Anuar Patjane Floriuk won a prestigious World Press Photo award for the stunning image above, and he made it on a point-and-shoot camera.
The annual World Press Photo awards honour the most amazing photojournalists, sports photographers, and nature photographers working anywhere on the globe. Tech Insider will publish several interviews with 2016’s winners in the coming weeks. Floriuk won 2nd prize in the Nature Singles category for this image.
We caught up with him to talk about his photography, his gear, and what it’s like to shoot underwater.
Undersea photography is incredibly calming
At 34, Floriuk has dived for half his life — starting when he was 17 years old.
“My mum was a marine biologist, so she was always like ‘Oh, you should dive, you should try,'” he said.
He took his first classes in the fjords on the Norwegian coast, but spent most of his college years on dry land. He trained as a social anthropologist, and took classes on photography for ethnographers.
“But then five years ago I discovered a group in Mexico [where he lives] that liked to do expeditions to special places.”
He started diving again, taking every opportunity to follow the group.
“Sometimes you feel when you’re diving this amazing feeling. You want to share that feeling. You want to keep that feeling,” he said.
“So what I try to show with the photos is that state of total relaxation. Feeling totally at peace.”
Floriuk’s evocative, mostly black-and-white images of underwater realms capture that peacefulness. And making them (along with some landlocked nature shots) is now his full-time job.
Unlike many nature photographers, Floriuk likes to include people in his images.
“I am an anthropoligist. I love humanity. I’m very interested in the human being as an animal,” he said.
“And also, to avoid the human side of the image is like lying. You are never alone. You can take a photo of a lonely lion, but there’s people around. There’s always people.”
That camaraderie is a huge part of the experience for Floriuk. Out on an expedition boat there’s no WiFi or cell phone signal. Just miles of open water on all sides, unseen creatures below, and the fellow adventurers on the boat.
“It’s a bit like Big Brother,” he said. “You get to know each other very well.”
How he made his award-winning shot
Floriuk wasn’t even with his usual expedition group when he made the award-winning image at the top of this story.
In fact, he wasn’t supposed to go along at all. His friend called him with just a few day’s notice to say there were two spots open on a whale-following mission. He decided to go along, but didn’t get his hopes up too high.
“You never know if you’ll get to see them or not,” he said. “You can know ‘That’s the area they’re gonna be,’ and you can hear them. But to see them is very, very, very difficult.”
But about 800 kilometers off the coast of Baja California on the western side of Mexico, they spotted three humpbacks — a mother, a calf, and a third along for the trip. He’d never seen whales up close before.
“They were very comfortable,” he said. “It was a very cool thing.”
The massive underwater mammals ended up spending three days alongside the boat, giving Anuar nine hours of dive time to shoot thousands of images. The calf was learning to breathe from its mother.
Floriuk said the shot was entirely improvised. He was near the whales when they suddenly turned and swam right at some of the other divers. You can see the commotion on the water as they scrambled out of the creatures’ way.
Sometimes small is the best technology for the job
Underwater, Floriuk shoots with a Sony RX-100 digital point-and-shoot camera.
Now, the RX-100 sits at the top tier of shooters that will fit in your pocket with its f/1.8 Carl Zeiss lens and fairly large one-inch sensor. But it’s hardly what you might expect one of the world’s greatest underwater photographers to use as his primary device.
But the RX-100 is light enough to easily carry on a scuba suit, shoots beautiful RAW images, and at $398 on Amazon it wouldn’t be too painful to replace if it got waterlogged.
When shooting nature on dry land, Floriuk’s equipment choices get even more idiosyncratic.
For his more rugged adventures he packs a Sony RX-1, the RX-100’s bigger, pricier cousin.
At about $2,800, the RX-1’s sized just a bit bigger than a point and shoot. But it’s got the full-frame sensor of a professional DSLR with a fixed 35mm f/2 lens.
His favourite camera, though, is his Leica M Monochrome.
Pretty much unique among digital devices, the M Monochrome makes black and white RAW files. There’s no editing to be done — the sensor itself sees everything in greyscale.
Why would you want to limit yourself like that? Floriuk says the black and white device actually expands his creativity.
“I think it’s a psychological thing,” he said. “Like, you are limited by black and white and you don’t have to think about colour. You are free of colour. Colour is always a problem. It distracts. Not only to the viewer. It distracts when you are taking the photo. So the moment colour’s not in my mind anymore, the whole way my mind works about the photographic process changes totally. You’re looking differently. By discarding colour, not having it in your hands, you totally start to change the way you think about a photo.”
The fact that the M Monochrome packs Leica’s film-textured digital sensors and ultra-high-end lenses doesn’t hurt either. He uses the $7,500 device for street photography, and recently brought it on a penguin expedition to Antarctica.
Floriuk makes colour images as well. But even when shooting on a colour camera, he said he keeps in mind how he will process the image.
“I mostly shoot black and white. Underwater is black and white. Street photography is black and white. Nature and landscape you need colour for many photos. When I take the photo I know 95% of the time: This is going to be colour. This is black and white.”
For colour shooting, his top device is a Nikon D800.
You can find more of Floriuk’s work on his website.