Let’s get the FAQ answers out of the way: Gloria does underwater photography just for fun; it is difficult and expensive; and, her name doesn’t mean fish in Finnish or any other language – Club members consider that Gloria Freund is a synonym for excellent underwater images.
Gloria’s interest in photography is long-standing. The underwater part came much later. On a business trip to Israel about fifteen years ago, she took a side trip, about an hour north of Tel Aviv, to the submerged ruins of King Herod’s ancient port, Caesarea. However, after renting a snorkel mask and fins, “I learned that it was about a mile out and sixty feet down. I wasn’t going to see it [by] snorkeling.” Gloria felt challenged to learn how to scuba dive.
Returning home, Gloria called a friend and they took the classes together, which took some time. For the first three or four years after certification, Gloria scuba-dived only once or twice a year. “It was kind of nice, but it wasn’t addicting.”
Then she rented an underwater point-and-shoot film camera.
Afterward, Gloria was excited. “The pictures came out pink. The fish came out with their tails [cut off]. But I said, ‘Oh my God! Look, you can actually take pictures underwater. I was so proud of these awful, awful pictures.”
She kept diving and getting better at it. And the photography came along, too. “What was really the catalyst for getting into it more was…a colleague who looked at some of my very first pictures and said, ‘Y’know, you really ought to think about really doing this.”
Eventually, she took the plunge and put together a serious rig: a DSLR, a flash, and a special underwater housing. “Special,” in this case, means more expensive than the rest of the stuff put together.
The colleague’s suggestion was a good one; Gloria grew up on a farm in Connecticut, and she is an animal lover. “It wasn’t the generation of pictures…that made me so passionate about it. It was the engagement [with] the animals.”
Gloria’s imagination was captured by the beauty, the variety and, especially useful for photography, the ability to get close to animals underwater. “It’s not the diving I’m in love with, or the actual taking of the pictures, it’s…just the sensation of meeting a creature that evolved in such a very different place than us. It has a place to breathe, and it has two eyes, and it has a mouth and it has a backbone, and it has curiosity and it takes care of its babies…the more you experience [the underwater environment], the more interesting it becomes.”
Gloria will sometimes dive repeatedly to the same spot, just to investigate the smallest creatures and sea life. “Because the closer that you look, the more that you see…. And unlike on land, they interact with you.”
I recognized some of my own responses to nature in Gloria’s ecstatic appreciation of the detail, colors, shapes and behavior she is able to witness underwater. For the past few years I have been hooked on long lens photography of birds. Close-up nature photography can reveal and hold things that are amazing and overlooked.
Gloria’s passion for the underwater world and its intimacy also awakened a curiosity about evolution and the development of underwater life; likewise, my new interest in nature photography aroused a previously dormant scientific curiosity. Gloria was kind enough to list for me a few books about evolutionary development that have both answered questions and raised new ones: Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin; Relics of Eden, by Daniel Fairbanks; and Endless Forms Most Beautiful, by Sean Carroll.
The other thing Gloria loves about underwater photography is the immersive experience. “Everything else is gone and all you have in front of you is your camera, the lighting that you bring with you, and the interactions and you don’t ever know what that’s going to be. It’s like opening up a treasure chest….I look differently [for things] when I have my camera….I’m looking for perspectives on the animal that will convey its sensibility….”
Gloria provoked a lot of questions from me, and she was gracious in answering.
Best place she’s dived? “There are a lot of bests. Best for color is Fiji, for sure. Best for schooling fish is Papua New Guinea. Most interesting and unexpected in terms of color and sea life…Alaska. Best for really teeny, tiny critters and people there to show them to you is St. Vincent. Really nice for topside laid-backness is Grand Turk….There’s a lot of very interesting history (underwater military wreckage from WWII) in Palau and Yap, [although the latter] is actually best for mantas and mandarin fish.”
Scariest moments? Suddenly surrounded by hundreds of banded sea kraits in the Lembeh Strait of Indonesia, which it only later became evident, was a mating aggregation; and whenever there is just too much surge or current to manage yourself effectively.
How to start at under-water photography? “Start diving first. Get comfortable with the diving. You don’t have to be a super-athlete. You need to be in reasonable shape….You have to be comfortable in the water, [that’s] the main thing. They usually recommend that people have fifty-ish dives before they go down with a camera…because you can get [over-tasked and distracted] with a camera…especially if there’s current or surges or other things that you need to be mindful of…unless it’s a little tiny point-and-shoot, that’s a different story…. After a few dives you could do something like [a point-and-shoot].”
Favorite underwater photographers and why? “David Doubilet is obviously a pioneer….and Flip Nicklin. Those guys invented the art. Amos Nochoum as well….They did it with film, where you could only have 36 exposures. They figured out how do we get the lighting to work….I really admire people of that generation….[By contrast,} there are people going down now with 32-gig cards.”
Do’s and don’ts of travel: “I always carry-on a full kit with me, so [if checked baggage is delayed or lost] at least for a couple of days I can be shooting macro if nothing else makes it there.” On her trip to Papua New Guinea, this kind of forethought allowed her to shoot underwater for the four extra days it took for her checked bags to arrive.
I asked Gloria more than a few more questions about equipment, logistics and planning. But rather than close this post by talking about how Gloria’s underwater photography is done, here’s Gloria on why she does it.
“From the surface [the sea is] just a shiny thing. You can’t tell that it’s an alive place….The pictures are a means to an end, [which is] to make that experience and these animals ambassadors for their place. I really would like for people to appreciate how beautiful it is under the water, and how important it is….if people would appreciate more what is there, it would help them care more [for the health of the oceans].”
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An archive of our illustrated Patch posts on club competitions and interviews with club members Bill Prosser, Tom Mangan, Ursy Potter, Margaret Huddy, David Stossel, Minnie Gallman and Linda Toki is at the McLean Photo Club's new Facebook page. Please "LIKE" us on Facebook to keep up with the interview series and announcements from the club.
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The McLean Photo Club is in its fourth decade -- and we welcome new members. Or just come to the next club meeting as a guest, to see what the club’s about.
MPC will meet next on Wednesday January 9 at 7:30 pm in the McLean Community Center. Tuan Pham will be the speaker. Tuan will discuss Zen and the art of photography as he applies it to his work. Photography helps him see deeply without the camera and gives him great joy, particularly when photography and Zen touch to spark a serene inner setting and profound attunement to the present moment. For more about Tuan, click here.