The Face of the ocean

The reef

This is where it all started. The place I first started obsessing over. There was not much to see in the Mediterranean sea by Italy growing up, and I still fell in love with the bare rocks and shells in a beautiful but overfished sea. So imagine my surprise when I moved to California and discovered a cold and murky ocean but so full of life. The reef when you give it the chance to heal and grow is like a playground for underwater photographers. So many creatures swim around unbothered. So many photo subjects. Every location has its secrets and seascapes that keep you hooked with the variable chance of the occasional big animal coming by.

The current

There is a strange comfort that comes with floating in hundreds or thousands feet of blue water. It takes time but eventually your head stops worrying and your eyes start noticing all the little things like leaves, and the little current dwellers latched onto those leaves. Or all the small see through animals that travel the oceans carried by the current. Some of the most puzzling things I’ve observed is how animals choose to pair up for protection or even just for a free ride. Photographing these underwater jewels is the real challenge especially since I am often in blue water prepared for megafauna which means in my underwater housing I have a wide angle lens. That combined with the necessity to always be aware of potential predators around you makes pointing in the right direction at the small transparent creature a mission of its own kind. Focusing your camera on the right part of their body and taking the photo when the orbiting fish get confident enough becomes personal pretty quickly as you try to get the shot you want before your subject drifts away in the current. 

crown jellyfish drifting in the current with fish host nearby underwater in Hawaii

The bond

Sharks are my life but cetaceans will always give me butterflies. Maybe it’s how similar their social structure is to ours as humans, maybe it's the crazy bond they form with one another, or how genuinely curious they can be towards us. Their intelligence is no secret and many say they can be almost as smart and self aware as we are but I feel like that could be an understatement.

 

The way they communicate, travel and bond is unreal to me and one of the most fascinating dynamics in the world. Witnessing so much intelligence always comes with a little unsureness when I'm around dolphins and whales because for how ecstatic I am to be in their presence, they are way less easy to read than sharks. Just like us they are emotional beings and often can act accordingly.

Whale shark swimming underwater in Hawaii
Whale shark skin closeups with gills and remoras moving underwater in Hawaii

The fashion

One of the most interesting things about the ocean to me is how shapes and patterns just evolved. We can sit here and come up with a function for every color and every spot but when big fashionable animals swim at me in full 50’s polka dots outfits all I can think in my head is: “HOW?”.

 

From a photography standpoint this is wonderful. Sometimes they stand out, sometimes they blend right in. Some other times they make picking the right exposure a living nightmare. But the concept always leaves me speechless. This applies to the rest of nature because we as humans might have developed ambitious brains but physically we are pretty plain compared to most flowers and butterflies.

 

That's where my question still lingers, how does a worm go from a plain green or brown to eventually evolving into looking like a snake’s face? Question that I’m ok with if it never gets answered.

The sense of humor

Different species of cetacean often carry a sad curse. The shape of their face is fixed into a smile or a creepy frown that has facilitated captivity for a lot of them because it showed no pain. But there is so much more behind that smile. 

 

Photographing these big animals comes with the understanding that dolphins and whales are emotionally very sensitive and just like us can be playful, defensive and sometimes a little crazy just because. I had to learn to be extra cautious about my position in the water and even what equipment I was using because what sparks interest in sharks can easily bother a whale. 

 

But there's a kick. Sometimes I have the feeling there is a lot more than just simple emotions behind these animals, and I think that their character has a lot more dimension than we can prove. I know I’m not a scientist and my opinion is heavily driven by passion but sometimes I think dolphins and whales have an acute sense of humor at times very dark and they act a certain way just because it's funny. 

Pilot whale belly and smile underwater in open ocean in Hawaii

The Ocean

Year after year I connect with the ocean a little more. The chance to work in the water, observe and understand the creatures in it, is an aspect of my life I will always be grateful for. The years have passed since I've started documenting my underwater journey, and in this time I collected some of the most incredible memories in the water all over the world along with the images that came with it.