Ningaloo Reef Photographer @jesshaddenphoto
Jess Haden is a photographer based on the Ningaloo reef, Western Australia. Working with @NingalooWhalesharknDive. He captures the beauty of the ocean and the wildlife that it inhabits, taking you on a real journey of discovery into this magical part of the world.
Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself?
That I am a guy haha, because my name is Jess and my social media accounts are full of marine life instead of myself, people assume that I’m female.
So there can be a bit of confusion sometimes. I have even been employed with people assuming I was a female and then having a 6” 2 bearded man rock up to work can be pretty funny. I am actually 23 years of age although people believe I am in my thirties.
Can you give a breakdown of the equipment you use to create your images?
Underwater I shoot with the Nikon D810 with a sigma 15mm fisheye inside a nauticam underwater camera housing. Above the water I shoot with my Nikon D610 & D7100 with Sigma 150-600mm and nikon 18-105mm.
What is your favourite lens and Why?
I love my Sigma 15mm and would have to say it is my favourite as I shoot with this lens every day. It is fast, sharp and captures my subjects just how I want.
What drew you to capture the ocean and wildlife the way you do?
At the age of 15 I began scuba diving which made me fall even more in love with the underwater world. It was from here I purchased my first underwater camera set up to capture these incredible moments I was experiencing. It was firstly so I could look back on my adventures and the things I had seen but the more I went underwater, the more I wanted to share my experiences through photographs with others to inspire them to fall in love with the ocean and it’s magnificent creatures, to hopefully show the beauty that was beneath the surface.
Have you ever had an experience that has really scared you?
This is a tricky one to answer… Personally I have not had any experiences in the ocean whilst interacting with marine life that I have felt scared or threatened by. I always had the thought that swimming with Tiger Sharks for the first time would be terrifying but the day I finally had my first encounter I couldn’t have been any less scared swimming after a beautiful 2.5 meter female trying to capture a decent photograph. There have been plenty of stressful experiences however they are usually human related as the marine tourism industry can be challenging at times.
What are your go to settings when you shoot in the ocean?
Every day is different when shooting in the ocean depending on the environment and the subject. Currently working with Ningaloo Whaleshark-N-Dive onboard their whale shark interaction tours I would usually start off at around 1/200sec f.9 & ISO 160 and go from there depending on the conditions of that particular day.
What would you say inspires your vision?
A lot of it comes from Instagram and Facebook. Wanting to travel the world and experience as much as of this beautiful planet as possible in my life time.
Can you tell me about any crazy encounters with marine life?
One encounter comes to mind when you mention crazy and that would have to be back in 2016. Whist free diving outside the reef I came across a large tiger shark feeding on a puffer fish. That in itself would be cool enough but on this particular day the tiger shark actually dropped the puffer and swam directly up to the surface and nose bumped my camera. I was able to capture the whole thing on video to relive! So many people who do not understand sharks and their behaviour would be terrified but it was such a magical non aggressive encounter and I believe it was attracted to my cameras electronics trying to figure out what it was.
Among all your work what is your most memorable capture?
There are so many! I love a recent photograph I captured at the beginning of the 2018 whale shark season before we had started tour operations. A group of friends, my girlfriend and myself were out on our recreational boats and were lucky enough to come across a whale shark swimming in the bluest water imaginable. These type of weather conditions are rare living in Exmouth. The photo is of this beautiful whale shark swimming to the surface with one of our friends swimming along side it like a mermaid. Personally I think it is perfect and my best whale shark photograph to date.
What is something you wish you had known when you first started your photography journey?
To never sign away the rights to your work. I was young and naive when I first got employed as an underwater photographer and I was caught up in the experiences and the extraordinary marine life. It took me a long time before I realised I was being used and now sadly I have two years worth of work that I am not able to use. It’s pretty heartbreaking seeing it shared around the world with someone else's name on it.
Also don’t forget to put the cameras down every now and then and actually live in that moment. I spent a few months without my camera and worked as one of the whale shark interaction guides, that was the first time ever that I had even swam with a whale shark without a camera and it was amazing I had so much time to enjoy the interaction and admire the beauty of the animal rather than looking through the lens.
On a day by day basis what do you do to keep yourself physically fit to be able to do what you do?
My job! That is my exercise. The photography role on the whale shark boats involves a lot of swimming. I am always the first one in the water and the last one out during our Whale shark interactions, plus morning and afternoon snorkels in the lagoon. At the end of the day that adds up to be a fair few kilometers of swimming in all sorts of water/weather conditions.
Our days also begin early, normally waking up and getting ready at 6am then home around 5pm. I’ll also spend a few hours editing each night and then I do it all again the next day. So there isn't really any spare time for any extra exercise.
What methods do you use for editing? Can you explain your workflow?
I personally use lightroom, I much prefer the layout. I begin with adjusting my white balance and contrast, then the clarity and dehaze levels. Depending on the subject and the photo I adjust the shadows, highlights, blacks, whites and then the saturation levels. Leaving the final touches of spot removal, erasing any little particles or imperfections.
How do you educate yourself to become a better photographer ?
I am a self taught photographer, so lots of reading and my favourite tool is youtube ! I also follow many great photographers around the world and I love that everyone has different styles. I think it is also great to talk to other photographers and share different techniques, settings and experiences. I am very lucky here in Exmouth to have such a big group of underwater photographers as friends working out on the reef each day on other vessels to be able to do this with.
Who would you say are your greatest influencers and inspirations?
David Attenborough! Of course credit to the amazing team behind the mind blowing cinematography but what an inspiration his documentaries are no one will ever replace that man.
Where is your favourite place to shoot in Western Australia?
The Ningaloo Reef obviously. The abundance and diversity of wildlife found here is spectacular.
What do you enjoy most about shooting in the ocean?
That everyday is different and special in it’s own way. You never know what you may encounter, it’s much like the lottery, you’ve got to be in it to win it.
Lastly, what is one piece of advice you would give someone starting out in photography?
Be patient, ask questions and don’t forget to enjoy the experiences you are having.