Interview With Ikelite Ambassador Brandon Verdura With His Muse Cassi Manner / by Katherine Nielsen

Brandon Verdura has an eye for the ocean like no other living in majestic Oahu, Hawaii. Working alongside his girlfriend Cassi Manner @cassimanner who features in a lot of his work and inspires his creative vision. He creates such beautiful, ethereal images that will motivate you to get in the ocean and explore.

A Photographer, spearfisherman and USCG rescue swimmer. His photography is inspirational and unique. It was a real pleasure to learn more about Brandon @brandonverdura

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Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself? 

I was born and raised in South Florida with a second home in the water. It is water after all, that my inspiration and creativity flows from. The ever changing reality that is always there, but rarely appreciated. It is what helped me find my love for photography.  My father has a strong passion for the water and that same passion was instilled in me at a young age. I later joined the Coast Guard to become a rescue swimmer in order to help those who enjoy the ocean as much as I do. It was while in the Coast Guard that I purchased a GoPro and my love for photography started. If you would have told me three years ago that I would love photography, I would have said you were crazy, as I did not consider myself a “creative type”.  I played sports, jumped out of helicopters, and enjoyed shooting fish. But photography opened up a side of me I had no clue existed.

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What would you say inspires your current vision?  

I am currently inspired by videography. It is another creative outlet that I am excited to learn and explore. I originally purchased my GoPro to make spearfishing videos, and a year later I purchased my first DSLR. So I stopped making videos to focus on photography.   I am also fascinated by waves. Growing up in Florida, I was never able to witness a true wave. Now that I have the opportunity to live in Hawaii, I am excited to try and capture the beauty and power of the ocean.

Can you give a breakdown of the equipment you use to create your work?

I recently upgraded from a Nikon D750 to the D850 mainly for its video capabilities as well as the improved image quality. I love shooting with my Sigma 35mm f1.4. The bokeh it would create underwater is beautiful. It is a lot of fun shooting behind bubbles and watch the lens turn them into light orbs. In addition I use a sigma 15mm fisheye lens. This was the first lens I purchased and is still a go to for underwater. The super wide angle is great underwater because it allows you to be close to your subject. This helps produce a sharper image. A huge advantage when shooting in tight spaces like an underwater cave. The housing I use for my camera is by Ikelite. They were the original housing I used when I started underwater photography with my D750. I am honoured to now be an Ikelite ambassador and continue to use their housing to keep my camera protected.

What are your go to settings when you shoot in the ocean? 

I don’t really have go to settings, although I do prefer shooting at an wide open aperture to create some depth between my subject and the background. Also when shooting in caves I find that using highlight metering keeps my subjects from being over exposed when swimming into the light rays. This was a big problem I had when I first start shooting in caves here in Hawaii. 

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Have you ever had an experience in the ocean that really scared you?

I was attacked by a shark once. A few of us were spearfishing in the Bahamas when a reef shark came and took my friends fish along with the spear attached to it. We followed the shark around for a bit hoping he would spit the spear out but unfortunately he didn’t. I saw an opportunity to dive down on the shark to try and grab the spear. About 35ft down the shark turned towards me and showed his teeth. I thought he was going to came at me so I poked him with my spear just to warn him off. Big mistake haha, the shark immediately dart towards me trying to bite my face. I was able to push him off and dodge the initial attack but he came back in for a second attempt. I quickly grabbed my spear with both hands and put it in his mouth to fend him off.

You always hear stories of how adrenaline makes it seem as if time has slowed down… this couldn’t be more true. I was able to break down every little movement and critically think in the short 4 seconds. As I saw the shark turn towards me I knew I had to fend him off with my spear. I knew if I held the spear how you would hold a bar I had a chance of looking all my fingers. So in the moment I used one hand to grab the very end of the spear, and luckily I did. The shark bit down on the spear and grazed my palm and pinky. That split second decision saved my hand. I am incredibly lucky that I ended up with only 3 stitches. My Gopro happened to be recording as well haha, if interested you can find the video on YouTube, just search “First person shark attack”.

All that being said, please give these animals the respect they deserve. They are beautiful creatures but it is their territory, do not underestimate them.

Brandon Verdura Interview Ikelite Ambassador

Your portrait shoots are next level where do you get your inspiration for these beautiful images?

Aww thanks you are too kind, but as much as I would love to take credit for that, it is my girlfriend @cassimanner that is the brains behind 90% of those shoots. She’s a natural. 

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What do you enjoy most about your career as a photographer? 

I live for the moments when I capture an image that puts a giant smile on my subjects face. As well as the surprises that come along with capturing images. Whether its from the moment you press the shutter and an image leaves you in awe by surprise (such as my light orb photo) or the moment I apply one of my presets to an image that’s been sitting untouched and it turns out amazing. 

How do you continue to evolve as a photographer? 

I am constantly learning when ever I can. Youtube is a great place to learn, it is where I learned basically everything I know about photography. I am also evolving beyond photography and starting to learn cinematography.

Among all your work what is your most memorable capture? 

That is a hard question, as I look through my photos there are so many that have that “giant smile” moment. The greatest was probably my light orb photo though. I was still getting used to using my 35mm f1.4 and it was my first time using a Lume Cube in the water. The sun just set and we were swimming back to shore when I realized the light rays coming from behind us. I asked my girlfriend Cassi for one last quick shot. I didn’t even realize I had my exposure set to -1. When I saw the photo on my live view I was in shock as well as Cassi. One of those surprise moments I will always cherish.

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What is something you wish you had known when you first started your journey in ocean photography? 

I wish I would have taken a freediving course sooner. Being able to comfortably hold my breath has allowed me to compose shots better, adjust settings, and even get closer to marine life. Most importantly the ability to forget that you are holding your breath underwater gives a new feeling of connection with the ocean. 

“The sea is everything. It covers seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe. It's breath is healthy and pure. It is a spacious wilderness where man is never alone, for he can feel life throbbing all around him. The sea is the environment for a prodigious, supernatural existence; it is nothing but movement and love; it is a living infinity.

The sea is nature’s vast reserve. It was through the sea that the globe as it were began, and who knows if it will not end in the sea! Perfect peace abides there. The sea does not belong to despots. On its surface immoral rights can still be claimed, men can fight each other, devour each other, and carry out all the earth’s atrocities. But thirty feet below the surface their power ceases, their influence fades, their authority disappears. Independence is possible only here! Here I recognize no master! Here I am free!
Jules Verne - Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

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How  do to keep yourself physically fit to be able to do what you do? 

I am fortunate enough that as a rescue swimmer we are required to maintain a certain physical fitness. I mainly lift weights, but our training includes high intensity circuits and pool workouts as well.

 What methods do you use for editing ? Can you explain your workflow? 

I mainly use lightroom and honestly my workflow is probably not the best haha. I normally upload all photos from a shoot then spend the next hour or two playing around with my different presets on the photos. Maybe finish one photo, maybe not haha. I can be quite in decisive between favourite edits and photos.

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Who would you say are your greatest influencers and inspirations? 

There are so many awesome creators that I follow and get inspiration from. Probably at the top of the list is Jack Bates @jackbatesphotography. I've been following him since I started photography. His colors tones and content are always unique and eye catching. 

Lastly do you have any advice you would give someone starting out in photography?

I think the most important advice I could give is to enjoy learning and growing. Know that photography is a process. Enjoy that process and you’ll become the creator you’ve dreamed of being.

If you want to check out more of Brandon’s work see his website at www.seetheabyss.com