I was lucky enough to catch Jim Patterson in between his busy adventure schedule and he took some of his time to answer our questions about being blessed with such a soul nurturing occupation.
When not travelling he loves sleeping in, drinking lots of coffee, going for long runs and eating big, home made omelets. When in the field he describes his ideal day as camera in hand, somewhere remote with beautiful scenery and amazing light. (Photographers dream, right?)
A Little Bit of Background Information
Jim Patterson was born in the small town of Frederick, Maryland before moving to Campbell, California at the tender age of two. “Growing up just a short drive from the coast, it was the trips to the beach that were always the most memorable for me.” Whether he was exploring the rocky tide pools along the Californian coast or snorkeling with his father in various places around the world; marine life has always fascinated him and there is no doubt that it helped shape his interest for nature and the outdoors.
While his college degree in marine biology didn’t lead to working in the field, it did however introduce him to SCUBA diving, which has ever since played a major part in his life.
Photography, his Creative Fulfillment
Being an active SCUBA diver, logging 100+ dives a year, he was intrigued by the thought of taking photographs underwater after friends of his bought some underwater photographic equipment. It seemed as if getting a housing for his SLR camera seemed to be the way to go and after investing in his first rig (and his credit card taking quiet the knock) he was hooked. He has a great desire to share the beauties hidden under the oceans surface and he can still remember seeing his first slides come back on Velvia and Kodachrome film opening his eyes to how spectacular photography could be. After years of dabbling in different kind of ways to be creative, he finally found a form of art that allows him to fulfill that desire to create.
Underwater Photography Gear and Equipment
When I asked him about his list of essential underwater photography gear he explained that in addition to the housing, a large dome port would allow you the most flexibility for wide-angle optics. For marco shots he suggests rather using a flat port. Then, two-strobes with a wide range of manual power settings on easy to adjust arms are a key aspect of the setup. Personally, he uses two Ikelite DS160s for his Aquatica housing in combination with both a large dome port as well as a flat port. He adds that the most useful pieces of gear to come out in the past few years has to be the vacuum tester for your housing continuing to say that, “being assured your kit is water tight before the dive gives you the peace of mind that your camera is safe”.
Post-Processing is Important
Although you can’t expect to fix everything, post-production IS important. He makes use of Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop CS for his workflow. To make the editing process easy he removes the junk and selects all of the keepers by flagging and rejecting images and adding the strongest candidates to a ‘Collection’. He prefers to start his post-processing using Lightroom, checking lens corrections, setting custom white balancing and making adjustments using the main sliders in the Develop Module such as exposure contrast, highlights, shadows, vibrance and clarity. Using Photoshop he uses a variety of techniques; major backscatter is usually removed using the clone tool before carrying on with detailed burning, dodging and tonal control using different luminosity masks. “Tony Kuyper (www.goodlight.us) has great tutorials on their effectiveness and how to use these tools.”
Jim’s Top 3 Diving Destinations
People dive for different reasons. Certain divers enjoy investigating historical shipwrecks or exploring mysterious caves, while others like deep diving to see what creatures are at those dark depths and others, like Jim Patterson, love the colourful reefs and the diversity of marine life.
He has been fortunate enough to dive in various tropical and temperate regions and when asked to list his top 3 diving destinations he said it had to be central California, Fiji and the northern Vancouver Island. Reason being is that all three of those locations are loaded with colour and have a huge variety of animals to photograph. He went on adding that his top three locations he has yet to visit are Raja Ampat, Palau and the Revillagigedo Islands, “I hope to get to all of them someday!”
An Impromptu Journey
The very nature of Jim’s occupations means that adventure is never far away, add remote locations, vast open oceans and true wildlife encounters and you are sure to have a few good campfire stories to tell. He tells us about one adventure in particular; he was in the middle of an art show but an opportunity to go to an Island of the coast of Mexico called Gaudalupe, where great white sharks are known to be found. His girlfriend at the time agreed to cover the show for him while he headed off to a small airport nearby. Long story short, he ended up on a boat for a 24-hour journey to the mountainous Island. For three days he witnessed the grace and grandeur of one of our earths most beautiful yet misunderstood creatures.
Brave or Foolish – Call it What You Want
Jim recalls the time when he was diving in the Tiputa Pass on the atoll of Rangiroa in French Polynesia. On the final day, the plan was to dive deep in an effort to hopefully encounter a hammerhead shark. (Let me just explain, the great hammerhead is the Holy Grail for big animals in this area and they can reach up to 6m in length.) At 55mm beneath the surface, a great hammerhead, at least 4m long, swam within meters of him before swimming away. With adrenaline pumping in overdrive, he turned around and found his group was about 10m away and he was all alone! Jim says that it would most probably be the bravest, most foolish and scary thing he’s ever experienced.
Wondering what his favourite sea creatures are he replied that on of his favourite photographic subjects has to be the sea nettles jelly, Chrysaora fuscescens for their graceful beauty. “And then for their adorable hair-do’s, the Mosshead Warbonnet is high on his list, they’re the punk rockers of fish.”
A Before and After Experience
Having extensively dived and photographed the central Californian coast Jim says that he’d love to travel back to a time before industrialized fishing affected the area. At present, it’s still full of beauty and life and while he knows that his view of ‘normal’ is skewed by a lack of historical perspective, he knows that divers who explored the area thirty years ago speak of a decline in fish populations. For example, basking sharks were once very common, are now practically extinct. “To see and photograph the ‘before and after’ of this area would be an amazing experience!”
Green with envy knowing that while I sit here and write this blog article, Jim Patterson is most likely out beneath the oceans’ surface, capturing more idyllic photographs of colourful and graceful sea creatures… I truly hope we get to report back with more audacious stories of this adventurous and thoughtful photographer.
Go check out Jim’s social media platforms to stay updated with his amazing work: