Interview With Ernie Black from Salty Black Photography / by Katherine Nielsen

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

I’d imagine that most people don’t know much about me. My name is Ernie Black. Originally from Naples, Florida , I have grown up spending countless hours in bodies of water, but prefer the salty ones. After college I left Florida, doing stints in Costa Rica, Colorado, and California, but landed on Maui, Hawaii just over six years ago and have developed a whole new love for the ocean and photography.

My girlfriend and I have been saving up for years now and are planning a very big trip in the near future full of new locations and adventures ! @ernieblackphotography

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

I shoot with a Sony a99ii. In the water, I use either a Sony 16-35mm f2.8 or a Sony fish-eye 16mm f2.8 - Out of the water, in addition to these two lenses, I use a Sony 70-400mm f4-5.6

How would you describe your current photographic style? 

Although I dabble here and there for fun or upon request, my main focus is entirely ocean related, whether above or below the surface. While shooting pictures underwater, I either snorkel or free dive because of the relaxing/calming feeling that it gives me. Lastly, because I personally don’t enjoy bright lights being pointed at my face, I choose to shoot with natural light only, extending that courtesy towards the animals that I photograph (although I have no idea if a flash would bother these animals, nor do I knock anyone who chooses to use a flash).

What would be your favourite lens and why? 

My Sony 16-35mm f2.8 would be my only lens if I had to choose just one. Being close to my subjects is always a goal, and having a variety of focal lengths available allows for more creativity in shooting similar situations.

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What inspired you to capture the ocean and what continues to motivate you?

Salt water has always been my happy place, but when I moved to Maui, I quickly formed a whole new fascination and respect for the ocean. The abundance of beautiful colors, along with powerful waves and a plethora of marine life is all the inspiration I needed. The element of surprise that the ocean throws at me on a regular basis is the most fun part of it for me, and that is more than enough motivation to keep me loving what I do.

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

Yes! One comes to mind. On a single breath I dove down and back into a dark cave to see if there were any Whitetip reef sharks hanging out. As I laid on the bottom letting my eyes adjust to the darkness, I saw something big in the back corner that didn’t resemble a shark. As I moved a little closer, it began to move and quickly came at me, mouth wide open with a nice set of teeth! Cramped in a tight area, I rolled on my back and put my camera between it’s mouth and my face...it was a big Hawaiian Monk Seal. It did not bite me, but it certainly scared me!

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Can you tell me about any crazy encounters with marine life? 

There have been so many amazing encounters, but one sticks out a little more than the rest. Here in Hawaii, it is illegal to approach or jump in the water with Humpback whales. One day a few months back I jumped off my buddy’s boat because there were a handful of Bottlenose dolphins spread around in the area. I stayed put for about twenty minutes, hoping that one would come check me out when all of a sudden a big breath was taken very close and everyone on the boat cheered. A mother Humpback and her calf came into sight almost immediately, coming straight towards a friend of mine and I, crossed over one another, split us within five feet, and were gone. The whole moment lasted no more than twenty-five seconds, but it was a twenty-five seconds that I will never forget!

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Where is your favourite destination to shoot? 

I’ve got a handful of spots within ten miles of my house here on Maui that I frequent. I love them so much because I can enter these areas with a certain “game plan” if you will, but know that something unexpected may very well happen.

Among all your work what is your most memorable capture? 

I have a photo titled “Lavender Waves”, in which an octopus reached into it’s bag of tricks and threw a shape I have never seen anywhere before. There are several times that I’ve caught octopuses to photograph them away from areas where they are completely camouflaged. The day I got this shot though, I was in a shallow and sandy zone where I like to photograph turtles, when all of a sudden I saw an octopus free swimming (which is very uncommon to see). Just before it reached the reef, I was able to cut it off, where it flared up in the shape of a flower for a split second (in an attempt to intimidate me), and then shot right underneath me to go hide in the reef. That is the only moment I have captured so far that is unlike anything else I have ever seen.

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

I import directly into Lightroom, I back everything up on an external hard drive, then delete all of the photos I don’t like from Lightroom. I mostly do minor adjustments in Lightroom and call it good, however sometimes I will do a little extra in Photoshop (such as my Black Series).

How do you educate yourself to become a better photographer? 

Time. Trial and error. Talk with other photographers.

Who would you say are your greatest influencers and inspirations?

My love and passion for being in the ocean and witnessing first hand what it is has to offer is where the influence comes from. A friend who I met out here on Maui, Aaron Lynton, paired with his work, was my biggest inspiration and helpful hand in taking my photography to the next level. And of course, it would be impossible to deny that social media now days is extremely inspiring - there is so much talent and different takes on everything out there, and it is fun to take an idea from here and there and try to create something beautiful and unique with your own flair.

Lastly, what is one piece of advice you would give someone starting out in photography?

Just have fun with it! If you’re having fun, then I imagine your work will show it!

To view more of this amazing work visit https://saltyblackphotography.com