Underwater photography is no joke, this we know. What with having to maintain buoyancy as you are, carry all your necessary equipment, focus on the subject, make sure you’ve got enough light, and remembering to breathe the whole time. This is why we’ve got a ton of respect for Sumer Verma’s work, that and the fact that he uses his photographs to spread much-needed awareness about the fragility of marine ecosystems, and the ways in which it affects each of our lives. We talked to him about his art, his passion and why he does what he does - this is nothing short of inspired.
HG: When did you first get into diving and underwater photography?
SV: “I started diving in 1997, when i went on a holiday to Lakshadweep - like all people who go to do their course. Needless to say, it was beautiful and unbelievable. There was 40 m visibility and I had never experienced such clear water before. Right after getting into diving, it was most natural to photograph and film the beautiful creatures you see when you’re down there. It was an extension of my love for the ocean and diving. There was no real thought behind it when I first started - it was just fun. I began filming in 1998, because I only had access to a video camera. I did that for a couple of years before starting underwater photography.”
HG: What about your art keeps you going?
SV: “Well, to begin with I am a dive instructor and owner in the dive business - this allows me to spend lots of time by the ocean. This is the easiest way to keep with my hobby - it’s in my backyard. But that of course is the very practical aspect of the art. Underwater photography is completely absorbing, challenging and changing - every dive is different. Different opportunities come by depending on light, the water, the encounter with the creature all have a part to play. Macro Photography is when you shoot using a tight lens which is good for really tiny small animals (smaller than your fingernail) - and those creatures are spectacular. In a span of 90 minutes, you would have only covered 1 square metre of the reef, but seen so much. As you keep going, you keep getting better and the images you shoot are the best motivation - this is what keeps me going for sure.”
HG: Talk to us about your photography and the role it plays in your conservation efforts
SV: “Over the last 20 years, as far as the environment goes, nothing has gotten better. Earlier, we would say we didn’t know, and ignorance would be accepted. But with the reach of technology today and with so many documentaries, films, talks in the last decade show us the damage we’ve caused and tell us where our environment stands. People who live in urban areas are the ones who drive the market. Conservation today is not one sided - a large part of it is awareness building. No one knows what lies below the sea, because they can’t see it and so no one cares. Catastrophes are happening on the daily level - 75 million sharks die every year because of Shark Fin soup. Unregulated fishing along with acidification of oceans and deforestation have consequences that are very hectic.
People are so distracted by their own reality via social media, phones, and facebook. I feel that anything one can do to inspire people is necessary. It doesn’t even start with underwater photography - it starts with scuba diving. You see it for yourself, experience it for yourself and you are bound to be transformed to be environmentally conscious towards one particular thing because you have fallen in love with some element of it. My photography is to raise awareness - using facts, the beauty and the inspiration we gain. More and more voices need to do that - there is still hope. So keep bombarding people, and at some point they will be sensitized to the dangers and threats and make more educated decisions about how they want to live on this planet. It is all a collective action - one can’t sit back and just do nothing. Sharing images, wonder and joy encourage people to go diving and interact directly with the environment. It’s all about sharing the love.”
HG: You’ve recently started exploring underwater fashion photography, as we saw in your shoot for Vogue. What changes do you have to make in your mindset when switching from wildlife to fashion?
SV: “Wildlife is very relaxing - there is no particular brief, you don’t care how many images you get back with, you use the conditions to the best of your ability and you get what you get. It takes time to build a portfolio with wildlife photography - 6 months and 300 dives later, maybe you’ll have a few good images. This is very serene, and just for yourself, most of the time.
Fashion is completely different - you are on a strict deadline with a very particular brief. For the Vogue shoot, we travelled for more than 35 hours to get to the Phillipines for the shot. And all I had were 2.5 hours with Katrina Kaif in a strong current, with no luxury of time. We had limited prep time, I didn’t know the conditions well, I had to ensure that her interaction with the whale shark was natural, while keeping in mind that her hair, makeup, clothes and body position were all on point. All the pressure is riding on you, and all that money and time is counting on you to have the perfect shot. It’s very stressful - but equally rewarding when you see your work in print.”
HG: When going on an underwater wildlife shoot, what are the three things to keep in mind?
SV: “First, make sure you have chosen the location and destination based on what you want to see, and what you want to shoot. Each place has a unique ecosystem, and you should be as sure as you can be of what you will see there. Secondly, be sure you’re going at the right time/season so you don’t waste the opportunity. Many marine animals travel through the seasons, and so you have to know where to find them. Lastly, hook yourself up with a trusted dive operator who understands your needs and can give you the right information. It won’t matter if you go at the right time to the right place, but can’t get in the water when you need to!”
HG: What’s on your travel bucket list?
SV: “Tonga, Micronesia to swim with humpback whales.”
HG:What is your most memorable photo?
SV: “The split shot of the baby turtle. I was there when the egg hatched and turtle crawled out and scurried down the sand and get into the ocean and disappear. I rushed and got into the water - the turtles are so small , waves are huge and they swim so fast - it was a bloody nightmare! I stuck with one guy and I was less than 4 inches away from him (the turtles are smaller than the inside of your palm), when I got that shot. It one me 1st place at the Our World Underwater photo contest in 2015. That was huge for me.”
For more pictures and to follow Sumer’s adventures, go to his Facebook page.