Interview with Carlos Villoch in Chinese magazine
English Translation of the interview
Please give us a brief biography of your professional live as a diver and photographer.
Ever since I was a child I felt attracted to the sea and practiced free diving. In the late 80's I became a certified diver and used to dive the Spanish north coast. In the early 90's I became instructor and in 1995 I moved to the Cayman Islands where my career as a full time underwater photographer begun. Four years later I moved to Australia and nowadays I am based in Spain from where I travel around the world looking for the best diving destinations.
Your very first impression on your very first dive. And how old were you at that time?
The first time I breathed through a regulator I was about 19. Since I had spent many years free diving, being able to breathe underwater was a dream but I remember myself taking a big breath at the surface, holding my breath and not daring to breath in from that machine. When my lungs couldn't resist any longer I decided I had to trust the regulator, I breathed out and the noise of the bubbles bursting around my ears felt very surprising. That was in the training pool. Then, the first time in the sea, was jumping off a 4 meter harbor with a collar Fency BCD and a J-valve in 2 meter visibility. Thank God diving courses have improved a lot since then.
Your most memorable diving experience. Why? What did you experience? How did it inspire you?
One of my most awesome experiences underwater was in Revillagigedo Islands, off shore in the Mexican Pacific. First I saw a school of hammerheads then in the way up in mid water the huge Pacific manta rays will come so close that you could stroke their bellies while the Galapagos sharks where cruising around. To make it better I could feel the songs of humpback whales so loudly going through my body that made my chest vibrate. One of the mantas and a shark touched fins by accident; they both got so scared that while the shark swam away the manta shoot up towards the surface jumping out of the water. From 15 meter deep I could see through the surface the manta flying in the air. All my senses where overloaded and really felt immersed in wild nature.
Apart from dive and underwater photography, what are your other hobbies? What do you seek from those hobbies?
I enjoyed very much free flying in paraglider, surfing, snowboarding and mountain biking. In all these activities I seek being surrounded and in tune with nature. Using nature's forces, like wind, waves, gravity…, is a never ending learning experience that presents a new challenge every day.
What are the tricks in capturing magnificent underwater photos? Please give us three guidelines if possible.
Underwater we need to get as close as possible to the action. Unlike topside photography where you can use long telephoto lenses, underwater we generally use extreme wide angle lenses that minimize the amount of water between the subject and the camera.
If any, what are the best underwater photography equipments you have ever used?
I am not very picky with gear in general. I want my equipment to work perfectly all the time, so I tend to use simple reliable equipment. Once I used a Nikon F5 in Sea & Sea housing and it felt bulky and uncomfortable to use. I really miss using my Nikonos 15 mm lens. If a manufacturer would make a digital SLR version of the Nikonos gear, I will be the first customer.
Please introduce us your proudest and most satisfactory photo you have ever taken under the water. Please describe how special is it (If possible, please also send its high-resolution version to Alfred for publication too, thanks).
That's a difficult question to answer, as my taste for images evolves with every trip and as I experience with new techniques. But if I have to choose one I'd pick up the portrait of a Leopard Seal in Antarctica, maybe not so much for the image itself but for the story behind. The environmental conditions were very tough, water was below freezing point and I had just finished a dive, so my hands were almost frozen. I barely could hold the camera and moving its controls was a difficult task. I saw the Leopard Seal swimming at the surface, so I jumped back in the water with snorkel gear, the surface was choppy and visibility very low because the icebergs were melting down around me. The 4 meter seal swam straight towards my camera and I was able to capture its cute portrait few centimeters in front of the lens with an icy background.
Any sound diving hotspots you like to recommend at warm water and cool water? Please also give a brief explanation for your choices
During last year I dived in Lembeh Strait - Indonesia, the paradise of Muck Diving, and I really enjoyed the huge variety of the strangest creatures found there. For nice coral reefs I keep very good memories of Deacon's reef in Papua New Guinea. For consistent big animal action, Cocos Island – Costa Rica offers very exciting adrenaline dives.
How could a diver nurture his own unique vision in underwater photography?
Nowadays with so many underwater images being created every day, it's becoming more difficult to create original work but at the same time the new lenses are opening new frontiers. Experimenting with new angles and lighting on different subjects and spending many hours underwater is probably the key to new stunning images.
How did you feel when your works were commercialized, being selected by so many renowned magazines? Please tell us how did it happen?
My first photo published was only few months after I took up underwater photography. It was a front cover in a local tourist magazine of a lucky shot I snapped of a turtle and a stingray together. It felt weird to see my photo in all the newsstands. After that it all kept rolling with a lot of work behind. I still enjoy seeing the final image published and analyzing all the time and work invested behind that photo; from the trip preparation, long hours in airports, sailing to remote islands, hours looking for subjects... I think that only those involved in the process realize about the efforts behind some images.
How marine conservation inspired your work? Do you have anything to say to Chinese divers upon conservation?
I am very concerned about environmental issues. In the last two decades divers have been able to see the destruction of many coral reefs due to overfishing, water temperature increase and mechanical damage. And the decrease in the amount of large animals is a fact. I have always tried to inspire some sense of conservation with my written stories and I have a large collection of images showing coral damage caused by bleaching, anchors, bombs, divers, fishing traps and nets… that I hope I can cause some second thoughts with these photos. As photographers we have the responsibility of showing not only the pretty side but the real and critical situation of the realm we love so much.
Do you have any expectation of works on the fast raising economy PR China?
I keep a close eye in the changes happening in PR China and I believe that any occidental business should be thinking about making business with China in one way or another. I feel fascinated by Asian cultures and I am always open to new possibilities and lines of work. So everything is possible!