Developing the deep

Underwater photographer Bryant Austin, who will lecture in Newport Beach on May 9, has spent a decade catching marine life in detail.

May 02, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Bryant Austin, an underwater photographer who takes, and displays, life-sized images of whales and dolphins, will be presenting at ExplorOcean in Newport Beach on May 9.
Bryant Austin, an underwater photographer who takes,… (Courtesy Bryant…)

A young humpback whale swam less than six feet away from Bryant Austin while he was snorkeling off the Kingdom of Tonga in 2004.

Lowering his camera, afraid it would get struck out of his hand, Austin was mesmerized by the marine mammal's subtly hued skin, belly button and musculature.

A couple seconds later, he felt a tap on his shoulder, which from its force — and the fact that he was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean — was not from a human.

Turning around, Austin found himself staring into the eyes of the calf's mother. As she and her offspring swam away, Austin was too breathtaken to snap a picture. But the moment sparked the passion that he's pursued for nearly the last decade.

"No one had ever created life-sized photographs of whales before," he said. "I wasn't sure how possible or practical it would be, but eventually I committed to my inspiration full-time."


Such encounters are anything but commonplace for the 44-year-old Carmel resident, although he spends nearly 10 hours a day in the water, weather permitting.

Austin will lecture about his craft at ExplorOcean at 7 p.m. May 9. He presented there for the first time in late 2008.

"People [can] enjoy hearing about his experience in trying to photograph these whales — and how much time he spends in trying to get the photo and the relationship he's developed with [them,]" said Vice President of Development and Marketing Leslie Perovich.

At "Photographing Whales as Large as Life," a component of the Waterman Lecture Series, Austin will discuss and sign copies of his new book "Beautiful Whale."

"The very rare and special moments I've documented with whales only become complete when they are shared," he said. "Less than one millionth of one percent of the human population will ever know such moments. So it always means a lot to me to have an opportunity to share photographs and stories of the many whales I've come to know as individuals."


Love of the unknown

When Austin was 5, he visited a marine park where he witnessed two badly scratched, bottlenosed dolphins in a filthy brown four-foot pool. Honing in on the lethargy and sadness in the animals' eyes, Austin sensed their suffering and threw a tantrum, demanding to leave.

He connected the dots recently upon recalling the incident.

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