Brooklyn, New York-based Julian Walter travels far and wide to the crystal blue waters of Cocos Island while on assignment for inflight magazine Lufthansa. Roughly halfway between Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Cocos Island is administered by Costa Rica and lies about 350 miles off their Pacific coast. After coming across Julian’s work on Wonderful Machine’s site, Lufthansa Magazine reached out to see if he was interested in partaking on a two-week adventure to capture both underwater and above ground shots for their next issue.
The client picked me specifically because I shoot underwater as well as above water photography.
The project came to be after Julian received an unexpected yet welcomed call from Lufthansa Magazine one August day asking if he had availability in October. Antonia Schaefer, a writer for the magazine, came up with the idea for a story in Cocos Island and the magazine’s photo editor Michael Nielsen recommended Julian for the role of photographer. Much to his surprise, Julian was invited to embark on the two-week diving excursion and photograph the underwater escapade. He had worked with the magazine previously, photographing Manatees in Tampa, Florida, but this was particularly exciting since he had never even heard of Cocos Island before the call.
It took approximately 48 hours to get to Cocos from Costa Rica, and the divers spent a week anchored at the island once they arrived. With a total of seventeen participants on board, from all corners of the globe, the divers enjoyed getting to know one another and became friends quite fast. The group was led by the company Undersea Hunter – one of the world’s preeminent adventure dive operators – with 30 years of experience in dive expeditions.
Waking up after the second night of sleep, while it was still slightly dark as the weather was gloomy, we could see the island in the distance. It looked like Jurassic Park; it was very raw. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that felt so remote.
While the beauty of the location was nothing short of breathtaking, mother nature wasn’t exactly cooperative the entire trip. The first few days were stormy, but the group still managed to go on their dives. Each time they did a decompression stop it was incredibly peaceful – then they’d resurface again to this completely hostile stormy sea crashing against the cliff sides of the island.
Luckily the weather was beautiful for the second half of the trip, and it looked better than a postcard.
The only challenges Julian encountered was in relation to what he was expecting out of himself for the shoot. Since he is not a wildlife photographer, he didn’t know exactly what equipment he would need for this project. A valuable lesson he learned is not to overdo it with equipment. The setup the divers were given, with outdoor cubbies and fresh water tanks to dunk their housings (waterproof and pressure proof camera case), made the technical aspects quite easy.
I bought strobes before the job and wish I hadn’t, because above water I never use extra light, so why would I need to under?
The group dove three times a day, and spent one day hiking several hours on the island itself. Julian was quickly reminded that you can not pull a camera from the inside air conditioning, to the exterior humidity, so he realized it was best to leave one camera outside in his cubby at all times.
While Julian has traveled to many parts of the world documenting incredible adventures through his lens, he never fails to be in awe of the magnificent experiences. Particularly in Cocos when he faced a school of hammerheads swimming by and he couldn’t help but feel like he was in a nature documentary.
There were hundreds, and I was so amazed and happy to shoot. The experience of being at such a remote location was really amazing.
My style is natural and journalistic, and I aim to convey all aspects of the story in my images.
An undersea adventure of splendid proportion, Julian’s collaboration with Lufthansa Magazine created memories and imagery that will last a lifetime.
One of my images landed on the cover for the issue that month, and a few friends caught it in the plane, so that made me proud!