It's hard enough to be a nature photographer — slogging through jungles and enduring the burning desert sun to set up just the right shot of a rare creature. But just imagine doing it all on a half-hour air supply. That's what underwater wildlife photographers like Geoffrey Semorile must do to produce these crisp, brightly colored images of the other three-quarters of the world hidden beneath the sea.
"All underwater creatures know three things about underwater photographers - when you are out of film, when you are in focus and when you are out of air," Semorile says. "They then strike that pose you have been waiting your whole tank of air for, right after you have shot your last frame of film or refocused your lens ten times."
His type of photography is ruled primarily by "sheer luck," he says, but it can be mastered by experience, of which he has about 30 years' worth. "To produce great images underwater requires knowing your subjects' habits, terrain and, most of all, your own limitations," he says.The key is to have as little water between your lens, subject and light source as possible, he says. Most underwater photography is done with the aid of artificial light, and the farther light has to travel through water, the more color is absorbed. "A great land photographer once said if your images are not good enough, you are not close enough," Semorile says. "Multiply that times 20 for underwater photography."
One of the greatest handicaps facing undersea shooters is that they can't easily change lenses or cameras to suit the situation. "Often you embark on a dive with your super macro lens to shoot small subjects," he explains, "and come face to face with a whale shark or a great hammerhead shark swimming down the reef as you groan expletives in your regulator."
Semorile embarked on his career after getting a degree in photography from San Francisco State Community College in 1973. Unsure how he wanted to use his degree, he learned how to service camera equipment and then set up his own business, called Camera Tech, in 1975.
At about the same time, the San Francisco native began to take up another hobby, scuba diving, which helped him "discover a whole new world underwater," he says. He decided to merge his two passions and began experimenting with underwater photography. This led him to expand Camera Tech into a dealership, offering waterproof camera housings and other underwater photographic equipment.
For 10 years he also taught underwater photography and would take groups of diving students on trips to various spots around the world on live-aboard boats. In addition to his signature undersea work, Semorile has managed to build an extensive catalog of above-ground wildlife shots.
Of all the oceans he has visited, his favorite place to shoot is in the South Pacific, especially in Indonesia's Banda Sea, where "there are things being photographed that still haven't been identified yet." These days, Semorile has cut back on his worldwide travels to about three trips per year. He took last year off to work in his San Francisco home on a "how to" book on underwater photography, plus another coffee-table book of his images, both of which should be published later this year.
For more information on Semorile's work, visit his web site at cameratech.com.