How Winning a Photo Contest Changed This Photographer's Life

Anuar Patjane Floriuk won the 2015 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. Find out how winning impacted his career in photography.

Published 1 Nov 2017, 09:48 GMT
Diving with a humpback whale and her new born calf while they cruise around Roca Partida Island, in Revillagigedo, Mexico. This is an outstanding and unique place full of pelagic life so we need to accelerate the incorporation of this islands into UNESCO as a natural heritage site in order to increase the protection of the islands against the prevailing ilegal fishing corporations and big game fishing.
Photograph by  Anuar Patjane Floriuk

In 2015, Anuar Patjane Floriuk, won first place in the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. A year later, Floriuk shares his passion for underwater photography and how winning the Traveler photo contest has impacted his life and career.

Nat Geo Travel: In 2015, your stunning image of whales swimming off the coast of the Revillagigedo Islands swept the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest straight into first place. How has winning the contest impacted your life and work this past year? 

Anuar Patjane Floriuk: Winning the Traveler photo contest was such an honour for me. I'm so very happy and proud of it. And it really impacted my life and work, especially by all the exposure that the contest gave to the winning image. Thanks to this exposure, now I see my images being used in marine conservation projects, and that makes me happy. I have been invited to join very cool projects and expeditions thanks to [winning]. 

N.G.T.: Tell us about making your photo “Whale Whisperers.” What took you to this location to photograph? 

A.P.F.: The Revillagigedo Islands are well known in the diving communities of the United States and Mexico. In the U.S. the islands are regarded as one of the best places for diving in the world. The variety of pelagic life that you can find there is the reason I booked the expedition to the islands during the humpback whale [migrating] season. That way I would have the possibility to encounter them down there, or at least hear them. 

N.G.T.: You did name your picture “Whale Whisperers.” So you hear the whales while you were diving? 

A.P.F.: Yes, most of the time you can hear them, and when they are near, the sound is overwhelmingly beautiful and strong. It is the male that creates those long and repetitive beautiful sounds. This mother whale was a quiet one. I named the photo “Whale Whisperers” because the image transmits that moment between two species, sharing space and communicating not with words but with acknowledgement and body language. You can feel and know when the mother lets you get near. 

N.G.T.: Did you immediately see this scene? When you took the picture, did you know you had the shot you intended to capture, or was it revealed to you later on in the edit process?

A.P.F.: Many times, I don't see the scene coming. But in this particular case, yes, I knew a few seconds before that there was going to be a lot of movement and action as soon as the mama whale and baby swam toward the rest of the diving team, so I prepared the camera for it.

At the moment I took the picture, I knew it was a good one—I felt it—but I wasn't sure that the focus was spot-on, so I had to wait until I got out of the water to check it. I created only one photograph of this event—only one—so there is no B or C version of it. I'm very glad that the focus was spot-on!

N.G.T.: You show your underwater photos in black and white. Why?

A.P.F.: Black and white is pure magic for me. I just can’t help it—black and white photography reaches my mental and emotional world in ways colour can’t. Before I first started shooting underwater, most of the photographs I was creating outside the water were in black and white, so for me it was just a natural continuation of what I was doing. I remember that at first my diving buddies were surprised that I was taking all the colour away from my photos, [but] now I think they like them. 

I use the Sony RX100 to shoot with, which creates colour raw files. For the winning photo, I had to wait until I got back home to see the final conversion to black and white. When I saw it converted, well, I stared at it for hours and really fell in love with this image at first sight. I wasn't sure that others would appreciate it—many people want to see just the whales and no humans and divers. I guess I was wrong about that. 

N.G.T.: This image is part of your series “Underwater Realm. How long have you worked on the series? Is the series complete?

A.P.F.: I have been working on the series for five years, and it’s not complete. I don't think it will ever be completed because I cannot stop diving and I cannot stop taking photographs. I love these two things too much. Only when I become too old or weak will it be completed.

N.G.T.: Are these intimate moments with the animals and their world part of what makes the process of creating images underwater so special?

A.P.F.: For me, taking underwater photos is a way to share my passion for the ocean and diving, and create a little awareness toward our oceans. By showing how awesome life underwater is, we can start to think and care a little more about it hopefully. 

N.G.T.:  In addition to winning the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest, you also won second place in the World Press Photo Competition for nature, singles. Did winning the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest influence you to enter the World Press contest? How does it feel seeing your work with major photography organisations? How have you changed the way you photograph and connect with the photo community?

A.P.F.: Winning the Traveler contest made me a little unsure about sending the winning photograph to World Press Photo. I thought that maybe it would be discarded because the photo had already won a major contest, but I decided to send it anyway. 

It is a great feeling seeing your work in many of the big newspapers, magazines, and news [outlets] around the world, but the nicest feeling is to see it being used by organisations for conservation purposes. That is the true and deep satisfaction—photography that serves a purpose. 

N.G.T.: What advice do you have for photographers entering the contest?

A.P.F.: Always trust your intuition, either photographing, editing, or choosing an image for a contest. Don't let logic take all the control—intuition is a powerful tool and a wise way to decide things. I would trust an image that I like, not an image that I think others would like. 


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