Howie: The Underwater Photographer
Everyone has a turning point in their life when an unexpected event triggers a series of other events, which in-turn, molds their future. Since I also get asked this question of how I became an underwater photographer quite frequently, here is the (greatly abbreviated) story of how I got started.
This is a little different than how I became a sports/wedding/event photographer, but similar, as I just let “connections” lead me down that path. Try not to fall asleep while reading!
For me, photography has always been much more than a hobby. For the first 15 years of my photographic career, I focused on “wildlife and nature photography”. My love for the outdoors and travel allowed me to hone my photographic skills and truly enhance my photographic experiences. I don’t just take snapshots. Instead, I strive to capture what I am experiencing with every carefully composed image. I have always been a fan of wide angle images – wildlife, landscapes, fine art and so on. If you look at any of the images and they touch you emotionally, then I’ve succeeded.
Anyway, long before I started my photographic career, I was born and raised on the beach (Long Beach, NY). As a child, I discovered that I was always drawn to the ocean. I quickly became a competitive swimmer starting at age 5 and continue to swim competitively today. I learned to sail, fish and scuba dive very early in life. Basically, I think I have salt water in my blood.
In 1984, I moved to Colorado and ironically (in a land locked state) I became certified in scuba diving by NAUI. As a photographer, and lover of the water, I traveled often to “beachy” locales. I used those trips as “photo expeditions” and an excuse to exercise my passions – both artistically and physically. I visited the Caribbean Islands often and always added diving to my photo trips as one of my events. The more I dove, the more comfortable I felt underwater. It was only when I spent extended amounts of time in St. Maartin (starting in 1999) that I really learned about the sea, the wildlife, the reefs, and ecology.
Fast forward to 2012. As I have aging parents living in the Palm Beach area, I decided to snow-bird in the winters to South Florida to be closer and help them out. It only took one winter to convince me that I had to move to the ocean permanently. That Christmas, I purchased a condo. The following summer of 2013 was the first full summer spent in Florida. Since I was down here (and it was very hot), I made the decision to “learn again” how to scuba dive. Even though technically I knew how, I realized that technology has quickly passed anything I previously knew. Of course, being the learning junky that i am, with the new equipment, Nirtox and so many other advances, I wanted to become the safest and best diver I could. And, since I was living here, I wanted to use this passion to meet new people with similar hobbies. In one year, I became a certified PADI Master Diver. In two years, I logged over 300 new dives – making my total since I started well over 2000 dives. I performed beach dives, drift and wreck dives. I learned to spear fish and hunt lobster. But most importantly, during the learning process, I discovered many organizations and became good friends with divers, scientists, photographers, marine biologists and conversationalists. More than I could have ever imagined.
The more I spent underwater and with the underwater community, the more I wanted to take my topside photography underwater with me. With the contacts I made, I quickly purchased an inexpensive used underwater photography kit from a friend. I took that kit with me on almost every dive and very quickly realized that it wasn’t enough. I experimented with underwater macro photography and underwater wide angle landscape (divescape?) photography. With each dive experience, I learned more. I discovered that there are benefits to each kind of photography (macro and wide angle) and will continue to hone those skills. After a couple of years “trying” my hand at underwater photography, I quickly outgrew my starter kit and purchased a more professional kit.
As an underwater photographer, I was forced to slow down and smell the roses (metaphorically). Of course, there is no smelling when underwater. But it slowed me down on purpose. I discovered and experienced things which, as a recreational diver, I regularly missed. The beauty of nature is astounding.
So, I tied my topside profession to my underwater passion. I put that message out there and in a short amount of time, I was asked to take photos of 3 underwater weddings. I have become a regular contributor to the several research groups who are studying the effects of global warming on our local reefs.
I am hooked. Now, underwater photography is part of my professional portfolio.
More about me and photography
My passion for photography was ignited in the early 80’s when I was a student at RIT in Rochester, NY. Although I was a computer science major, I was fortunate to study with some of the most talented photographers in the world.
I strive for balance, harmony and inner peace. I learned very quickly that photography allowed me to exercise both sides of my brain – the analytical and the artistic.
Having homes in both Colorado and Florida is a blessing. It places me within an hour or two of some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife in the country (the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Everglades). Day trips over the years have helped me maintain my balance and capture some of nature’s glamor.
People find different ways to escape. Some like to exercise. Others like to hunt, fish or scuba dive. And others find peace in listening to music. As a topside photographer, I find the most pleasure sitting and waiting for the perfect light at the end of the day. The ‘Golden Light’ as some call it. There is something about the warmth of the sun at the end of the day and the calm oceans. As an underwater photographer, I strive for a calm, long drift dive over the coral reef. A perfect day is to combine both – a beautiful dive at a tropical location, then sitting on the beach as the sun sets over the water.
As photography is a business, I contribute to many publications and am for hire to capture the energy and emotions events. I have shot images at events both large and small. These include musical, sporting, celebrity, social and political events. I’ve documented presidential rallies, concerts, events for national non-profit organizations, birthday parties, mitzvas (Bar, Bat and Bris) and weddings.
Most recently, I would call myself a “Lifestyle photographer”. What, that means that I mix photojournalism, candid portraits, and creative photography approaches to capture the most beautiful and hidden moments.
Even though I prefer to take photos of nature and wildlife, I love to take candids and freeze moments in time – especially facial expressions. Do you remember when you were very young and every new place you went to seemed huge and exciting? Perhaps larger than life itself? I try to remember this innocence and lack of bias when I photograph people at events. I watch and wait for those instances of excitement or sadness and place myself in just the right position to capture that moment. The most genuine emotion is that which is not rehearsed.
I am more than just a photographer. In 2007, while on assignment for Blacktie-Colorado.com, I was tasked to take and produce short videos for each event I worked. I now look at the world through the eyes of a videographer as well as a photographer. Both topside and below the surface. So, what do I take videos of? Well, everything. I now carry as part of each photography kit a DSLR camera capable of taking full High Definition video.
My photos and videos express what I feel as well as see. The quiet vulnerability & raw emotion is what I aim to capture.
Enjoy them. They are a reflection of my soul.
Personal web site: http://www.grapek.com