All images by Lucas Traurig. Used with permission.
Lucas Traurig is a 21 year old and currently living in southern California. “I have been a PADI scuba instructor for the past year and a half.” he tells the Phoblographer. “The ocean has always been my passion.” On his excursions, Lucas tends to take lots of photos underwater; and has quite a setup to do so. He was first inspired by his mentor, who used an iPhone in a special case to take photos underwater.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Lucas: I originally got into photography just for fun. While completing an internship to advance my level of diving certification in 2013, I witnessed my mentor using a special iPhone case to take photos underwater. I thought it might be fun to have some photos to remember my dives as well as show off to friends and family, so I bought a case for myself and began taking photos. I soon began pushing myself to get better shots and improve the quality of my photos, which led to several upgrades in equipment as well as the beginning of my more serious studies of underwater photography. Over the past 3 years my interest in photography has developed into both a career path and a true passion.
Phoblographer: What made you want to get into underwater wildlife photography?
Lucas: I have always had an intense passion for the ocean, and shooting underwater wildlife gives me the opportunity to explore a very unknown realm in an artistic way. For quite a few years, I was leaning towards a career in marine biology to give me the opportunity to study marine life on a daily basis. Photography allows me to observe underwater wildlife in my own way, as well as capture their essence to be able to share it with others and spread my appreciation for the creatures I encounter.
Phoblographer: What were some of the biggest mistakes you made when you started shooting underwater wildlife? How did you learn to do better?
Lucas: When I first started out, I would get in the water and shoot anything I came across, without planning out my shots ahead of time. This caused me to come back with a lot of random shots, not necessarily in the quality I wanted. Now that I’ve learned from my mistake, I always go into the water with a plan of what type of subjects I want to shoot, the approximate angles and setup of the shots, and the lighting and composition I want. By doing this, I spend more time getting plenty of shots aimed at my goal, rather than just anything I come across; the result is more high quality photos that satisfy the image I had in mind before my dive.
Phoblographer: How do you ensure that the creatures that you’re around don’t get annoyed?
Lucas: Most of underwater photography involves knowing when to take the shot and when to back down. When I approach any animal, I have to be sure to give it plenty of distance and room to flee if it feels scared rather than trying to trap it into a shot. It is more important to me that the animals I encounter are safe than that I get the shot I wanted, because there will always be more opportunities to get the shot. For example, seahorses have very sensitive eyes, which can be harmed by the bright strobes used for underwater photography. This means that I have to limit myself on the amount of shots I take, even if it means waiting until another day to get the one I wanted, to avoid harming the creature’s eyes.
Phoblographer: Lots of your work is underwater macro work or getting really close up to the creatures. Do you usually have some sort of creative vision in mind before you go shooting?
Lucas: I have to know what I want my shots to look like before I ever approach the subject. I go into the water knowing what I want to shoot that day, and how many shots I can take of each subject. This is both for time’s sake as well as to protect the creatures that I choose to photograph.
Phoblographer: What’s your keeper rate? Is it really tough to come back with loads of photos that are well worth it?
Lucas: My average keeper rate is about 1 or 2 photos per subject. I am limited on how many photos I can take of a specific subject, so it is really important that I make the most of each shot. It can be tough to come back with a lot of photos due to a few factors. Particles in the water can create backscatter in the photos which is illuminated by the strobes. The position of your strobes is extremely important to prevent any backscatter, so coming into the shot with the strobes positioned well right off the bat is important to avoid taking too many shots and causing stress on the subject. Time limit is also another another factor in preventing a lot of quality photos. You on average have about 50-70 minutes of dive time, which can really cut down on how much time you can spend with each subject if you have multiple objectives for each dive.
Phoblographer: What are your favorite creatures to photograph?
Lucas: Some of my favorites would be nudibranchs, octopuses, and sharks.
Nudibranchs are small sea slugs that can range in size, usually an inch or smaller. They also can be extremely colorful and come in many different patterns and even different shapes.
Octopuses are extremely fun to photograph. I usually take wide angle shots of their whole bodies, or amazing super macro shots that show off the details of their skin and eyes. They are also really interesting to observe while I’m taking photos of them. They are extremely smart animals, so they become interested in what I am doing and often begin to investigate the camera gear during the shots. I have even had the experience of one reaching an arm out to touch my glove when I was taking photos.
Sharks are my favorite animal to photograph overall. I have always been fascinated by them, and I am constantly looking for ways to interact with them more. Many people think they are aggressive animals, but they are actually quite shy and timid, which makes them difficult to approach. Most dives I cross my fingers that I will get to see one, since they usually swim away from the sound of a diver long before you are in range of seeing them.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use.
Lucas: I am currently using a Sony RX100 M2 with Nauticam housing. I have dual Sea&Sea Ys01 strobes. I have two wet lenses that I use right now: the Inon wide angle UWL H100 and the Nauticam super macro converter. These two lenses allow me to quickly and easily switch between wide angle and macro shots to approach one subject in multiple ways.
I chose this setup due to cost and also the great reviews this camera has received. It is a compact camera so I am limited in a few ways. However, there are a lot of wet lenses on the market that can help upgrade any feature that my setup lacks because of its size.
Phoblographer: How do you want your photography to progress in the next year?
Lucas: In the next year I would like to continue to develop my career as a professional photographer. I want to start taking more trips around the world to expand my variety of photography. I also want to improve my photography a lot more. Each time I prepare for a dive, I have a goal in mind not just for which subjects I want to shoot, but also how I want to improve my shots from the last dive.