam housing and two strobes, Inon z330. For macro I use a Sony 90mm macro lense combined with two wet lenses, Nauticam SMC-1 and Nauticam SMC-2, and for angular or fisheye a Canon 8-15mm and Sony 16-35 mm.”
He added despite the impressive-sounding technical equipment it was still relatively simple to take pictures.
He said: “I try to shoot thinking in in terms of not having to retouch on the computer, although I always end up doing it, but in a couple of hours it is done. The documentary is different; I guess it will be a loooong travel. It´s like a big puzzle, where sponsors and also administrations have a crucial role to play, and without all the pieces it can´t be made.”
For him the satisfaction is often in the product itself, which is why he rarely enters any awards.
He said: “I won twice a contest called fotovideosub; not the main prize, but the local one (Costa Brava). I don´t usually participate in many contests online. In fact, I have only participated in five contests so far.”
He is however planning to try for more awards in the future, to give more people access to his work and the message it counts that we should learn to love and care for the subjects that he brings to life online through his camera lens.
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Story By: Cristian Maxian, Sub-Editor: James King, Agency: Newsflash
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