Street Talk: Underwater Photographer Alan Lo
Photographer Alan Lo is a winner of the UN’s 2014 World Oceans Day Photo Contest for his photo (below) of an octopus hidden in a clam shell, “Stretching.” He tells Adrienne Chum about his fear of swimming and his beloved sea creatures.
HK Magazine: How did you start shooting underwater?
Alan Lo: I only learned to swim when I was about 15; I’d always been afraid of swimming for some reason. In 2008, my then-fiancée (and now wife) Connie arranged a live-on-board diving trip in Komodo, Indonesia. I had three weeks to get my open water and advanced open water diving licenses. Komodo is known for its strong currents and when we got here I had no experience with them—and when I dove down, I panicked. I cleared my mask more than 30 times in the five minutes I was in the water! Back on the boat I saw a compact waterproof camera we could rent; I thought it might help. I rented the camera the next day. When I dove with the camera, I was completely focused on it. Since then, I’ve brought a camera to every dive.
"Stretching," winner of the UN’s 2014 World Oceans Day Photo Contest (Underwater life category)
HK: You bring your DSLR diving. Isn’t it heavy?
AL: The camera setup with flashes and waterproof case weighs about 14 pounds, but when you go underwater, it feels weightless. The water basically holds it up for you. I also only bring one camera and one lens at a time: One dive might be about 60-90 minutes long, and I only take photos of one type of creature in a single dive.
HK: Do the sea creatures get scared of you?
AL: Not really. I don’t just take pictures of the creatures; I try to capture their natural behavior. I don’t touch them, so they’re not scared. You have to be patient and wait. In other scenarios, I go back to the same spot several times to check back on the creatures: To take a photo of a flamboyant cuttlefish hatching (below), I dove to the same spot 17 meters deep to check on the eggs every two days, and saw the embryos develop until the moment they hatched. That moment was only one second long, and I knew that most of the baby cuttlefish wouldn’t make it to adulthood—so to be able to share the moment with them was very special.
HK: How do the sea creatures treat you?
AL: There is one fish in Indonesia that follows the dive master all the time, because it recognizes him. Another time, a sea lion in the Galapagos swam in front of my lens like he was dancing. Because my camera is covered by a glass dome, he saw his own reflection in the dome, and started moving while watching the dome as he had never seen himself before.
HK: What’s your favorite creature to photograph?
AL: Small octopuses, the kind that are the size of a pork bun. They’re very clever creatures: They adapt to new situations very well. When things like cups and bottles sink down to the sea floor, they use them to hide from predators and protect themselves.
HK: If you could be a sea creature, what would you be?
AL: A sea turtle! If they aren’t caught by humans or eaten by sharks, they have very long lifespans, often over 100 years. I’d go to Bali’s coral reefs; they’re beautiful and