A lens kisses a whale shark
Two things have fascinated David Hinkel for a long time: photography and oceans. He likes to search for impressive motifs under the water’s surface, whether it’s the colorful animals that live near a reef or the large marine animals.
And with the ZEISS Distagon T* 2,8/15, he can even make a whale shark fit completely into one image.
David Hinkel has traveled a lot in his life and knows the most beautiful diving areas that the planet has to offer. Last year, the Philippines were on his itinerary again. Tropical waters, a colorful animal world, and above all the whale sharks – the largest fish on Earth – enticed him to go back there again. “My interest over the last 25 years has been in the bigger animals that we encounter underwater, such as sharks and whales. But sometimes it can be dangerous.” Not this time. These large denizens of the oceans, whale sharks, are planktivores and therefore pose no risk to humans. Instead, a powerful typhoon — one of the worst ever in the Philippines — gave Hinkel’s trip a dramatic backdrop.
“When I left Los Angeles, I had no idea that we would pretty much fly directly into Yolanda/Hian, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded in the Philippines. I arrived safely on Philippine soil, but the storm had caused huge devastation and more severe weather was forecast. It was only on the second-to- last day before I left that I found a boat to take me out diving.”
Hinkel finally had a chance to see the whale sharks. He found relatively young animals, around six meters long. When fully grown whale sharks can measure up to 43 feet (13 meters) in length. “These animals are very docile and when you swim alongside them for the first time, you feel two things at once: joy and awe. And you realize how small you are compared to these wonderful animals.”
For generations, the fishermen of Oslob on the island of Cebu, Philippines, have gone out every day, rain or shine, to collect and harvest shrimp. In the morning, they feed the whale sharks by hand; the locals believe this brings the fishermen good fortune and an abundant catch.
Wide-angle lenses are the tools typically used for underwater photography and this also applies to David Hinkel. “Normally I have a fish-eye lens with me when I’m under water. This time, though, I used the Distagon T* 2,8/15 super wide-angle lens. With it, I was able to keep more distance between me and the animals, allowing for natural animal behavior while achieving really sharp images. I also switched over to video with my full-frame DSLR and got great wide-angle views. The Distagon T* 2,8/15 has become my primary lens for camera and video under water.”
In contrast to taking pictures on land, underwater photography requires a lot of logistical effort — from selecting the right housing for the camera and matching dome port for the lens, to amphibious flash lights or underwater video lighting.
Artificial lighting is decisive if you want to be able to show the colors as they really appear at a depth of up to 16 feet (5 meters). Even strong flash lights are only effective up to a depth of around 1½ meters due to the water’s light absorption. At shorter distances, the amount of water between the motif and the lens decreases: the colors become more vivid and the image is sharper. If you then use a very wide-angle lens, it is possible to embed a prominent object, such as the red lionfish, within its surroundings. “That’s why I like Distagon T* 2,8/15 so much, because of its diagonal angular view of 110°. It offers me natural color rendering and excellent, reliable sharpness, without the distortions that are inevitable when using a fish-eye lens.“
One of Hinkel’s great role models is the renowned oceanographer and pioneer of underwater photography Jacques-Yves Cousteau, whose documentaries Hinkel loved to see when he was a child. This is why Hinkel developed a desire to also show people the beauty of the underwater world that has fascinated him so much since his youth. And it’s a goal he has consistently achieved throughout his life. “Usually when I get ready for a shoot underwater, I have a picture in my mind of the things I want to duplicate in the camera. I usually write down my thoughts first on a small notebook and keep reviewing it on my trip. When I’m on the long flights to my dive destination and finally have a chance to relax on the flight, I have plenty of time to review what I have written down.” All that reflection above water and hard work underwater is certainly paying off — his results are impressive.
About David Hinkel
David Hinkel got his first Instamatic cassette camera when he was nine. As he got older, underwater photography became a passion, and eventually his profession. Today he owns a specialized store for underwater photography in San Diego, California. Alone or with his customers, he regularly explores the underwater world with his camera – whether in his ‘local’ Pacific Ocean or in the most stunning diving sites in the world.