Be transported to magical moments below the surface at the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2016 exhibition in Cape Town. But what does it take to capture incredible pictures in an ever-changing environment like the sea? Wild has the inside track. By Arnold Ras

The underwater world is the greatest wilderness on Earth, a little-known realm that is revealed in the images on show at the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2016 exhibition. The exhibit is on show until 30 September at the Chavonnes Battery Museum (Clock Tower) at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

One of the stand-out images on show is Pier Mane’s winning picture in the category Up & Coming Underwater Photographer. He insists though: “I am an amateur.” Well, we beg to differ! Wild chatted to Pier about his winning picture at the year’s exhibit and the tales behind his underwater works of art.

How on earth did you manage to snap your winning picture, “Three Pillars – Practice, patience & luck”?

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Weary of shooting sharks head-on, and the never-ending struggle to avoid divers’ bubbles in that famous 50m visibility in the Bahamas, I wanted to take a different shot – a complex one, like the “seniors” take. I wanted sun rays, a dramatic foreground and prospective background to capture the master of the house in all of its mystique. Three sponges were well-positioned to set the scene. Countless shots followed, but all turned out to be a total waste as the shark was underexposed. One strobe light, mainly focused on the sponges, proved successful. It was just a matter of luck and eye contact from the shark. Moral of the story? Dig deep for the determination to work for that different shot, that great shot. Know that that shot is sometimes behind you, not in front of you. The “seniors” are right though: be patient!

Why underwater photography?

I love diving and started at a very young age. I also enjoyed photography, which forces us to capture a moment in time with a single shot. Underwater photography is the marriage of these two passions.

Can you tell us about some of the dangers involved in underwater photography?

I would not call them dangers, but certainly risks. For underwater photographers diving is first and photography second. The rules of diving need to be respected: time, depth, currents, temperature and visibility. A winning picture is not worth decompression sickness for instance. The biggest risk? The fragile inhabitants of the underwater environment are the top priority.

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Shark luck: “It was a unique day at Aliwal Shoal to be surrounded by 25-30 blacktip sharks – swimming between my legs and all around me. The more time I spent in the water, the more comfortable I became. I took so many pictures until one open its mount right in front of my dome.”

Your top five tips to amateur underwater photographers?

  1. Be patient and don’t worry too much about what other people think about your images.
  2. Take time to learn techniques by trying to copy other images and finding ways to replicate successful pictures.
  3. Be humble and approach picture taking as a continuous journey of improvement.
  4. Considering most subjects and scenes have already been shot by someone somewhere, creating pictures with a new and creative look is paramount.
  5. Have fun – don’t take it too seriously.

Whale shark: “I started diving in the early ’90s and had never seen a whale shark – even after thousands of dives. I went to Cocos Island, a place I have dreamt of since I saw a documentary at the Festival de l’Image Sous-marine in Antibes, France. This majestic fish came from the blue and spent 50 minutes with us.”

What’s your biggest dream?

I would like to win the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition one day. This year I only made it to the second round. But I have smaller dreams as well… I would like to develop a specific style, a way of taking pictures that everyone would recognise as mine.

Shark by Pier Mane

Underwater cinema: “With my newly-purchased underwater camera I arrived in Sipadan, Malaysia. After a few shots I found this turtle watching thousands of jacks swimming above its head. She was so immersed in this ‘movie’ that I could get incredibly close to her.”

Tickets

The exhibition can be viewed daily from 09:00 to 16:00.

Adults: R70
Valid Wild Card members: R50 (remember to produce your Wild Card upon entry)
Seniors and students: R50
Children (6-16): R30 (children under the age of 6 entre for free)
Family of four: R200
Interest & school groups: Prices available on request

Tickets are available at the door, or buy your tickets online at Webtickets. All donations accumulated during the exhibition will be presented to the National Sea Rescue Institute.

Note that the pictures Shark luck, Whale shark and Underwater cinema are not on show at the exhibit.