There are underwater photographers, and there is Laurent Ballesta—one who would risk life and limb to take thousands of photos, enduring head-crushing pressures and tedious mingling with sea creatures that range from the docile to the outright dangerous.
But as they say, high risk yields higher rewards.
Weddell Seals (Photo By Laurent Ballesta / DOT Office of Product and Market Development)
Sharks (Photo By Laurent Ballesta / DOT Office of Product and Market Development)
Portrait Of Laurent Ballesta/ / DOT Office of Product and Market Development)
Coelacanth (Photo By Laurent Ballesta/DOT Office of Product and Market Development)
Ballesta is a French underwater photographer and marine biologist who is among this year’s judges for the Anilao Underwater Shootout (AUS 2018)—the biggest underwater photography event in the world, organized by the Department of Tourism, through Dive Philippines.
Held annually in Anilao, Mabini, Batangas, the Anilao Underwater Shootout this year saw more than 200 men and women face off for the top spots with wonderful photo entries that gave Ballesta a clear picture of the country’s famed rich biodiversity.
“As a judge for the 6th Anilao Underwater Shootout, I wanted to see very rare species and behavior [of underwater life], I predicted that all photos that would come out of the competition would be really good, and I was not disappointed on both,” said Ballesta.
A National Geographic photographer, Ballesta is the youngest recipient of the Palme d’Or at the Festival Mondial de l’Image Sous-Marine, and the only one to date to have won it three times.
A LIFE UNDERWATER
From growing up in his hometown in Southern France beside the breezy Mediterranean Sea, to his great search of the ancient coelacanth off South Africa, to underneath massive ice sheets in the freezing Antarctic, Laurent has circumnavigated the world in his divesuit and with his camera.
Yet, amid the accolades, he is still amazed at how the AUS 2018 has been a limitless exploratory and learning experience.
“Where I am the most comfortable, I always presumed that I was always in a better place to take photos, but when I arrived here, it felt so challenging, it was uncomfortable— were so many [divers and photographers] better than me—they had sharp eyes, this event would really prompt you to be in your best,” recounts Ballesta.
IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT SHOT
Ballesta describes his creative process as a combination of tedious preparation and calculated anticipation for the unexpected underwater.
“It’s very important to spend your time thinking about potential images, to think about a new way to take those images underwater—lightning, background, technique. In underwater photography, planning is key—it’s very important to mull over your planned shots, to think if it is even possible,” explains Ballesta.
“Then, ironically, when you’re underwater, you have to forget all that thinking a bit, be flexible, and keep an open mind, and just keep shooting, because you do not decide the shot—the ocean does,” he adds.
Taking from his discipline as a marine biologist, Ballesta says one needs to be spirited and animated, always wanting exploration in taking images. But one must also respect the subject, as it is the most important aspect in the photograph, he emphasizes.
“Focus on capturing the sea creature in its natural habitat— to maintain the subject in its home, to not alter anything around it even if the circumstances aren’t favorable to the image. That’s how you also learn about these creatures, when they are in their ecosystem, their natural habitat,” he says.