Jennifer Lu: Photographer of the week
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by Yvette Depaepe
How has your history and life experiences affected your photography?
After I got my scuba diving certificate in 2016, I was super excited and made my plan for scuba adventures immediately. My immediate goal was to “scuba dive all around the world” to see this other world below the surface at so many beautiful places. So, I quit my full-time job and started my scuba dive journey with my little GoPro camera. In July 2017, in order to become a better diver, I took a specialized, three months dive-master training course in the cold waters of Monterey Bay in California.
At the end of 2017, I realized that my GoPro camera wasn’t cutting it, and I bought my first Sony 6500 camera with a full complement of underwater housing, just because I wanted to capture what I saw as a diver. I had, at the time, literally no idea on how to use any of it. So, I went to an underwater camera shop and asked for someone to set it up for me. With these basic instructions, I set off to the Red Sea for a scuba diving adventure. Alas, my inexperienced showed, and the second day my entire camera system was flooded and became useless. So, I had to use the GoPro camera again, which saved my diving experience – at least I could record the underwater images.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson: I had to learn my camera and camera equipment in excruciating detail prior to me trying to use it. I took this even further: I had to learn about photography itself, and started all the way at a photography beginner class in early 2018. This not only taught me about photography from all basics, I also got to know a number of good photographers during the classes and started to see some of their work. I enjoyed the journey.
I also learned about underwater equipment properly, and in April of 2018, I replaced my A6500 underwater setup with the Sony A9 with its underwater housing setup. I still wasn’t ready to ‘go out on my own’, so I signed up for diving trips with professional underwater photographers to learn from their knowledge, tips, experience and expertise.
Then my underwater photography life really started …
And, when I am not scuba diving, I do go to local parks to practice focus tracking of hummingbirds or other wild animals. This made me fonder of animal photography in general, and specifically wildlife photography.
Which are your most important experiences that has influenced your art?
So, I signed up with 1X, but didn’t pay too much attention until I submitted my first photograph in Oct 2019. I was encouraged by a friend to do so.
Prior to April 2018 I had zero camera knowledge, and after October 2019 I had my first published images. You can tell how much I learned and how much I enjoyed it. Today, I am totally hooked on 1X.
In a way, 1X raised me in the field of photography. I feel that I am still at the beginning of my journey, and am always hungry to learn. I will never stop studying and learning from others, as well as from my own experiences nowadays. I am always open to new advice.
Describe your overall photographic vision.
But as soon as I got a decent handle on it, and got my clear shot, I forgot all about the heavy equipment, and enjoyed myself truly. It took me over a year to get there, but I can manage now. On the boat, the most common thing that people comment on me is like: “Your camera is bigger than you …” (I am a small person).
Now, it is my passion, and my new adventures are not always about photography. It is about life experiences. The camera can freeze a moment which can be shared with others and bring back memories, but the experience itself is so much grander.
Still, I love the photography and I love sharing the results, especially if the image captures the way I remember the moment.
Photography has changed me to become a better person. The more I learn about animals’ behaviour, the more I learn about how to protect them, and I share this with others wherever I can.
Photography also changed my daily life. Being a diver, especially a free diver at times, I must be in perfect condition, both physically and mentally.
Since shooting wildlife cannot be directed, To get the most impressive result require a lot of patience . In a way, this also helps me, as there is something very serene in awaiting the perfect moment, for the perfect shot. If I don’t get the shot I want, I will keep going back until I nail it .
Overall, being (becoming) a photographer makes me feel alive.
Why are you so drawn by Wildlife and Underwater Photography?
Each time I get such an opportunity, I feel my heart beat skip a bit or stop breathing for a bit. I enjoy closer encounters with all sorts of animals, especially dangerous ones.
Animals (that are not hunting me) appear very gently and graceful and more polite than humans perhaps. Discovering their natural behaviours and recording their life while catching exciting and memorable moments is what I enjoy most about it.
I share what I capture with my family and others, and wish that they could experience the same excitement and feelings towards the animals that I had at the time.
What is more important to you, the mood/story behind your images or the technical perfection?
My skills in post-edit are improving but I am still learning. So, I do prefer to make simple touch ups of my works.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
Then, I focus on the images, which usually only happens during a shorter period of each dive – no more than 45 -60 minutes at a time depends on your depth. That leaves little time for swim-up, safety- stop ( diver’s safety rules) positioning, lighting, and waiting for that magical ‘animal moment’.
When I ‘feel’ the image – I see the animal, and I try to bond with it, do a test shot near me and adjust camera settings and strobes settings quickly then wait for them coming to me (Never touch or chasing animals underwater!!! ).Rules are strict underwater . Sometimes shoots can be wildly especial with huge sharks , we must learn how to protect ourselves in case they are approaching too close to us ( we also got trainings for that ) . Another thing is animals never pose, never wait for you in one place, and are generally shy or cautious.
Finding animals is a treat, having a little bit of time to spend with them is always special, especially during black-water dives.
Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
But depending on where you go, there are certain type of animals expected but we never know until we jumped into the ocean. Also, the deeper you go, the less bottom time you have left . I got ‘Bends’ twice in Anilao Philippines when I was shooting macros (forgot to check my bottom time).
I do need to prepare both dive gear and cameras extremely well, and I need to be prepared to ‘get the shot’ when it presents itself. This can be different at different locations, e.g. easiest are ‘cave sites’ where the situation is a bit more predictable. Other locations may be totally different than from what we originally planned, as animals can be migratory, and seasons change. For example, Orcas will come to the Norway shores around November, and being there in November gives you a change, but not a guarantee, of being able to observe them.
What gear do you use (camera, lenses, bag)?
On land, I use the Nikon D850 as well, with a 24-70mm, 180-400mm and an 800mm lens. I also use a Sony A9 with a 70-200mm and a 16-35mm lens.
What software do you use to process your images?
Can you tell us something more about your work flow?
What is your most important advice to a beginner in Wildlife and Underwater Photography and how do you get started?
Learning a skill is not enough – you also have to enjoy your skill. If you enjoy it thoroughly, it shows in the result, and vice versa.
Long story short, I had a lot to learn, about diving, about photography, about editing, about story-telling, about travelling, about going to the extremes, every time again and again.
If someone is thinking about getting into this, then I suggest they start with looking at pictures, especially underwater images. learning from the experts – online classes, in-person classes, or just browse images and read books.
I learned from others, and I was a happy student. Yes, it takes lots of time, and feels frustrated because there was so much informations but fun to learn .
Since I am a late bloomer , I started to challenge myself in multiple ways to immerse myself in underwater Photography , I took swimming classes first to the basics down. In order to be a good diver , I took three months intense dive master training in cold waters of Monterey California . In order to be able to dive with Orcas and humpbacks , I put myself to free dive courses this year ( haven’t done advanced course yet but I can hold my breath over three minutes and go down 60 feet with one breath after my first training ) . Free diving has been my biggest challenge to date. It is hard to describe how to meet your limit between going under with the fear and risk of ‘blacking out’ versus assuring that you can surface again before you have to take your next breath. It’s “ kiss the death “ training to me . The feeling of reaching the ‘Black out edge ‘is hard , but it allows me to get that next picture! So I will do it and plan to go deeper .
I was very dedicated . I have learned a lot about photography in past year and know that there is so much more to learn. It makes me appreciate and understand ‘everything’, and I am glad that I did.
Nothing is easy, all of this took many months (each), but I enjoyed the journey so much – the more I learned, the happier I became, and my pictures kept getting better! On land I am just a beginner. I like animals in action.
So, in short, practice, enjoy, learn, enjoy, practice again. This journey will never stops till you stop it . Harness all your skills, and make sure that you don’t skip, especially basics. Learn from others, learn from seminars, be willing to ask for help. A new world will open up for you.
Who are your favourite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
Beyond that, Erin is my underwater PS teacher and also a great underwater Photographer for many years. I went on her trip for times already and I learned so much from her and her partner. I am still taking her classes every week.
What I learned from him is to first know (study) a site well, know what’s in there, and make a plan on how to shoot. Then wait for the right moment, and be prepared.
On land, I am also targeting larger wildlife, preferably in action, alike Lions or Cheetah’s hunting’s, Horses running, etc.…
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
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