A simple resolution to learn something new every two years took Anup J. Kattukaran, a Clio-award winning filmmaker, off land and into the deep seas. With the experience of being on more than 450 dives, Anup shares his story and some tips for those who want to venture into underwater photography.
Razor sharp teeth, fearsome ‘grins’, and nostrils that can detect blood from a mile away- that’s sharks for us. But for Anup J Kattukaran, the fearsome picture we just painted is exactly what he loves to dive underwater to capture.
Anup has been many things but ‘Underwater Photographer’ is a relatively new addition to his portfolio. In a span of eight years, he has already been on more than 450 dives in places like Maya Thila and Maafushi in the Maldives.
Swimming with dolphins and watching them flirt with each other, photographing octopus hunting in the night, and schools of barracuda swimming in formation – Anup has experienced it all!
For someone with an unfinished Commerce degree, Anup has a lot of skills to his credit. When he was eight, Anup shot his first wedding, forced into it because his dad wanted to be in all the family pictures.
Later, college events which were perpetually low on budget also got him to learn designing. Anup got better and better at photography and design, enough for him to drop out of college and strike out on his own.
Along with his brother Atul, and executive producer Ganesh Pareek, Anup set up a production house, First December Films. He even won the Clio award for Cinematography for one of the films they made.
Anup was also one of the first few people to begin the now all-too-familiar ‘candid’ wedding photography.
In short, he had already found his strengths when he decided to venture into something new- shooting underwater.
“I had told myself after college that I would learn something new every two years. Watching TV, I saw some people diving and I decided I would learn how to do that,” Anup said.
In October 2010, he joined a diving course. Anup then realised that there were few underwater photographers in India at the time. He thought it would be a good skill to have on his portfolio and the same year, he took an underwater photography course in Thailand.
“Wedding photography is fun because you get to meet people. But diving is like meditation. You don’t have to talk to people. You are by yourself. It’s so quiet and you feel really calm,” Anup said.
You need to be really, really patient to shoot underwater.
“You will be trying to set up a shot and suddenly the fish will turn and swim in the other direction. Then you have to stop and swim all the way around to face the fish again,” Anup said.
You also have to try to fit in. “Sharks get really scared when they see something that does not look like a fish with bubbles coming out from the top so they swim away. You need to stay still and stop breathing if you want it to approach you,” he said.
As cool and exciting as it sounds, Anup explained that underwater photography does not have too much demand.
“Not many brides want their photoshoot underwater but it’s still been an advantage,” Anup said.
Apart from drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ at weddings, the skill also brings Anup exciting projects like doing underwater scenes for movies.
Even oil rigs and missile trials apparently need divers who are good with cameras.
“I got a call from an engineering company to shoot an underwater missile. Oil rigs and even the Panama canal need underwater photographers. When something goes wrong in a pipeline in the ocean, they get photographers to go in and document the problem through pictures or video,” Anup said.
Such gigs often last 10 to 15 days and come with good remuneration. Of course, it is also risky because you will be working deep inside the ocean.
For those who want to try out underwater photography, Anup suggests starting out in a shallow pool. “You can use a regular camera with a housing which costs about Rs 3,000. But if you want to scuba dive with your camera, you need a more expensive housing which can withstand the pressure,” he said.
More importantly, you would need to be a certified diver and Anup strongly recommends that you complete at least 50 dives before you think of taking a camera with you.
“I picked up a camera after my sixth dive which is wrong. You need to be a good diver first. You need to do at least 50 dives to get your buoyancy and everything right. You should be able to take care of yourself underwater and not run out of air.”
Spending so much time underwater and watching fascinating sea creatures in action has taught Anup many life lessons.
“There is so much symbiosis underwater. I always give the example of the sea when I talk to people in the photography space. We will also survive only by learning and sharing our skills,” Anup said.
We will leave you with that ‘deep thought’.