Jack Israel is a passionate underwater photographer, who has carried a camera on dives for 20 years, but only in the past 5 has he seriously applied his craft to creatures that would fit on a pencil eraser to the largest sharks in the world. This is a full-time job for him, which is substantially made easier by living in South Florida. He has traveled around the world taking pictures but feels like sometimes his best work is done right here at home.
Underwater photography is unlike any other fine arts—you must take all the equipment you need to survive in an environment which wasn’t designed for humans. Recently on a trip to Mexico, Mr. Israel shot an enormous school of big-eye jacks with a model in the background. The school was swimming close to the surface and was about 20 ft thick. Before any camera action, Mr. Israel had to slowly position himself a yard under the bellies of the fish, so as not to scare them, and only then could he begin to think about strobe positions and his model. First and foremost, buoyancy skill is essential.
To get a successful underwater shot, you must understand your subject’s behavior. Hammerhead sharks swim into “cleaning” stations, where small fish pick parasites off their skin. So, in the Galapagos, Mr. Israel hid behind rocks and jumped up when the moment arrived. Manta rays enjoy social interaction, but in Mexico, Mr. Israel learned to let them come to him and not chase them. The shooting environment is different—the ability to illuminate a subject decline’s dramatically beyond 6 feet. Too many particles in the water can ruin a photo with backscatter. Some fish are like mirrors and only the gentlest illumination is possible. Mr. Israel studies the creatures before trips and practices techniques constantly in Florida’s waters.