A Conversation With Fotosub Photographers

Our photographers celebrate the results in Mogan, Gran Canaria. L-R: David Barrio, Arturo Boyra, Carlos Suarez and Carlos Villoch.

Alex: I’d like to start by introducing fotosubs. It is a very specific branch of underwater photography, that even experienced underwater photographers from some countries will have hardly heard about, while in other countries it is seen as the absolute pinnacle, with major sponsorship, prizes and lots of TV coverage. What is fotosub?
David: A fotosub is a competition where an underwater photographer makes a team with their model and tries to produce a collection of pictures without any post-processing in controlled conditions with limited time and a limited number of shots you can take.
Carlos V: I think that these competitions are a great way to demonstrate the skills of a photographer, because everyone is shooting in the same conditions. Sometimes you’ll see photos from someone’s long and exotic overseas trip, with lots of opportunities and lots of post processing, and it is hard to judge how good the photographer is. In fotosub the photos are straight from the camera, and they really show what the photographer is doing. And you don’t have much time. Here our dives are limited to 45 minutes, which comes out at 37 minutes bottom time. You really have to nail it.
Alex: So, doing well comes down to your skills, not your bank balance letting you travel to the best destinations with your own boat. Last time I was here I spoke to Enrique [Faber] about fotosubs and he said that fotosub photography is like being a sniper, not a guy with a machine gun firing everywhere.
Carlos V: For wide angle you really have to plan in detail before the dive what you want to do. You don’t get much training time, but you must generate ideas that you can repeat in the competition. But when you shoot macro, you need to be more flexible. You may have seen some critters in training, but maybe they won’t be there.
David: Don’t say that!
Carlos V: Ha ha ha. And that is why you have to improvise. Or you may have planned all the wide angle shots with the sun in one position and then the organisers change the time you are diving that site. Basically, you have 35 minutes to improvise.
David: You have thirty minutes to take a nice picture of an octopus.
All: Ha ha ha.


Photo: Carlos Villoch & Maite Uriabarri. Fotosub Gran Canaria - Costa Mogan 2009

Alex: One of areas that fotosub photographers have always been praised is the quality of their model shots. What are your secrets?
Carlos S: I think that the hardest part is for the model to understand intuitively the decisions that the photographer makes in the water. And there is no shortcut to develop this understanding. It just builds up over time, it is difficult to start with, but with training it becomes almost instinctive. For example, when they see the sun in the dome, they know where they have to be.
A good relation really pays off when you and your model don’t know the location, the type of scenery and therefore the type of photos that will work best.
Alex: If someone is new to working with models, what is the best advice to give their model to get them posing in the right sort of way to work visually in the photograph?
Carlos V: I think that the model must look relaxed, but actually she won’t be. She is working very hard keeping the position and the pose. When you take a photo of a truly relaxed diver it just doesn’t look good. Their legs and arms look floppy, and they have a frog kick. So the model has to look relaxed but in an elegant pose, with legs together, but not rigid, to create an attractive silhouette.
David: Perhaps the best advice is to be very patient, as a photographer. It is very easy to get nervous in the competition, especially when things aren’t working exactly as planned.
Carlos S: And the clock is ticking. “This is important. I need to take this photo now!”
Carlos V: Look at lots of photos together before diving, so she can immediately recognise the type of photo you want to take. If you see a soft coral, she has to be thinking about exactly the same photo you are thinking about. Then you just need to make small adjustments in position and you have it.
Alex: So how many of your models have been on the other side of the camera and taken pictures seriously?
Arturo: Not mine.
Carlos S: No.
Carlos V: David’s wife takes all his photos! It is just she doesn’t know how to use the camera!
David: Ha ha ha. That’s an urban legend! Ha ha ha. But she really has good ideas.
Alex: I have seen her on the dives pointing at things. I guess you have to be on her wavelength, David?
Arturo: I think the most important thing is that they are able to imagine the picture we are shooting, because from where they are they cannot always see what is the subject right in front of our lens.
Alex: It is obvious that it is totally a team sport, which requires good team work and it takes time to build that understanding.
Arturo: You have practise and sometimes you see some interesting umm..
David: … some interesting arguments!


Photo: David Barrio & Luisa Quintanilla. Fotosub Gran Canaria - Costa Mogan 2008

Arturo: Because time and communication are limited it can be frustrating. For example if you are in a cave and the model is outside, she really won’t see your directions. And you can’t go out because your bubbles will create lots of backscatter. So she has to understand exactly what you are after and how the composition looks from the camera. That is why I say that sometimes they are like witches because they can imagine what we are thinking about
David: They were like witches before they started to dive.
All: Ha ha ha.
Carlos V: People don’t realise how important models are. Even in all the shots they are not in, they are looking for subjects while you are taking pictures.
Arturo: With macro, the model can hunt for rare creatures while you concentrate on getting the easier subjects.
David: Luisa always finds a lot of interesting subjects. Last week she found the only pipefish in the Spanish Championship.
Alex: Who found the octopus?
David: She did! She did! But she said if she had known I was going to enter that shot she wouldn’t have shown me. She can also talk underwater and we understand each other well. She will even say the latin names and I get them. The model also takes care of navigation, stopping you getting lost.
Arturo: They control the deco time and your air supply, because usually they will use much less.
Carlos S: It is important that your model has a sense of the photographic potential of a subject, to know whether they should show you something. Or whether it will not improve on what you have done already.
David: Ultimately there are very, very few photographers who are successful in competitions without a good relationship with a model.

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