Why have you chosen to submit your image to the Image Quest 2019?
I was so impressed and inspired by the submissions of the Red Bull Image Quest competitions in the past that I knew I wanted to be a part of it someday. This is by far the greatest adventure sports photography competition in the world, where photographers capture the spirit of adventure and exploration, where minds and bodies are pushed to the very edge of human limits. To me the sport of freediving fits right into this world, not only as a sport but also as a lifestyle, so I am extremely glad to be selected amongst the very best and represented in this category [Lifestyle].
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with Red Bull Illume 2019?
The Red Bull Illume 2019 Winner Award Ceremony on top of the Kronplatz Mountain at 7000ft was out of this world, capturing the essence of Red Bull's spirit in style. It was one of the most spectacular photography competition that I've ever been a part of with so many amazing talents and like-minded individuals from across the globe, who all shared the same love and passion for photography and creating stunning images of their sports.
"I experienced a very powerful moment, something so good that I had never felt before."
Your image made it to the final stage, congrats! How did the shot came about?
This shot is an image of a freediver coming up from a competition dive at the AAS Freediving Depth Championships. A rather intense moment where the athlete is awakened from the dark, quiet, lonely depth of space, to the bright, loud, and hectic environment of the surface above. To me, what makes this image even more special is that I've watched this athlete grow over the years, overcoming her own fears one step at a time, from when she could barely dive to a few meters down, to now where she's diving to depth of over 50 meters on one breath of air.
What’s the story behind your love for free diving?
My relationship with the ocean started at 13 years old when I got my first open water scuba certificate, but it was not until the age of 30 when I discovered freediving that transformed the way I saw the ocean. I realised that there was a lot more to freediving than just holding your breath, or the thrill of adrenaline, or to show off or anything like that. When I completed my 16m depth requirement during my first freedive course, I experienced a very powerful moment, something so good that I had never felt before. I was immediately hooked to this new sensation, and I knew right away that this is a sport that I would continue for the rest of my life.
What came first for you: free diving or photography?
I picked up my first 'non-point and shoot' camera when I quit my job at Google to travel the world, self learning on the go with just a basic understanding of aperture, shutter speed and iso. A year later after returning home, I won a grand prize at a major photography competition, and that was when photography became a little more than just a hobby. That same year, I discovered freediving and fell in love with it straight away. Naturally, I took the camera underwater and that's how it all began. So in a way photography came first, but freediving is what got me interested in underwater photography, and I am happy to have found a way to combine the two together.
What fascinates you about underwater photography?
What I find fascinating about shooting underwater on a breath hold is that it has the ability to reset my mind to really focus on the present, washing away everything and anything that goes on above the surface. Everything works differently underwater than it does on land, both physically for our bodies and technically inside the camera, and I find it very interesting to balance these two together. We know so little about the ocean, like we know so little about freediving, and while we can spend all day studying about it from the surface, admiring the weird creatures and science within it, it's quite hard to grasp the true wonders of it all until you dive down and experience it yourself. I hope my images will inspire more people to take that plunge to look closer into our oceans and into ourselves.
"... all while holding your breath and worrying about your own safety as you go deeper and deeper."
One of the biggest challenges when shooting underwater?
When you’re dealing with shooting freedivers who are diving at speeds of one metre a second, things can get really complicated. Not only do you have to adapt to the loss of light at different depths, but also the change in pressure while diving head down with a camera in your hand. Trying to keep steady while fighting against things like current, waves, thermocline and varying visibility, all while holding your breath and worrying about your own safety as you go deeper and deeper. All of this happens at the same time, and that is the most difficult thing about freedive photography.
What do you always have with you equipment-wise?
You absolutely need a good set of underwater housing, and a good pair of fins! To me Nauticam housing is the ultimate when it comes to housing my Sony gears and Molchanovs short fins does wonders for freedive photogaphers like myself. As I shoot mostly wide, my choice of lens is usually the 16-35mm fisheye and a decently sized dome port for above under shots. Also, as I'm near the ocean a lot, one thing I find essential is having a good backup solution. Personally I use a QNAP NAS to backup my files over the network and this really helps with my workflow and a peace of mind knowing that my data is safe even when I'm overseas. I also like to bring a solar panel charger to take advantage of the sun whenever possible as well as Litra lights for occasional night shoots.
Where can we find more of your work?
You can find my work at www.koheiueno.com and Instagram @kuenok. I am also working on some collaborations with art galleries in Singapore and Australia, once I have more details, the information can be found on my website.