If you want to admire amazing underwater portraits, you definitely have to wander through Johannes Oei 's stunning portfolio. When looking at his work, one can only conclude that he is a very gentle person with a warm personality and a beautiful soul. He quotes: “I never will stop learning and shooting..... and making more friends all over the world.”
Briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
I was born and live in Indonesia. My previous role was manager in an international company and I was posted in many countries since 1992. Last year my business partner and I started our own tourism project and of course we offer photography trips.
In my tutorials with 1x.com I mentioned that I fell in love with photography when I was in high school. Actually I started taking photos when I was 10 years old. It was with a very small and very cheap film pocket camera. I remember spending my entire savings not only buying the camera but also spending on flashes. The camera did not have any flash facility. I used a 6 or 10 shots flash, which was available in the market at the time. The flash had “bulbs” which burned for every shot taken. Then I had to save again. Only when I was in high school I had better opportunities with photography. My desire for painting started during this time.
My other hobby is scuba diving. It is this hobby, which made me focus more on photography after my high school time. The underwater world is so beautiful that I couldn’t resist sharing it with others. I started with a small camera, Canon Ixus and then changed to Canon G12. However this hobby did not stop my interest in painting. This is the reason my photos tend to be more art photography. I am now using Canon 5D Mk 3.
How have your history and life experiences affected your photography?
This is a good question. I never think about it. I remember that my first photo was taken in my parent ‘s bedroom with my little sister as model. Could it be the reason I love model photography more than panoramic? Maybe I should explore more to expand my knowledge.
Which are your most important experiences that have influenced your art?
I really love painting and abstract art. I get emotionally involved. I love shooting life objects. There is feeling and mood. A story behind the model’s eyes. Being able to convey a photo that could arouse feeling and imagination in my audience or invite my audience to think, in a unique way, like with a painting, is what I love.
Describe your overall photographic vision.
Photography to me is drawing with light. So one could convey his or her feeling or thought on to canvas with a camera. To be able to pour all these into an image, a photo should have colour harmony and good composition. One could learn a lot from a painting. A good photo could trigger feeling or curiosity.
Why are you so drawn by Underwater Portraits?
The underwater world is like another world. There is still a lot to explore and learn from it. The quietness ….the calmness….the natural environment that is mostly unspoiled.
What is more important to you, the mood, /story behind your images or the technical perfection?
I like a harmony of everything if possible. However, mood or story behind the photo is indeed more important. The main parameter for a photo to me is to be able to attract the attention of the audience and trigger a certain feeling.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
In underwater photography, I would love it if the model would feel totally free as if there is no one near her. I do need the model to trust me so that she can be comfortably doing her poses during the underwater shoot.
Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
So far most of my art photography with models were taken in a pool. Having said that there are some parameters that we need to prepare and plan. We need to ensure water quality is good for a photo shoot. Poor water quality will create scattering and low quality images. Anther important parameter are safety gears and safety divers.
What gear do you use (camera, lenses, bag)?
Currently I am using two types of camera. Canon G12 with macro lens mainly for underwater macro photography. Canon 5D MK3 with my favourite EF 16-35 mm f/2.8 lens, although I also use 70 – 200 mm lens, EF 24 -105 mm f/4 and prime lens EF 100 mm f/2.8 for macro underwater photography.
What software do you use to process your images?
I am using Photoshop with some filtering software such as Nik filters.
Can you tell us something more about your workflow?
During underwater photography there is no way to verbally communicate with the model due to the location. So before starting the post processing, the photographer will have to go through all the shots. Each shot has its own character and mood due to different poses and mimic. From this the photographer gets an idea about the post processing. It is just like preparing what a painter would like to paint. Therefore the result would be the photographer’s imagination of the model’s feeling. I would start with raw setting and ensure texture is clarified so it will not fade away during blending. I use a lot of blending especially to get certain natural colours. I prefer to take a shot of a colour which I want to blend into my photo to create the exact colour that I like.
What is your most important advice to a beginner in underwater portraiture and how do you get started?
We need to be comfortable underwater and ensure that your model has no underwater phobia. There is a need to keep shooting so your camera should be ready for multiple shots. In underwater model photography, we only have a very limited time of shooting in each session. It depends on how long a model could hold her breath and at the same time pose for the photo shoot. I would suggest people to not be afraid of taking more photos. You will never know what you could have from those shots. Some objects could only touch your feeling once they are in photo frame. This is how I learned.
Who are your favourite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
There are many photographers that I admire, such as art photographer Kenvin Pinardy and underwater photographer Aaron Wong. I also love the work of Brooke Shaden. I like how Brooke presented colour and composition. Her works always amazes me. I learned a lot from her photos.
Is there any specific photo taken by another photographer that has inspired you a big deal and why?
This photo by Brooke Shaden titled “A light for tarnished souls”.
It proves that a camera can be used as a mean to create a “great painting”. It is sort of pulling me into it and tickling my emotions. This is what I want to learn and hope to be able to create in my photos.
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
I would like to be more artistic in conveying a story and mood. At the moment, I still think that I am not yet achieving what I think it ideally should be.
Describe your favourite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?
“She…..Underwater” is my favourite photo. The expression of the model is the best part of the photo. It was so powerful that it attracts the attention of the public. The effect of water on the model is very clear so it’s telling us a story. It is also presented in such a colour which emphasizes the character of the model.
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
I learned a lot from photos that are published by 1X. This is a place where one can share and learn about photography.