Born and raised in East London, South Africa, professional underwater photographer Wesley Oosthuizen moved to Grand Cayman shortly after graduating from high school – a decision he has never regretted. While working as a snorkel guide, he started freediving and was mesmerised by the amazing ocean life that he encountered. After a couple of close calls while freediving, he decided to try out scuba diving.
A nomad at heart, Wesley later moved to Taiwan, where he hung up his fins for much longer than anticipated – 13 years – to pursue other avenues such as music, video editing and directing. This range of talents eventually brought him full circle back to diving – with skills that were honed and developed. This led to Wesley starting a production company in Taiwan, which has been operational for around a year now. UW360 caught up with the man to find out more about his career and to showcase his top underwater photographs:
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
I’ve been taking photos since I was 11 years old and filming since 15, so when I started diving and managed to get a camera in my hands I was instantly hooked.
Your first underwater shot?
My first underwater video was mostly of other divers who visited Grand Cayman and who we were trying to sell the videos to. Soon after that, to the disapproval of my bosses, the shots of divers I was supposed to take started to be replaced by marine life!
As for underwater photography, my first shots were taken only after my 13-year break from diving. Most of them were unusable, but I took a picture of a Sabellidae (feather duster worm) that I’m still pretty proud of. At this time I didn’t even have strobes, so I just used my dive light and a high ISO to get the shot.
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
With video, it has to be the one time I was filming garden eels in Grand Cayman. I had my eye in the viewfinder for quite a while, as I liked to get a pretty lengthy shot of them and then speed it up later in post, and when put to music it would make it look like they were dancing. I finished getting the shot and looked up to see where the dive group was. What I saw though was something so big, and so close to me, that I actually started reeling backward. I soon realised it was the biggest turtle I’d ever seen in my entire life. I’m 187 cm tall and this turtle was about 3/4 of my size. I quickly regained my composure and hit record. Its head was as big as mine and its fins were as long as my arms, but three times the width. It had about 20-plus fish swimming underneath it, barnacles on its back. It was really old. Our eyes met for a second, then it pushed once with its fins and was gone. I’ll never forget the power in that single push.
With photography, it was while I was on a night dive in a little port on Green Island. If you had to look at the site you’d think there was nothing there, but the diversity of life was astounding. Honestly I think my strobe was firing every couple of seconds. The shot that stands out the most for me is an image of a stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa) that I got. This fella was so well camouflaged that the only reason I saw it was because of the glint off its eye when my focus light hit it as I was turning. How on earth it managed to blend in so well with its surroundings still baffles me.
Where is your favourite dive destination?
Little Cayman, in the Caribbean, hands down. I have never seen marine life like that anywhere else in the world (although I’m sure there is!). It was like diving into a [Nature] documentary.
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
I’d like to explore Indonesia, specifically Lembeh and Komodo. After that, it’d be the Philippines, namely Tubbataha, Moalboal, Dumaguete and Anilao.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
I don’t find the creatures in the ocean weird at all. I find them wondrous. What I do find weird is the divers who claim love for marine life and yet have absolutely no regard for it while diving. Things like people kneeling on the reef, harassing marine life, poking the reef with reef sticks to prop themselves up, or photographers literally laying sprawled over the reef so they can get their shot. It just doesn’t make sense. I know accidents happen, but doing it deliberately is selfish and goes against what all of us are taught and what we are supposed to stand for.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
I currently use an Olympus OM-D E-M5, which pretty much lives with my M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro lens on it. My housing is Olympus as well and I’m using two SEA&SEA YS-01 strobes with an H2OGear focus light. For my snoot work I use a CV boot from a car. Believe it or not, it works surprisingly well. A brilliant photographer named Dave Johnson turned me on to that one.
What is the highlight of your career?
I am still in the very early stages of my career, because I took such a long break from diving. Recently, though, some of my images were published in the Daily Mail in the UK and another one will be featured in the August edition of the BBC Focus magazine.
…And the low point?
That would be trying to figure out why I stopped diving and shooting for so long. So much time wasted, so much to catch up on. But I embrace the challenge and am quite pleased with my progress over the past eight months that I’ve had my camera, so I see the low as the road to the high, which is now.
Have you any advice that you’d like to give aspiring underwater photographers?
The best advice I can give is to shoot responsibly. Please respect marine life. You are a diver, not a demolition expert. It is possible to get a great shot just by using fin control. If you’re going to hit into the reef, rather scoop your fins backwards, or cup your hands and scoop them to move yourself away. If hitting into the reef is unavoidable, and you need to stop yourself. You don’t need a full hand to do so; you can stop yourself with a pinky finger. We want to bring this amazing world to everyone, but there’s no point in destroying it in order to do so.
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
Anything and everything. The pinnacle would be shooting something that hasn’t been discovered yet.