Mr Besserdich you are using the term “Aquatic Photography” instead of underwater photography, which is the fundamental difference between these two terms?
Except a very few niches, underwater photography is, as widely known and understood today, documentary photography. Whether it is landscapes, marine wildlife, wrecks or any other spots of interest: classic underwater photography documents them, showing what all exist below surface. As such, underwater photography is a main leg of modern special interest journalism.
“Aquatic Photography” aims for a different approach here. Yet, it works with classic elements and of course lots of it happens underwater while scuba- or free-diving. The common denominator is the element of H2O itself, which can be interpreted in many photographic ways, but in terms of Aquatic Photographic, more artistic freedom might be provided. How water moves, shines, forms and interacts with everything around and in it, regardless of this is happening at a nice, warm and colorful dive spot or just below a bridge in a big city, a pond, or even in the rinsing tank of a abandoned steel factory: Aquatic Photography supports new and different ways of visions and interpretations of the element H2O by using photography as a communicator. It is detached from the boundaries of documentary photography, but not detached from guidelines of fine arts photography. It can be performed everywhere where water is. It is not meant as art form but as a way of different photographic, artistic and creative approach to water, in a world that has most likely seen enough anemone fish images.
Which was your basic motive that made you become a successful professional diver and especially an UW photographer?
I could write romans about that (maybe one day I will!) but for now, and to keep it simple: Whenever I become interested in a specific topic I don’t stop until I know everything about it I want to know.
A career in professional diving and a career in underwater photography are actually more sort of “side effects” of my personal quest for knowledge and personal development. I started to do scuba diving around 20 years ago, but photography is part of my life since 37 years now. To me, it was very logic to search for ways how I can combine some of my main passions in life for to create something new.
You have numerous awards and distinctions in UW photography on different subjects, when you are chasing the perfect shot what drives you, “rules” or instinct?
Certainly instinct. I am not much of a “motive haunter”. I am around with my camera, keep my eyes and mind open and if I see something that touches me I start to capture it with my camera. The technical part of photography is simply craftsmanship. You can’t build a chair if you don’t know which wood, screwdriver or hammer to use… and more important, if you have no idea how you want the later chair to look like. In photography, its similar: first you have the image in your mind and then you use your tools. So, “rules” in terms of camera and light settings are important but pointless without the open mind and 2 open eyes of the photographer. It’s a bit like driving a car. From a certain point of experience nobody thinks anymore about when to press which pedal and when to switch to a different gear. We just do it. However, this doesn’t make us the next champion of the formula 1 racing in Monaco.
As one of the top UW photographers worldwide, which you believe are those elements that a professional trainer should transfer to his students in order to inspire them to become not only good UW photographers, but also passionate lovers of their work?
I would see motivation as the core element here. Dealing with all the different factors of underwater photography is often understood as to be complicated and complex. But it’s not. Despite modern cameras turned into sort of high-end computers with a lens attached, the basic principles of photography remained unchanged for more than 100 years. Again, I see motivation as a first step to passion. Furthermore it is about objectives and expectations. To support motivation, objectives and goals should be set within a reachable distance. It are the small bites of small achievements that keep the people going on. And for teachers I would personally see it as the main duty to take care that their students always grab their “small highlights”.
Which do you think are the basic rules that a rookie UW photographer must follow in order to acquire knowledge on this demanding but charming procedure?
My own concept of teaching which is based on 8 simple guidelines to follow, will be published as a book in summer 2015, so I won’t tell any “secrets” before the time comes.
But what I could give as advice right now: to begin with scuba diving, photography and underwater photography at the same time might not be the ideal thing to do. Too many factors to consider, too many things to keep in mind. Too many things that could go wrong. I suggest to practice with “normal” photography before even thinking about to take a camera underwater. A dive is certainly the wrong place to wonder about where to change the shutter speed of the camera or where to activate the macro mode. Such basics should be learned and practiced before. Furthermore it needs to be a really good, safe and responsible diver. All this will come with the time and same as scuba diving; underwater photography is mostly a question of growing experience.
There is a perception that diving is an expensive hobby. If we add the equipment an UW photographer needs, cost goes even higher. Do you believe that this is a myth, meaning that the gifted UW photographer just needs simple and basic level equipment for the “perfect” shot?
This pretty much depends on how we define the “perfect shot”. In some aspects of technical image quality, you might have difficulties to see your underwater shot, made with a 15 USD “one way use” compact camera, and printed on a dive magazine’s cover. But that does not make it automatically a “bad shot”.
I tend to say that each camera has its specific capabilities. You can’t expect a small compact camera to capture a wide-angle wreck shot, suitable for a magazine cover, as that camera is simply not designed for such task. But for instance: compact cameras perform pretty well with macro subjects and yes, there are many cover shots existing that were made with a small compact camera.
Knowing the limits of a camera (or better to say: knowing in what the camera is good at) helps the photographer to use it in the best possible way. Thanks god, it is still the photographer (and not the camera) who makes the shot.
So, it would be a myth to say that any shot can be made with any camera, but it is certainly no myth that a good photographer can make good shots regardless of what sort of camera he uses.
If we suppose that one of the fundamentals of marketing is location (place of the 6Ps) would Aegean Sea characterized as an ideal destination for scuba activities?
I would say that the Aegean Sea is at least a place with a great potential for scuba activities. Despite the existence of “dream destinations for scuba diving”, especially in Europe, more and more people again start to prefer the places nearby. Not everybody enjoys a 30-hour flight and not everybody can effort it. Location, climate, living & traveling costs, and the luxus of diving in waters that are not overcrowded with other scuba divers, do -in my opinion- clearly speak for the Aegean Sea as new upcoming dive destination.
Which would be your proposals as a scuba professional that travels a lot and has a deep knowledge of the global scuba market, to a tourist organization in order to build the ideal scuba destination?
From my experience, dive centers all around the world are always proud of their dive spots in reach. The diving customer however simply expects such great spots to exist. Furthermore all the dive centers claim to be very professional, providing top logistics, have well trained staff and a wide range of scuba training programs. Again, the normal scuba diving customer expects this as to be the standard anyway. Expectations are high.
However, I would like to make any tourist organization think about one specific fact: during a normal day, how many hours the diving customer spends underwater? Those numbers do vary but roughly it is something around 2,5-3,5 hours. Add time for sleep/rest, eat & drink and still there is a lot of extra time.
Now arises the question: What could be offered for the rest of the day to keep the customers happy? In today’s professional diving business it is not done alone anymore with nice places to dive and a working air compressor. From the view of a scuba diver, the quality of a dive destination is not defined by the underwater world alone. At least 50% of the holiday memories, any scuba diver brings back home after his dive vacation, is formed by a sort of social environment.
Providing space where divers from all the world can come together and build new friendships, providing services such as excursions, evening barbecues or any other social activities and most important: see and treat the divers as friends and not as just customers… those would be some of my proposals.
In conclusion: the “ideal” scuba destination should be a mix of scuba diving, culture & history, social contacts, accommodation & food, caretaking of children, proper logistics and the flexibility to find solutions that are not listed as standard services. It is the special effort and the “family feeling” that turns a 1-time coming scuba diving customer into an every year returning customer.
What is your vision for scuba diving for the near future and which are the tips you would like to pass to new and potential divers?
I am pretty sure that there will be always people who go for scuba diving one year, mountain climbing the next year and maybe parachute jumping the following one. But the keen and passionate divers will be more and specialize. Technical diving will become a growing market and special niches such as underwater archaeology, uw scooters, cave diving and of course underwater photography will keep on booming. The total numbers of frequent divers can maybe decrease but those divers remaining will be more demanding ones, always looking for something new to learn and focus on in the world of scuba diving.
To new and potential divers I can only say: hop in, give it a try… and see what happens!