Divine diving: an interview with Andrey Narchuk
14 February 2018 posted by: Zoe - WPY Comms Officer
Andrey Narchuk is a first-time finalist in #WPY53 with his otherworldly image, Romance among the angels. He loves underwater photography and strives to show at least a glimpse of the intriguing underwater world to those who don't get the opportunity to explore it. In this interview, Andrey discusses sea angels and devils, the challenges of underwater photography and the importance of appreciating the natural world around us.
Romance among the angels by Andrey Naarchuk. Finalist 2017, Behaviour: Invertebrates.
Why did you choose to enter this image into the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and what do you like about it?
Choosing photos for major competitions isn't easy as each competition has its own specific requirements. Therefore I always take my photo choices very seriously and form a separate pool of competitive photos. This time, I had photographs that captured a moment rarely seen in nature. To participate in WPY, I separately reviewed the entire pool of photos from that expedition to select something different. I try to listen to the inner voice of my intuition.
You were not planning to photograph sea angels that day. Could you tell us about the shoot and how this photograph happened?
This happened during one of the expeditions of our project about the underwater world of the Far East. Our team was shooting in the Sea of Okhotsk, near the island of Sakhalin. At the beginning of August many salmon come to spawn, and following this event, sea animals, birds and many other animals gather. On that day our main target was salmon and the fishermen pursuing them, so we dived in the open sea beyond the zone of fishing nets.
I saw the angels as soon as I jumped into the water - they were everywhere. Of course, we had to change the plan for shooting and make a separate dive with different equipment. Fortunately, we had everything we needed for macro photography.
There was an abundance of angels and many moved in pairs - it was clear that something unusual was happening. It was necessary to shoot quickly, as the number of angels declined rapidly. Within a couple of hours, there were no more angels left in the water, and we didn't see them again in this expedition.
Andrey initially planned to photograph spawning salmon on the day he took Romance among the angels.
Sea angels are unusual animals which are rarely caught on film. What can you tell us about these curious creatures?
Sea angels or clions (Clione limacina) are very unusual molluscs (Pteropoda). They belong to the class of gastropods, in which during evolution the leg was transformed into small wings (parapodium). Angels are monophages, that is, creatures that eat only one type of food - the sea duck (Limacina helicina). In the Russian language, that acquires a special subtext: sea ducks are referred to as sea devils. This means the angels catch the devils!
The colour in your image is beautiful. How do you manage to produce such strong colours in an underwater environment?
In the world of underwater macro photography, bright colours are not uncommon. A lot of tiny creatures, such as nudibranches, shrimps or crabs have bright colours. In order to get the same bright shades in the photo, you need to use additional light sources such as underwater strobes or powerful torches. The distance to the subject is usually small and this allows you to take good images, even in troubled waters.
Andrey uses additional lighting source such as strobes and powerful torches to capture colours underwater.
Your passion is underwater photography. How did you first discover this affinity with water environments and what is it about the underwater world which keeps you coming back for more?
It all started with a trip to the Red Sea in 2004. My first look beyond the surface of the water left an unforgettable impression. As a result, I spent all my free time in the water and swam away for many miles. A few days later the sea gave me a gift for my patience: manta rays. It was wonderful. We swam together for almost half an hour, undisturbed by other people. I think it was a sign. My heart now belongs to the sea.
In addition, a lot of fascinating and mysterious things are hidden in our oceans. Every dive can bring something new, and this gives me a sense of adventure.
Of the many underwater organisms you have photographed which is your favourite and why?
There are so many amazing creatures in the water. One of my favourite marine creatures is squid. They look incredible under the surface, almost like an alien, and it is always interesting to observe their behaviour. I've dedicated a lot of time to learning how to observe and be with them in order to take strong pictures. They look especially impressive at night.
One of Andrey’s favourite underwater animals is the squid.
What specific challenges do you have to overcome when shooting underwater?
Shooting in water is rarely simple. Firstly, you often have less time. When shooting on the surface you can wait for opportunities for many hours, sometimes even days. Under water your time limit is always measured in minutes. In the water you have to react instantly and take chances.
Secondly, water itself is a tricky medium to shoot in. The properties of water differ from the air. It is less transparent, and it has an impact on colour. It can kill your camera in a few seconds - but at the same time it gives an extraordinary effect to your pictures.
Invertebrates can often be overshadowed in wildlife photography competitions by bigger, more dramatic wildlife such as large mammals. Why do you think it's important for smaller creatures to be represented in wildlife photography?
I really like macro photography, not only underwater but also terrestrial. It allows us to see a completely different world we usually don't notice, despite this world being nearby. I think it's very important to show people the wildlife that's close to them, big or small, and to help people see that it can be truly amazing. Nature is rich and diverse and size does not always matter. If they see the life forms they actually coexist with, maybe people will think more about preserving wild nature.
Andrey says macro photography allows people 'to see a completely different world’.
This is your first time as a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. What are your thoughts on the competition and how does it feel to know your image will go on tour across the world?
I like to participate in competitions. They allow you to evaluate your capabilities more objectively and move in front. WPY was a long dream for me, so now I'm very happy to be a finalist. I am especially pleased about achieving this with an underwater photograph taken in my own country.
Our underwater world is very rich, but only few people know about it. For the past few years, I've been working on a project about the underwater world of Russia's Far East. And thanks to WPY, one of these photos will now be shown to a large audience by the world's largest nature photography competition!
- Andrey's image Romance among the angels will be on display in the #WPY53 exhibition at the Natural History Museum until it closes on 28 May.
ABOUT ANDREY NARCHUK
Andrey Narchuk is a Russian wildlife photographer who specialises in underwater photography. He has been awarded in numerous photography awards including winning the Russian Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2010. This is his first time as a WPY finalist.