Imagine swimming in the midst of a giant feeding frenzy of exotic fish— a school so dense you can’t see your own hand in front of your face. Imagine following this school deeper and deeper into the depths of Lake Tanganyika, off the coast of Tanzania. You must remain aware of not only your air supply, depth and safety equipment, but also of your camera and the underwater world you are there to capture. Ojai, California-based adventure photographer Justin Bastien doesn’t have to imagine. Justin just wrapped a shoot in Tanzania for the National Science Foundation, where he experienced these things while shooting motion and still images to be used in an online interactive tour featuring the underwater world of Lake Tanganyika.
As one could assume, this project presented multiple challenges for Justin. The shoots took place in a remote location with limited resources and alongside of potentially dangerous wildlife: hippos, crocodiles and his least favorite, water cobras. With no chance of replacing any failed or lost camera equipment, it was a priority to treat his gear with extreme care throughout the duration of the shoot. Justin elaborated on the challenging environment:
The challenges and problem solving for a project like this, along with the great location and subject matter, create unbelievable experiences and images to match. Shooting underwater for extended periods of time isn’t easy. Scuba diving and working underwater really has to be second nature so you can focus on capturing just the right moment.
Apart from this, Justin said that the most difficult part of the shoot was directing intricate shot sequences to ensure that the timing between the wildlife and various divers would line up for the final images. He succeeded, saying “With enough attempts and a few lucky moments with the wildlife, we were able to get exactly what we needed.”
One thing that Justin always tries to do while on assignments is to shoot something meaningful for himself. He was inspired by lives of the Tanzanian people that depend on this ecosystem for their food and livelihood—the fishermen, the people in the markets selling the fish and the boat repairmen. All of this was only a glimpse into the vast interconnectedness of these people to their fragile ecosystem.
The images that Justin processed in his hot, little “mosquito research shack” have received a positive response so far. He is already considering a return visit to Tanzania to continue capturing its rich ecosystem, bold beauty and intriguing culture.
Justin learned a few lessons on his trip, but the insight he gave us seems to transcend image making:
Make the most of every second of your life, wake up early, stay up late and shoot as much as you can. When you come home all you have is beautiful fading memories, but creating images you love, bringing them to life through a print and revisiting the experience can never be taken away.