When living in the landlocked US desert state of Utah, scuba diving probably isn’t the easiest passion to pursue… let alone underwater photography and videography! But for this couple, location doesn’t stop them. They learned the hard way though: years of travelling and learning with each experience, while at the same time, teaching themselves new things with information and tips taken from the Web. Now, Dustin and Tyra Adamson of OceanShutter stand as an award-winning buddy team. With Dustin doing video and Tyra tackling still photography, they are able to document the underwater world from a unique perspective, and as you’ll see, they get some pretty amazing results.
Dustin and Tyra both went to high school together in Utah, and in 2001, were married at the age of 23. They also earned degrees in computer science from Weber State University. Getting established as a newly married couple, they settled down and bought a home in Kaysville, Utah. In 2006, they decided to get more involved with diving and haven’t looked back since.
Tyra was certified when she was 19 years old. Her first dive and swim in the ocean were in Cozumel, Mexico. Before a trip to Palau, she decided to give underwater photography a try. Sporting a Canon EOS 10D with Ikelite housing, she would soon begin to develop a passion for the art. Nearly 20 years later, she has now amassed an impressive collection of photographs from all over the world, won several international photo competitions, as well as been published by several magazines.
At the age of 17, Dustin was certified to dive, but never really considered underwater videography. He just liked breathing underwater! For many years, Dustin simply served as Tyra’s main critter spotter. Six years ago, Dustin didn’t even know what aperture was on a camera. But due to an unfortunate flooding of Tyra’s housing, he was able to inherit the old housing, and thus began his passion for underwater videography. Dustin has since won many prestigious international film competitions with his short films. In 2015, he was inducted into the Ocean Artists Society. Over the years, he has built up an impressive stock footage library – and his work has been used in many commercials and television shows.
What made you two want to become underwater shooters?
Dustin: I had spent a lot of time watching Tyra take pictures of some pretty awesome subjects over the years. But photography fails to do justice to some subjects, and that’s where video comes in. Take this example: I remember thinking about a flamboyant cuttlefish and how great that would look on video. The flashing of its brilliant colours is better conveyed with video. So after Tyra accidentally flooded her camera in the Philippines, I was able to use her old housing and start on video. That flood, while traumatic at the time, was actually one of the best things to happen to us. Video has really changed how I dive and look at subjects.
Tyra: I have always had a passion for photography. I started shooting while I was in high school and studied the art while in college. After diving for a few years, Dustin asked if I would be interested in taking my passion underwater. Without a second thought I said yes and I haven’t looked back!
What was your first underwater shot?
Dustin: My first dive trip with a camera was in 2011. It was to one of my favourite destinations – Anilao, in the Philippines. Looking back, it’s actually pretty funny. I was packing a full-frame DSLR camera with a 15mm fisheye lens. No lights and no tripod. Not exactly the best equipment setup for one of the top muck diving destinations on the planet! Despite not really getting any meaningful shots, it was a good learning opportunity for me and got me comfortable with the camera and housing.
Tyra: My first dive trip with a camera was to Palau in 2006. I’m pretty sure my first underwater shot was a poorly composed image of some small section of hard coral. I must admit, it was a bit of a rocky start shooting underwater for the first time. We hadn’t dove for a couple of years, it was my first liveaboard, my first time in the ocean with the camera underwater, and I was learning to shoot in strong drift conditions. Let’s just say that I was seriously considering selling my gear after that trip. However, I am so glad that I did not give up! In hindsight, I should have taken the camera to somewhere closer to home and gotten comfortable with the gear before going to Palau. We are headed back to Palau next year and I can’t wait to redeem myself!
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
Dustin: My most memorable shot has to be when I captured a beautiful frogfish eating an anemonefish in Bali, Indonesia. Tyra had just finished taking a few shots of it, and I moved in to get my camera set. As I turned on the light, the frogfish started to move. When you have the camera set up on a tripod, a moving subject isn’t ideal! As I was trying to follow it, and doing a poor job at it for that matter, it lunged at an anemonefish but missed. The shot was shaky and totally out of focus. Luckily for me, the frogfish settled down and patiently waited for another chance at it. This allowed me to get set up and try to get the shot. I waited about 20 minutes for it, and it finally happened! I was so stoked that I got that shot. I know that a lot of frogfish feeding shots on the Internet are coerced, but this was 100-percent natural and I was very proud of that. Patience can pay off.
Tyra: This is a really tough question to answer, as I have quite a few memorable moments captured underwater for various different reasons. It is hard for me to choose between my macro and my wide-angle shots, but if I had to pick one, I think it would be some of the images I captured of the Giant Pacific manta ray in Socorro, Mexico. The incredible experience of interacting with these majestic giants and them allowing me to capture their graceful moments will forever be imprinted on my heart. We had four dives with giant manta rays, and for the first couple of dives in the morning, about 20 dolphins, who playfully swam throughout the group. It was a day I will never forget and the images captured are special to me.
Do you both have a favourite dive destination?
Dustin: It is interesting because now I view destinations based on their productivity for shots. For productivity, I would say that places like Anilao and Lembeh are my favourites for macro. For wide angle – Bahamas for sharks and Socorro for mantas. Bali is great for macro and mantas! Taking productivity out of play, the Galápagos is an amazing destination that I would return to in a heartbeat. However, it is a very difficult place to get good shots.
Tyra: Like Dustin, I like different locations for different reasons as well, though the list is likely to be pretty much the same. For macro, I love Anilao, Lembeh, Bali and Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. For stunning corals and fish life, I would say the Solomon Islands and Fiji. For wide angle (big animals), the Bahamas and Socorro.
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
Dustin: While I am not particularly into cold water diving, I would really like to go to Antarctica. I also haven’t been to Cocos and Raja Ampat.
Tyra: I would love to go to Raja Ampat and Cocos. Like Dustin, I am not a huge cold water fan, but one of these days I want to experience the kelp forests in California and interact with the playful seals.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
Dustin: Anything you see on those blackwater dives is pretty crazy. Each one I have done brings new creatures from the deep.
Tyra: I have to agree with Dustin on this one. We have seen some pretty crazy creatures from the deep on our blackwater dives.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
Dustin: I am currently using a Canon EOS 1D X Mark II with a Nauticam housing, along with a SmallHD monitor, and Sola lighting. My main lenses are a 100mm macro lens, and a 16–35mm lens.
Tyra: I am currently shooting with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, with a Nauticam housing. I have two Sea&Sea YS-D2 strobes and a Sola 800 focus light. My main go-to lenses are the 100mm macro lens, with Nauticam wet diopter for macro, and 8–15mm fisheye for wide angle.
What has been the highlight of your careers?
Dustin: For me, the highlight is being able to experience the amazing things that happen underwater. I feel very fortunate to be able to see some of the amazing things that happen there.
Tyra: The highlight for me is the joy I get in sharing my images with family and friends, and in particular my nieces and nephews. Their youthful enthusiasm and excitement as I share some of my images and stories inspires me to keep shooting. I love sharing my passion with others in hopes that they will gain a better understanding of the ocean and will want to protect all of its inhabitants, big and small.
And the low point?
Dustin: We have been pretty fortunate – not too many low points. They’d include any time getting sick for a dive trip, equipment not showing up, floods, etc. Those things happen, but we can normally work around any issues that arise.
Tyra: While we have been pretty lucky in not having too many low points, I think the lowest point for me was back several years ago when on the second day of our trip to Dumaguete in the Philippines, I flooded my housing. I can’t remember feeling more devastated while diving than in that moment, seeing the water rushing into the housing. Thankfully, the manager of the resort let me shoot with her camera for the rest of the trip, allowing me to still capture some positive memories underwater.
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
Dustin: Every shot for me can be better. Even if the shot I have is great, higher resolution and higher frames per second are always wanted. So I am always looking to improve, even on shots that I currently have. This coming year, I will be focusing on getting some shots with crocodiles, whale sharks and great whites – all of which are new subjects for me.
Tyra: I feel there is always room for improvement and new ways to be more creative with my shots. One of the things on my bucket list is to get a shot of the psychedelic frogfish. I am also looking forward to the opportunity to tackle the challenge of shooting cavern shots in the cenote caves in Mexico this year.