Photographer of the week – Tim Mckenna, Underwater and Lifestyle Photography

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The ocean mysterious yet clear, powerful yet calm is one of the nature’s most unpredictable elements. Tim Mckenna an underwater photographer from Tahiti, uses this unpredictability to transform his visuals to the next level. We at Cambyte clicked an exclusive interview with the man himself. Sit back and take a dive with Tim into the dynamic and ever-changing world of underwater photography.

1) Tell us a little about yourself

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I was born in Australia but my parents moved to France when I was 5 years old. As a teenager, my passion for the sport of surfing encouraged me to travel around the world searching for waves. I  to started to document  the athletes, the lifestyle and places I went to. In my opinion surf magazines are among the best photography magazines  you could find  due to the nature of their subject.   I soon had my first custom water-housing made so I could follow the surfers out in the water and in the tube. I started to submit to the leading surf magazines and work for emerging surfwear brands. I soon branched out to other extreme sports and underwater photography.
After 15 years of extensive travel working on editorial features for magazines, catalogues or commercial campaigns for  various brands,  I decided to base myself in Tahiti in the South Pacific to be able to work closer to my family. I still travel overseas on assignment a few times a year but I am pretty content to document the beauty and magic of the 118 islands of French Polynesia.

2) How has the ocean influenced you as a photographer?

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I have always been fascinated by the ocean. Mainly because it is one of the most powerful elements of  Nature and it’s ever changing state  is a permanent source of inspiration. The waves it creates, the colors, the way it filters and reflects light makes it the most interesting subject for photography. Working around the ocean makes you humble and obliges you to understand how the weather  and elements can transform this beautiful canvas.  I live most of the year in rhythm with the ocean so my photography is totally influenced by its state and energy.

3) Why underwater photography?

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Being totally submerged, obliges you to be in harmony with the environment. Shooting underwater is a way to further understand the way the ocean works and changes. It’s like discovering a whole new world  with different rules and physics. There is an element of surprise when shooting underwater.For example, when shooting waves the action happens so fast that you don’t really have time to set up a shot like on the surface. Viewing the image later on your computer is part of the excitement  and one of the many joys of underwater photography.  To approach  dolphins, sharks, whales, turtles and other marine creatures obliges you to understand how they live and how they interact amongst themselves and humans.

4) You shoot a lot of videos as well. Which is your favourite Videography or Photography and why?

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I don’t really have a favorite although photography was my first passion.  Some situations are best for photography and others for video. In practice, photography is definitely a little easier technically and requires less preparation because you can capture the scene at the spur of the moment. Video on the other hand, takes a little more preparation to set up the shots. Video also gives the option to integrate music with visuals.  Music can really add another dimension to the visuals and creates a special feeling that can inspire people in many ways. However with photography, you must try and tell the story with only one image. So the process of selecting the right moment is a very good exercise.

5) Can you give us an insight into the gear that you use for clicking photos underwater?

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I have specific  gear for each subject or type of work :

Waves and action: Nikon D4 camera and  Nikkor 16 mm fisheye, 58mm/1.4, 85mm/1.8 with Liquideye water housings.

Models and fashion: Nikon D800 and D3X with Aquatech and Liquideye water housings.

Above/Below:  Nikon D800 with 14 mm aspherical lens with  11 ‘ superdome.

Fauna and deeper work:  Subal waterhousing  with  16 mm fisheye lens, 20 mm or  60 mm marco.

Video: Panasonic GH4 camera with 7-14 lens and a Nauticam housing. I also use a Seabob underwater scooter to create dynamic shots.

6) How does shooting underwater differ from shooting on land?

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Everything is different. I usually shoot in the middle of the day to have enough light.  I don’t really like using flash too much.  The whole process is much slower.  There is much more preparation with the water housings and camera settings on the surface.

You also need the proper equipment to be the most productive in each situation.  The right wetsuits, swim fins, the proper weights  for stabilisation and  proper mask. I do most of my work free diving with just a breath of air so I have more freedom of movement.

7) How does one get started with underwater photography? Any advice.

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You can start with a cheap set up like a GoPro in shallow water or in a pool. You must first be very confident swimming underwater and breathing either with bottles or learning how to do free dives by holding your breath for long periods. Spending  a lot of time in the water is the most important.  When you have mastered small cameras like  gopro  and  it’s wide angle lens you can move on to better cameras with proper water housings and different lenses.

8) Which is your favorite among your photographs and the story behind the picture?

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A friend of mine who does whale watching tours on Moorea, called me up one day and told me he had been approaching a very large female humpback whale off the coast of Moorea. It was so big they called it ‘Big Mama’. The next day I went over to meet him and we set out to try and find it around the island. After a few hours of searching, he recognized the whale with its calf. I prepared 2 water housings, one with a wide angle and one with a tighter lens and dove in. To get a sense of size, I asked him to swim with the whale. She was very receptive and after a while followed his movements underwater. I would dive probably 10 meters deep in order to get the whole whale with to much distortion. In this shot it really looks like they are playing together. Curious of each other.

9)According to you, what makes a good photograph?

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A good photograph is an image that catches the eye and creates an emotion. A picture that is technically perfect and sublimes the  subject.
It  should inspire, take you on a visual journey and make you want to travel or take action.

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You can check out Tim’s work on his

All photos used in this article are a copyright of Tim Mckenna.

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