Having grown up on the beaches of Australia, Mark Tipple has translated his love and passion for the ocean into breathtaking underwater photography. The Underwater Project has been going on for a few years now, and with each year comes another wave of shots, captured below the surf.
We reached out to Mark to ask him about his work, and its amazing to hear the depth of experiences and insight as he recounts why he does what he does. Mark sees so much more than the average person when he looks at the ocean, and it was a pleasure to hear what he had to say about it.
Find out what lies below the surface of this talented underwater photographer, in our interview below.
What interests you the most about underwater photography?
I’ve been around the ocean my whole life, my father was a surfer, my brother a marine biologist, and it’s just normal for me to be in the water.
The old saying is that no two waves are the same, which is probably true, there’s so much going on when a wave breaks it’s a challenge to try and capture it ‘properly’. As I’m moving away from shooting waves the further challenges of being underwater and still being able to make a photo keep me amped, from breath hold to scuba to submarines, it’s all of interest.
How did you start shooting underwater, and how did this evolve into a long term project?
When I first picked up a camera my first thoughts were to shoot surfing, but being a punk kid in highschool I couldn’t afford to buy an underwater housing, so I’d have to stand on the beach some 200 hundred meters away from my friends riding the waves, which didn’t really make sense as I wasn’t in there with them. It wasn’t long after that I bought an underwater housing and shot from the water.
After 10 years of surfing I was getting pretty bored of seeing people ride waves – I wasn’t at the top of the industry and more often than not was being passed over to shoot in exotic tropical destinations – so I looked to shoot something different.
I was in the wrong place to shoot a wave and as I dove under I noticed a swimmer next to me, so I turned the camera to him and was blown away by what was captured – it was like a whole new world as he tried to fight off the wave breaking around him to break free to the other side, something I’d never seen in my 20 something years of surfing, and pushed me to shoot more.
You’ve said you don’t shoot fishes, you shoot people. What is it specifically about human beings underwater that fascinates you?
It’s mainly how the waves affect our experience of being in the water – people underwater without the waves don’t really interest me. A simple act of diving beneath a wave during a fun day at the beach can go from playful, to a battle between man and nature, to victory as they break free in a few short seconds, it’s amazing to see how we react.
You shot in various locations around Australia, in the summer and in the winter. Do these factors affect a shoot?
I used to shoot in Winter as the waves would be bigger and hold more power with the colder water, but quickly lost interest as the swimmers would have to wear a wetsuit so they wouldn’t freeze, so the purity of it was lost. I love seeing the simplicity of boardshorts or bikinis while under water vs the black wetsuits and flippers, but the results from the first Winter were pretty cool.
Technically speaking there wasn’t enough light in the places I’d shoot to bring definition between the black reef below and the black wetsuits, so it’d look really flat, plus the shoot wouldn’t last long as the swimmers would always complain, and we’d retreat to the campfire or café.
How do you approach people for your underwater series? Are these friends or strangers?
It’s a bit of both – for commercial shoots I ask friends as I need the model release but for the Underwater Project series I’d just keep a low profile while shooting strangers, it’d always work out the best if they didn’t know I was down there and would act ‘natural’.
It’s really creepy to say but actually pretty easy to do, most people at the beach are just playing around anyway and not too bothered by what some strange dude is doing underwater all the time.
You’ve face the danger of coral reefs, which can cut flesh. How do you shoot around these?
I’m always behind the wave so I’m totally safe. In the Cook Islands the reef is so sharp that it can cut on the slightest brush, and we did have a number of scars and blood loss from the trip, but it’s not much different to surfing – just yesterday my mate cut up his shoulder while surfing which may have been worse if we were shooting, but yeah it’s basically the same, and we all know the risks.
I always watch skateboarders to try and work out how they fall so effortlessly – whenever I fall off my skateboard I break something or sprain something, I’m just not used to falling that way. In the ocean though, it’s pretty natural.
What kind of equipment do you use?
It depends on the job, but my personal gear is the Canon 5D Mkiii and either fisheye or 16-35mm lens, in an Aquatech housing. For commercial shoots I’d use a Phase One medium format system in an Aquatech housing, 80MP files are pretty nice to work with – if they’re in focus.
What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?
Say yes to every opportunity and shoot everything you can while getting started, when you find what you love to shoot, say no to everything else and focus on that.
Be the best of one thing not ok at everything.
What is the message of this project?
I’d love for someone who hasn’t seen this side of the ocean to be inspired to see it for themselves, the ocean has a power that can’t be described in words or captured on camera or drawn, it can only be experienced first hand.