Photos and text by Singda Cai. Special thanks to Fan Ping for his help connecting with Wowie.
🎶🎶 Pre-dive Clicklist: Daniel Powter – Free Loop
“It was 2016 when we first tried Blackwater photography. It less than 300 meters (nearly 100 ft) away from the shore. Our first attempt has to be categorized as a failure, I’m afraid. The wind and the current were strong, and we made a mistake by tying our underwater light to the ship and chased it for an hour. We didn’t capture any photos; it was a bad experience.”
“Blackwater photography compared to underwater photography is like shooting a shark on shore versus chasing a whale in blue water. Because Blackwater is taken only at night, my team and I worked for more than three years to film many rare species, such as Blanket Octopus and Earthquake fish, and other deep sea creatures, for example. I am the only photographer, and I use three cameras, a Nikon d850 and two Nikon z7s, which are installed in waterproof housing by Seacam.”
“The team consists of a captain, a captain’s assistant, and two underwater guides. The guides are responsible for helping to locate both the marine life and the safety facilities. We all use nitrox double tanks, and dive for no more than 90 minutes per dive, two to three dives per night, and no more than 30 m/100 ft depth per dive.”
“I began underwater photography in the Philippines, Anilao, a small town and a natural paradise with rich marine species. When I started Blackwater photography, only one or two people there had any experience with it. I decided to find good partners and form my own team. Of course we made mistakes at first, but we developed methods that worked for us.”
“Blackwater photography was exciting, especially to me, since it was a risk to go to sea and dive at night where only madmen went; we could not know what challenges we would meet. We have had several close calls, especially with unforeseen currents, but after a couple of years, our experience has given us the confidence we need. We make about five hundred dives a year.“
“If you want to try Blackwater photography always respect nature. Never go to sea when there are strong winds and waves. Try it only after you have the experience of at least 200 dives. Find a qualified dive shop. Beginners, be sure to follow your buddy for the first time, and let the distance from the light be no more than 20 m/66 ft. Take a look at your diving computer once in a while during the shooting. Safety first.”
How were Blackwater dives conducted in the early pre-tech days of scuba? Here’s an “Off Line” report from famed photographer Chris Newbert, from aquaCORPS #2 SOLO. Tekkies, don’t try this at home!
Songda Cai aka Wowie has won numerous awards in various international photography competitions including the prestigious NHM Wildlife photographer of the year and Windland Smith Rice Nature’s Best Photography . His works have been published in countless magazines , books, including the Smithsonian Museum in Washington USA, Natural History Museum in London, Museum Koenig in Germany, Natuur Museum in Netherland and Venice, Italy. His Photographs have been reported by Chinese and International media channels.
Though many have indulged in black water photography, no one does it with more gusto than Cai. It is not uncommon for him to dive through the night to the wee hours of early morning. This dogged enthusiasm has paid off tremendously with awards and recognition by his peers. In his words, “Being able to explore the depths of the ocean is one of the most wonderful experiences in life.”
New Zealand-based ocean artist Mon illustrates the beauty and wonder of the undersea world.
All images and text by Mon.
My most recent dreamscape was inspired by an unforgettable dive near Seal Rocks in NSW, Australia. During that dive, I was surrounded by a breathtaking array of fish, sharks, and rays. The sheer diversity and abundance of marine life left a profound impression on me, and I knew I had to capture that experience in my art.
I’ve always been fascinated by the incredible diversity of marine life, and this fascination led me to want to share my knowledge and love for these creatures with others.
I’m primarily self-taught. I’ve been doing illustrations for as long as I can remember, but I started taking it more seriously around three years ago.
I draw my inspiration primarily from the ocean itself. The underwater world is an endless source of wonder and beauty, and I find inspiration in the mesmerizing colors, intricate patterns, and fascinating creatures that inhabit it
While I don’t have formal training as a naturalist, spending countless hours exploring the ocean and observing its fascinating ecosystems has allowed me to develop a deep appreciation for the intricate beauty and complexity of marine life.
The vibrancy of the colors in my illustrations is largely a reflection of the real-life underwater world I’ve had the privilege to explore. I often base my colors on actual images I’ve captured with my underwater camera.
Every dive is a fresh source of creative ideas.
Creating these collections allows me to not only showcase the beauty and uniqueness of each species but also contribute to a resource that can help others learn more about the underwater world.
One crucial aspect of my process is using photos I’ve taken as references. These images serve as a valuable resource for capturing the intricate details and features of the subject accurately and ensure that my artwork remains true to the beauty of the natural world.
I seek to evoke emotions of tranquility, wonder, and responsibility, inviting viewers to not only admire the creatures I depict but also take action to protect them and engage in sustainable activities that ensure the health of our marine ecosystems.
I’d like viewers to leave my illustrations with a heightened appreciation for the ocean’s beauty, a stronger connection to nature, and a greater sense of responsibility towards marine conservation.
Ultimately, I aspire to play a meaningful role in the intersection of art, ocean advocacy, and conservation, contributing to a sustainable future for our oceans through my work.
Art is not just a passion for me; it’s my full-time job, and I feel truly fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I love.
Hailing from the picturesque shores of New Zealand, Mon’s connection with the sea is at the core of her creative journey. She’s not just an artist; she’s a free diver, a scuba dive instructor, and an adept spearfisherwoman. Over the past 8 years, Mon has explored the world’s oceans, diving into their mysteries and capturing their beauty. Mon specialises in marine illustrations, crafting captivating artworks that transport viewers beneath the waves. Guided by the visual references she captures with her underwater camera and enriched by her personal encounters with marine life, Mon’s art comes to life with authenticity and depth. She is also an advocate for sustainable spearfishing practices. She utilizes her art as a potent medium to raise awareness about the importance of responsible fishing.