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Tell us what you do?
For the last three years, Bengaluru-based automobile photographer Ajit SN (38) has been a globetrotter. But unlike other travellers who notch up air miles, or visit cities or quaint villages, he’s been busy exploring the world under water.
His aquatic quest has taken him to all the corners of the world, from Mexico to Komodo Island and Antarctica. His collection of photographs includes images of World War II historic wrecks and a diversity of marine life, ranging from coral reefs to killer whales. He is displaying some of his photos as part of Pigment, a group exhibition, this Saturday.
What are the challenges in underwater photography?
Each trip, he says, has been memorable: diving with crocodiles in Mexico, diving between tectonic plates in Iceland, or wreck diving in the Bermuda Triangle. “Fiji was nerve-wracking because I was centimetres away from a feeding frenzy of 35 to 40 bull sharks. They circle and bump into you. While I was exploring World War II shipwrecks in Sri Lanka, there was a near-death experience during deep-sea diving to 160ft. I blacked out and as my mask slipped, I started inhaling water and rising too fast. Luckily a diver came to my rescue and helped me put my mask back on,” he adds.
Unlike over-the-surface photography, the nature of underwater photography makes it fraught with challenges. “Strong currents can drift a diver several kilometres away, while down currents can pull a diver from 10ft to 100ft suddenly. Plus, there is venomous marine life surrounding you,” he says.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Ajit’s journey started in 2013 when the erstwhile marketing professional went on a scuba diving adventure to Sri Lanka. “It was a spontaneous decision. I knew nothing about underwater photography or diving but I was determined to learn both,” he said. While his friend left after four days into the course, Ajit stayed three more days and completed the advanced open water course which takes divers 30 metres deep.The expedition whet his appetite for diving.
Over the next six months, he trained for an advanced open water certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) .
But it wasn’t as easy as he imagined it would be. “I had to make a huge investment in underwater photography equipment because it wasn’t available in India and had to order it from the US,” he said.
“I wasn’t allowed to take the camera first.When I did, water leaked into a very expensive camera. Fortunately , the lens wasn’t damaged,” he said. Then followed trips to remote islands off Cambodia and Sri Lanka and Ajit was certified in technical diving. He also got a wreck diving licence.
What did you do next?
Realising his calling lay in photography, Ajit quit his job and enrolled for a photography course (specialising in automobile photography) at the Light and Life Academy, Ooty. “I thought, ‘If not now, then when?’ My grandparents supported me and I was able to pursue my passion,” he says.
Can you tell us about a few of your experiences underwater?
The first time was a near-death experience when he entered the HMS Hermes, a World War 2 British aircraft carrier in the waters off Sri Lanka.
“It was pitch dark and I was 45m below sea level. I had a blackout and began taking in water. I couldn’t even see my dive buddy . I was inside the wreck and saw a beam of light through a hole and began waving my torch.My buddy saw me and quickly put my mask back on my nose. It had got dislodged when I was entering the ship,” he said.
“I was in the middle of the ocean when I saw a manta ray circling around the boat. I grabbed my camera and jumped into the water at 9pm. It brushed by me many times. I got a brilliant shot and when I came back to the deck, it was 1am,” he said. That shot was among the top four trending photos on National Geographic Daily Dozens.
Your advice to students?
Ajit’s photos have been featured on the National Geographic Daily Dozens (editors’ pick of photos) and he has been felicitated by the International Photography Awards, USA. But within India, Ajit admits, the scope for underwater photography is limited. “This is a field of art and creativity. Just follow your passion, money follows,” he says.