In this Viusal Q&A Geoff shares a few of his incredible images (including personal favorites) and the story behind each one. He also talks us through his most challenging shot so far!
Almost a visual Q&A: Geoff Coombs
The underwater images of Red Bull Illume 2019 finalist Geoff Coombs give you goosebumps and not just because they are shot in freezing cold Canadian lakes. But because his work perfectly captures that eerie and mysterious underwater-feeling. Being an experienced freediver himself, Geoff knows best what to consider when shooting in (and under) water.
My style is constantly evolving and I would describe it with words like surreal, dark, and imaginative. My photos from five years ago look vastly different than they do now as my skills have improved and my style has changed. Over time I naturally gravitated to creating photos that evoke emotion, surreality, and mystery – photos that have a “wow”-factor and make people take a second look.
I love photography because of the challenges and creative expression it brings. Creating images that stand out from the crowd is hard but rewarding. The constant desire to improve and perfect my craft is something that keeps me moving forward. That desire for perfection, while unattainable, motivates me to think of new ways of capturing the world. Creating images to not just satisfy me, but also to help brands communicate their product and mission in a surreal and inspiring way is a unique approach that I strive to take on every production.
I love seeing other photographers’ work and creativity. Seeing what they create inspires me to constantly improve my own work and never settle. Discovering new locations or seeing how light can make a familiar place look new is also inspiring.
Seeing something new for the first time - whether it's through another photographer's work or when I'm out in the field and come across something special and unique.
I live central to the majority of the Great Lakes and smaller lakes in the Muskoka region of Ontario. I have always loved the underwater world. As a kid at my family cottage I would copy the big wave surfers of Hawaii by rock running on the bottom of the lake (holding a rock underwater and running along the bottom on one breath). I would swim and wakeboard as much as I could, so I was always comfortable around the water.
I dreamt of diving in the Caribbean often when I grew up, and when I was 22, I finally did. After that trip to the Bahamas I was obsessed with learning how to freedive. Little did I know, some of the most beautiful freshwater diving in the world was only a few hours away from my hometown. When I started freediving in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, I knew the potential of winter images could be one of a kind. I knew it could provide the potential for my own unique voice in a world full of repetitive content. So, my best friend Andrew and I gave it a try and the images that we created were game changing in my career.
After five years of ice diving, I am still motivated by the physical challenge, the raw beauty, and the simple tones that lie beneath the frozen surface. The ice is always changing, and every dive is different, which adds to the allure. I am always wondering what we might see under there, and how I can create even more impactful images.
One of the biggest challenges of shooting underwater is finding the right angles to shoot from. When you're on land you are essentially working in two planes of motion. When you're underwater the game changes and you're free to move in all sorts of ways. I photograph everything underwater on one breath while freediving as well, which is another challenge. Maneuvering the camera while holding your breath and swimming under a frozen surface requires a lot of practice, mental calm and physical skill.
As for tips - it's important to be comfortable underwater without a camera before you try to go underwater with one. Once you're comfortable and confident, bring the camera under and try to find new angles and experiment with different focal lengths. On land the best times to shoot are obviously when the sun is lower in the sky. But underwater, it's generally the opposite as the higher the sun is the more it will penetrate the water and create more light to work with.
My favorite location is Tobermory in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, which is where I shoot most of my underwater images. The water is clear, blue, and cold. Exploring the vast amount of wrecks and frozen icebergs in winter is an adventure. A very close tie would be Exuma, Bahamas. The water is the same clarity and almost the same colour as the lake, but it also offers abundant sea life, warmth and unique beauty.
That is a tough one, but I think one of the most rewarding images I took was this image of my friend Andrew as it allowed me to make it to the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019. The conditions were also beautiful this day - the water was incredibly clear, and the sun was setting over the thin ice which made the purple hues come to life. Combining the low light, the shipwreck, the ice, and a freediver into the frame made it a compelling and interesting shot that I'll always remember.
The most challenging image I have ever shot would have to be this one. It is a shot of my two friends holding hands floating in the ice hole and looking down. While the image shows a surreal world and beautiful textures, it doesn't show the raging snowstorm that was taking place above the surface. The wind chill and whiteout conditions were making it very difficult to stay warm, and water would quickly freeze over our masks in between dives. But despite the discomfort it was worth it. It's one of those situations where you look back on and have fond memories of, but in the moment it is a tough grind and you just want to get warm.
This image would have to be my favourite from the year because of the simplicity, color, and what it means to me. This image was shot in April during lockdown, and it summed up what I was feeling, and I'm sure what most were feeling at that moment. When I view this image themes and words come to mind like isolation, uncertainty, and hope for the future. It also gives feelings of wonder and mystery, which tie in to the reason why I started underwater photography.