Breathtaking photography

With just a camera and nerves of steel, free-diving photographer Fred Buyle shoots eye-to-eye with great whites on one breath of air. Who: Frederic Buyle, four-time free-diving world record holder turned photographer, filmmaker and shark tagger. What: Fred s mission statement is  Underwater imaging and exploration through the art of free-diving .

Breathtaking photographyWhere: Fred is based in Belgium, but has travelled the globe. In October he ll travel to Guadalupe Island to tag great white sharks, before heading to the Crozet Islands to free-dive with killer whales.

Kit list: Fred currently uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark II plus either a 15mm f/2.8 fisheye or 16-35mm f/2.8 zoom.

More info at: How did you get into free-diving and underwater photography? I started spear fishing when I was eight years old, and became hooked. By the age of 18 I had become a PADI diving instructor, and I then went on to teach free-diving. I began free-diving competitively in the 1990s, something I continued for ten years. It was only towards the end of this period that I bought an underwater camera, to capture memories of my friends during a competition in Hawaii. To my surprise, a magazine wanted to buy those first pictures. I kept on doing trips and taking photos, but I never really had any intention of doing underwater photography as a job. Now I divide my time between taking pictures, shooting documentaries, teaching free-diving and tagging sharks for scientists. So what are your extremes? How deep can you go, and how long can you stay there? When I take pictures, my limits depend on the subject. Sometimes I can go down to the bottom and wait for a special shot of a really shy animal, and I can stay up to four-and-a-half minutes in 25 metres of water. If you move you burn a lot of oxygen, and most of the work I do is no deeper than 20 metres underwater, with the dives lasting between one minute and two-and-a-half minutes. The deepest picture Itaken was at 60 metres. It was of champion free-diver William Winram, in The Arch of DahabBlue Hole, Egypt —a famous dive with a deep passage that25 metres long. I broke the 100-metre barrier a long time ago, when I was exploring rather than taking pictures. Itamazing what the body can do with training. Itlike mountaineering, where you get used to the altitude. The same principle applies with free-diving —itjust an adaptation process in your body. It was a very slow process for me though, because when I started free-diving nobody knew what to do. But with the knowledge available today, sometimes I can take people down to 30 or 35 metres and have them hold their breath for three minutes —all within just a week of them giving it a go. What gear suits your free-diving style? Right now Iusing the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in an underwater housing. The choice of lens depends on the situation, but mostly I work with a 15mm fisheye or a 16-35mm zoom. I always use a wide-angle lens, because my photography is primarily concerned with wide-open spaces and available light. So that means no strobes, no flash, no artificial lighting of any kind —just natural light, which is limited. Most underwater photography tends to be focused on highly saturated flash-lit macro shots and stuff like that, and thatnot what itreally like for me underwater. I started out in photography trying to take pictures that looked more natural and showed what free-divers really saw deep down under the water: big landscapes with neutral colours that really give the impression of space, with little people and animals lost in the blue. Modern cameras help a lot with the dynamic range in these situations, but working solely with natural light does pose some problems. I like to have crisp images, so I need to set a small aperture, and I also need to freeze the action with animals using a fast shutter speed, so I do end up having to work with the ISO setting all the time. Inoticed that Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes dongive consistent results for the sort of pictures I take underwater —if you move the angle of the lens slightly, the exposure can change a lot —so I always shoot in Manual mode. I have a range of settings that I know I can rely on, but sometimes I switch between these for each breath-hold, or to compensate for the angles the animal comes from.

Breathtaking photography

I never manipulate pictures. I might reframe them, but I never add or remove anything. Using Photoshop Lightroom, I work a bit on the saturation and sometimes change the white balance, but mostly work with the light levels, pushing the highlights. What type of pictures can you get that a scuba diver couldn t? Close-ups of all the big animals, like big sharks and whales. They come closer to me than they would to a scuba diver. There is a kind of mutual trust or curiosity from them. I take all my pictures on a single breath of air, because tanks and bubbles scare animals. You donmake any noise when free-diving, so animals come towards you instead of you having to chase them. If the animal takes the decision to come and visit you then you get a more natural result. Also, I think the fact that I donuse lights or flash is better for the creatures Itaking picture of, because it doesndisturb them. Sharks are one of my favourite animals to photograph. I like the relationship you can have with them. To attract them closer you have to act like prey —but not too much! Italmost like a game of hide and seek. Itvery interesting, because sharks are in fact very shy and not the killers portrayed in the media. For example, itreally difficult to take a good picture of a great white shark because if you swim towards them they go away. So you need to encourage them to approach you, and thatnot easy. Are there are any rules for working with great whites? Always let them know that youseen them —thatthe most important thing. Theyambush predators, but they can only be ambush predators if you donpay attention. As soon as they sense that youseen them, they behave totally differently, because they donhave surprise on their side any more. Sharks are also apex predators, so they dontake the risk of attacking something they know can respond to the attack. A free-diver with their fins on is more than three metres long, so not far off the length of a big shark. Itthe same principle as a lion in the savannah —it wontake the risk of attacking a buffalo unless itin the perfect position and itsure to have a good hit. Every shark has a different personality though. Some are shy, some are more aggressive. Usually with white sharks, the big females are very quiet in the water and theyeasier to work with. The worst are the young males —they behave like teenagers. They want to test themselves, so you have to be more careful. But honestly, Inever had any weird or stressful moments while taking pictures of sharks.

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