As photographers are now able to submit their images to the Ocean Photographer of the Year 2022, we chat with the overall winner of 2021, Western Australia-based dive tour guide Aimee Jan, to see how the win has affected her life.
Oceanographic Magazine (OM): First of all, any advice for young people wanting to enter the Ocean Photographer of the Year competition that aren’t entirely sure on whether they should?
Aimee Jan (AJ): My advice is that they should definitely go for it! I havenʼt entered many competitions myself and, to be honest, I didnʼt expect to make a placing in this one. Winning the awards has shown me that it is worth taking the chance because you never know what is going to stand out to the judges.
OM: What has happened in your photography career since winning the Ocean Photographer of the Year award in 2021?
AJ: After the competition, I was asked to join the Vital Impacts fine art print sale to raise money in support of conservation efforts. There were so many amazing photographers involved and to be a part of that group was really special and surreal.
OM: In what way did the win change your life?
AJ: Winning the Ocean Photographer of the Year In 2021 has definitely given me more confidence. It made me feel that I’m on the right track with my photography and that I should just keep going with what I’m doing.
OM: When did you first connect with the ocean? Was there one moment or event that springs to mind.
AJ: I grew up in New Zealand in a house that looks out at the ocean. So, I think that I have always felt that connection. I remember that my love for marine life got influenced by watching Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Wolves of the Sea’ documentary at a young age too.
OM: Why did you start taking photos underwater? How did that come about?
AJ: I have always loved taking photos of my friends. When I moved to the Gold Coast in Australia and I started diving and travelling quite a lot, I wanted to be able to take photos underwater as well. This was primarily to save the memories.
OM: Are you entirely self-taught? What would you advise people wanting to further their career as underwater photographers?
AJ: When I started off in underwater photography, there weren’t really any online courses that I could find. That’s why I mostly asked friends for a bit of advice and learnt everything along the way. My main advice for young people starting out would be to go out as much as possible and play around with different settings. Also, you should spend a lot of time on post-production and get comfortable with whichever editing software you decide to use.
OM: Your photography style incorporates traditional marine life, art shots, freediving and more. How do you constantly innovate your images? How do you get your creative ideas?
AJ: I guess I try to share images of marine life that are different. I also try to show the different characteristics of marine life. I feel extremely lucky that I get to spend a lot of time in the ocean with my camera for work as a dive tour guide. This means that I get to see lots of different and strange things on a daily basis.
OM: How do you plan your images?
AJ: I find that with marine life, and wild animals in general, there is only so much planning you can do as most animals have a mind of their own. I love when I can show the animal in their natural environment; turtles or sharks alongside smaller fish or coral landscapes are my favourite.
OM: What do you want to achieve and convey with your photography? Do you have a specific aim or style?
AJ: First and foremost, I want people to fall in love with the animals and the ocean. If people have that connection, it will help them want to look after it and care for it even if they donʼt live anywhere near it.
OM: Your winning image of the turtle is absolutely beautiful. How did it come about? Tell us a bit more about the background story.
AJ: Thank you! We were out snorkelling over the back of the reef, a spot that we only get to dive a few times a season as we can only reach it if there’s no wind or swell. My friend called me over because she had found a turtle under a ledge behind a school of glass fish. When I dived down and started to get closer, the glass fish all separated and framed the turtle perfectly.
OM: You work on the Ningaloo Reef. What are current conservation concerns in the region?
AJ: At the moment, Ningaloo Reef is on highest alert for coral bleaching. Scientists believe that it could happen in the next few weeks as there will potentially be some abnormally warm water coming down the coast. I really hope this doesnʼt happen. It would be absolutely heartbreaking.
OM: What are the technical aspects of your shots: Do you prefer wide angle? Do you use ambient light? Which lenses are you relying on?
AJ: I love my 8-15mm fisheye lens (kept on 15mm) for shooting underwater because I am usually taking photos of whale sharks and whales. Here on the Ningaloo Reef, we donʼt always have clear water so it helps being able to get a bit closer to the animals and the coral. I always use natural light as we can’t use strobes with whale sharks and whales. But, to be honest, I wouldnʼt want to use strobes anyway.
OM: Are there any moments throughout your career that fill you with a particular sense of pride? Any images that stand out to yourself?
AJ: Winning the Ocean Photographer of the Year in 2021 was definitely one of those moments. I feel that my journey into underwater photography has been quite natural and has just developed from wanting to hold onto special moments. The winning turtle image has always been one of my favourite images. But another one that really stands out to myself is my photo of a sperm whale – seeing them was simply a dream come true.
OM: Your favourite wildlife encounter?
AJ: This is a very hard question to answer (laughs). I would have to say, besides swimming with the sperm whales, there is one encounter that really stands out: About seven years ago when I was out with orca researchers, we were following our favourite orca pod. It was late in the day, just before sunset, when the orca family took down a humpback whale calf. They were swimming around the boat with it and decided to try and share it with us by pushing the dead calf up the side of the boat. It seemed like an offering. We could see all the tooth marks and bites on the dead calf. It was such a weird and exciting feeling that I can’t, to this day, quite explain.
OM: What is the one photo you really want to take that you havenʼt yet?
AJ: My ultimate dream is to travel around and see as much wildlife as possible – especially different whale species. I donʼt want to just tick them off my bucket list but I want to have real encounters and spend as much time as possible with them all.
OM: What is planned for the future for you? Any projects for 2022 that you want to talk about?
AJ: This year will be an exciting one! My good friend and I have just set up our first freediving and underwater photography getaway and workshop. I want to help more people get into underwater photography and learning how to freedive is the perfect match. I am hoping to travel a bit more this year too. I was meant to visit sperm whales pre-covid so I hope I can do that this year.
Entries are now open for the Ocean Photographer of the Year 2022 photography competition. If you’re interested in entering, you’ll get 20% off entry fees until 13 May with the discount code EARLYBIRD20 here. For the latest updates on the entry process and more, go follow us on Instagram: @opy_awards
Good luck; we can’t wait to see your photos!
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