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June 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 30, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Starving Underwater Photographers: Part I

pity the pro, or pat the amateur on the back?

from the June, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Here's a funny-but-somewhat-depressing episode that can summarize the state of commercial underwater photography today for those who work very hard at their craft. The Lundy Island Splash-In is an annual underwater photography competition held at Lundy Island, a marine reserve off England's Devon Coast. It's a prestigious contest, with prizes provided by dive gear companies like Mares, Suunto, and Sea & Sea. The winner last year was a diver who had just learned the basics of photography the day before. Jo Crewsdon, 42, told the Western Morning News, "Once I was underwater, I was playing about with the camera's settings when a seal came along and began swimming around my buddy and me. We had some great interaction and I just kept shooting away and got the right shot." Her close-up of a gray seal placed first in two of four categories.

Serious photographers losing out to a novice such as Crewsdon is now commonplace. They're routinely being beat by amateurs in getting photos printed in magazines and ad campaigns. And while professional photographers may have once been able to earn a living and sell photos regularly for big money because there were few quality photos (the cost of film priced ordinary folks out), along came their two worst enemies: the Internet and the digital camera. Film went out of style, camera prices dropped and well-heeled divers spent more time traveling and photographing. The price paid for photos dropped, and today almost anyone can get one great shot on a trip, and if they post it online, it can be located and purchased for pittance -- or as a freebie.

Many divers developed skills with the idea of becoming a professional photographer, working freelance or hoping to be on staff, like David Doubilet for National Geographic. That career path has changed as drastically as the market for their work has. So, pity the pro, or pat the amateur on the back? We contacted some top professional photographers to see how they're doing these days, and how they're changing with the times....

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