A Peek Below the Surface
The majority of us in the world today will never have the opportunity to explore the mysteries of deep space. But almost all of us can pursue the chance to explore another mystifying existence on our planet: the ocean. Covering 70% of the Earth’s surface with only 5% having been explored, the ocean is a vast world with mysteries as intriguing as outer space. Did you know that more than 228,000 known species live in the ocean, but possibly 2 million more are yet to be identified?
Think of the beautiful underwater life that you know of: tropical fish, whales, sharks, jellyfish, sea turtles, squid, dolphins, seals. Now, think of all the gorgeous and fascinating photographs of these magnificent sea creatures. Even more fascinating is that someone was on the other end of that camera, snapping the pics. Have you ever wondered, who is that photographer? How did he or she get into this position? And, could I do it?
Testing the Waters
Learning from Underwater Photographer Scott Gietler—former engineer and Wall Street portfolio manager and now owner of Bluewater Photo and Bluewater Travel in Marina del Rey, California—a whole culture of people participate in underwater photography and diving. From young to old and experienced to novice, exploring the ocean is an adventure we could all take if we so desire.
As you read the interview with Scott, ponder these ideas:
- Changing one element in your life could allow new doors to open, which could then allow multiple pieces to fall into place, setting your life on a new path.
- Follow life’s flukes. You never know where they might lead.
- When given the opportunity to visit a new location, go for it. Even when you think you know how your destination might be, you could be wrong. It could be even better.
- Test the waters and venture out of your realm. By trying something new, you never know what exciting things you might discover.
- Starting small is fine. You don’t need the best equipment, location, website, or whatever it might be to give something new a try.
The Deep Dive
To learn more about how Scott Gietler became an Underwater Photographer, take a look at his unique situation that started a long way away from the Pacific Ocean.
Hailing from Buffalo, New York, Scott started out as an engineering student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, then attended graduate school in Virginia before working in New Jersey for two years. This led to working on Manhattan’s famed Wall Street in 1994, where he ventured into finance and stock trading models.
“As a fluke, a friend of mine wanted to move to California to be near a sick relative,” Scott explains. “After living in NYC for nine years, I thought I could use a break from the concrete jungle. But, why Los Angeles? I thought of LA as hot, smog, and traffic. Then, I went, and stayed for a week in Marina del Rey, and thought, ‘This place is awesome! There’s no smog, no traffic, and it’s cool.’”
At this point, Scott was the head of a stock trading model and managed portfolios, so his job was not concerned with where he worked, as long as the portfolio was performing well. He moved to LA in 2003 and took sailing lessons. He planned a trip to Fiji and New Zealand, and a friend who was certified in diving suggested that Scott become certified before his trip. Scott had participated in diving once, about ten years prior, and barely remembered the experience.
Scott became certified in diving in LA, went to Fiji and participated in a few dives, and then started diving locally upon his return to California. He had a tiny, $100 camera and became very interested in fish and identifying the different species. So he started diving frequently and taking photos for ID purposes. He became known as a fish ID expert and did this for a couple of years.
“There was this one forum for underwater photography, and everyone kept asking the same questions over and over again,” Scott says. “People kept posting the wrong answers, and often the answers were pretty complicated. So, I decided to make a website where I would explain the answers and just point people to that. Instead of being a two to three page website, it became a whole book on how to learn underwater photography, since nothing like that existed.”
That was in 2009, when all the while, Scott was still doing his portfolio management job. A couple of years later, as Scott’s photography skills improved, a scuba diving instructor friend asked him to teach a class, and his teaching began. It was suggested that he could establish hours in the associated dive store to answer questions and help sell gear, but he thought, “Why don’t I sell people the gear?” Based on that, he thought about having a shop with gear, but knew he couldn’t manage a shop full time at this point.
“By a stroke of luck,” he says, Scott happened to meet up with a well-known photographer in LA, who was available to work part-time, so Scott opened a store approximately four weeks later. Within 3-6 months, Scott was able to stop his fund work to focus on his new business full time. It was growing quickly as he was putting more information online about the products. In addition, he would run trips locally, renting a boat to take people diving. He expanded to one international trip a year, then two, and then he decided to start the travel business.
One thing led to another, he says. “So, all the time, my photography was supporting the businesses… in the marketing, by doing articles, explaining what gear to get, showing photos I took.”
Scott has used underwater photography to build his two businesses in Marina del Rey, California:
- Bluewater Photo, a company that sells underwater camera and video gear worldwide, which has also become one of the best known brands in the field, and
- Bluewater Travel, a full-service dive travel agency that runs trips focusing on diving and underwater photography where a whole boat or hotel might be chartered, pre-booked, and guests sign-up. Or, if individuals or groups of people want to plan a dive trip to a specific destination, Scott’s company will arrange everything.
- Plus, Scott is the creator of the Underwater Photography Guide, an online magazine housing everything you want to know about underwater photography, packed with tutorials, tips, and techniques. Hundreds of free tutorials and videos about how to learn underwater photography are housed, and there are new articles posted almost every day.
Overall, to run the business successfully, having the underwater photography skills are a must. As people participate in the diving trips, Scott sells the necessary photography gear and teaches people how to use it. Scott runs the businesses, but is a photographer who knows the gear and the art of photography. “Underwater photography has allowed me to make money through these businesses. This is how I turned a hobby into a living.”
The Q & A
And, now for some straight questions to and answers from Scott Gietler.
What advice do you have for people wanting to adventure into this underwater world?
“If you want to do underwater photography, there are a lot of ways to start without even having to dive. If you live near a lake or an ocean, you could start with tide pools or snorkeling. You just need an underwater camera. There are expensive ones, and there are ones that are $100, so there are a whole range of options. Almost every town in the country has a dive shop and they can teach you how to dive in two weekends. From there, go on a dive trip. Bring, buy, or rent an underwater camera and give it a try. You just practice and get better.”
What advice do you have for people wanting to pursue underwater career goals?
“The question is, if you have a passion for some art or photography. Different people have turned this into a living in different ways, and that will depend on marketing and business skills. Some people go the route of baby photos or brides, other people take artistic photos and do art shows, calendars, and t-shirts. It’s about getting out, putting the time in, and promoting, framing, and showing. Figuring out what sells. Quite a few people make a living out of this. Also, some people get a job in a related field: working on a boat, or being a sales rep for a photography or dive-related company. Selling straight underwater photos, though, there are limited opportunities that way. A lot of competition.”
Do you ever take pause, look back on where you came from, and say, wow, I can’t believe I’m doing this? I ask because most people do not have your job, a seeming dream job.
“There are different aspects to the job: the day-to-day in dealing with employees, working on the website, and selling products. So, there is always a fun and a not-fun component. I’ll look back and reflect on how my life has completely changed from what I used to do. It’s just very different, like night and day.”
Where has this underwater career taken you, around the world?
“Yes, places like Mexico, Galapagos, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand.”
What are some favorite places to visit in the world? And the US?
“The Philippines, Indonesia, and Galapagos all rank very high. Here in Southern California, the underwater life is amazing. It’s really rich. It’s colder water, but it’s really beautiful diving here.”
What is one of the most exciting things that has happened underwater?
“The most exciting things I’ve seen are encounters with humpback whales, whale sharks, and giant schools of hammerheads. When you’re diving, you don’t want anything too exciting to happen. You don’t want your air to run out or anything. I mean, every marine life encounter is exciting, but the top one is probably being right up close to a humpback whale for quite a while.”
What about something scary, like coming face-to-face with a great white?
“Those are things that happen more in the movies. If sharks come close, you feel lucky. Things that are scary are when you accidentally rub against stinging coral.”
What do you like to do for fun or adventure outside of this?
“Being a business owner, most of my fun time is related to the diving trips or photography or activities with my family. The first thing that comes to mind is wildlife photography: lions, coyotes, birds. Any animal on land. I enjoy that also.”
Any final thoughts to share?
“Diving and underwater photography is something you can do at any age. Some people start at age 15 and some start at 75. People who do this tend to do it for a long time. They tend to really stick with it. The amount of life underwater is 100 times what you would see on land. Like when walking through a forest, how often do you see birds or deer? Where underwater it’s every five seconds. It’s a whole different experience.”
Nici’s Personal Note: Perhaps an exciting Part Two to this story will be an underwater photography dive of my own… An exploration, evaluation, and sharing. I know where to find the guy who can teach me, so stay tuned.
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