Don't worry you won't be the first person who is asking: what is this? Is this real? What is happening? How did they shoot this!? That’s how you fall in love with Geoff Coombs’s photography.
Toronto, Ontario based freediver and photographer’s enchanting collection of underwater photography captures the underworld we don't get to experience a lot. Awayn had a pleasure of chatting Geoff to talk underwater photography.
I’ve always loved sports and action sports, specifically anything around the water. At the same time, I always loved to express myself artistically but found painting and drawing to be too slow. I wanted to be active and use my physical abilities to interact in nature while creating art. I found photography when I was on a family trip to the Bahamas in 2015. There, I was introduced to freediving and took photos with my old GoPro. After that trip I was hooked.
I find my subjects just through my core group of friends. The majority of my underwater work is of my best friend Andrew Ryzebol. Together we’ve grown to be very close friends and we trust each other with our lives when we are pushing the limits under ice or performing deep dives. When I am travelling or just in my local ‘backyard’ of Georgian Bay, I sometimes will plan shots ahead of time. I imagine an image in my mind and then try to recreate it with my subjects. It is a team effort with my underwater work, where I will tell the subject what to do, and then I will get into position and capture it. A lot of other times though it’s just spontaneous.
The biggest challenge of my underwater work is just getting in the right position at the right time. All of my underwater work has been shot while I am freediving. So going down to 10 meters on one breath with a big camera in my hand, while equalizing, and at the same time positioning myself to capture my buddy in a great position, and doing all of this while trying to stay relaxed is difficult. My under ice work adds an extra element of difficulty just because it is so cold. But your body and mind adapt to those conditions over time. I find it very rewarding, especially when we pull off a great shot.
All of my trips have been memorable, it’s difficult to choose just one. But the one that sticks out to me is the trip I did to Kauai back in summer of 2016. We were camping 4000 feet above sea level on an epic spire one night overlooking the Kalalau Valley. The sunset was incredible. I remember waking up at 3am and stepping outside and seeing all the stars. It was beautiful. That was a special moment.
The majority of my work has been shot on a Canon 6D in an underwater housing. Recently though I bought the Canon 5D Mark IV as my new primary setup. It’s a beast. I also use various lenses from a 15mm fisheye, 24mm 2.8 prime, 16-35mm f/4 lens, and a 70-200mm f/2.8. All Canon gear. I’ve put this stuff through really harsh conditions, and it’s always reliable and brings out high quality images. I also have basic freediving gear including a 7mm Riffe wetsuit, mask, Moana carbon fins, and other little things. All of the gear is easy to use and works well. The biggest challenge is just travelling with all my gear, but I try to keep it simple so it’s not too bad.
I find it useful to have a routine, and little comforts that you can bring with you when you’re travelling or in uncomfortable places. Having proper gear and clothing is essential when I travel. I always make sure I have food with me that doesn’t get easily crushed – such as nuts, hard fruits, peanut butter, bread, and especially in cold months, a thermos of hot tea. It’s the little things that bring some comfort when you’re out in extreme conditions.