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Peacefully co-existing under the sea. Photo: Lia Barrett

Photographing freedivers is a newfound passion of mine. Since becoming an underwater photographer about five years ago, I have mainly been focused on that which you typically encounter while scuba diving: reef, fish, etc. The human element almost always presents itself with a tank strapped on the back, a light in the hand for reference, and a regulator in the mouth for breathing. So when I was asked to be the official photographer for the Caribbean Freediving Cup in Roatán, Honduras, I was breaching unfamiliar territory.

Not really knowing how to approach freedivers and wondering if there was a secret to the art of capturing them, I did what I always do when I am researching imagery: I googled freediving photography! Not really finding anything novel about the technique, I decided just to wing it. As it turns out, over the course of the ten-day event, I found that photographing these magnificent individuals, who hold their breath for minutes on end while diving down to depths of hundreds of feet, incredibly aesthetically appealing. I realized that if I examined how I photograph scuba divers and use freedivers instead, the result would be so much more powerful, dynamic and hopefully a bit inspiring at the same time.

When the competition was finished, I urged as many of the athletes as I could muster to do a shark dive. There is something so humbling and unifying about a lone person without external equipment visiting a creature such as a shark in its own environment. With about ten freediving champions and record setters all swooping down in a disorganized fashion, I admit the scene was chaotic. I was following the sharks, all the while hoping a freediver would see me with the sharks and position themselves for a good composition. But I think that because of the novelty of the situation, everyone was so enamored with the sharks. They all became like children scrambling for candy on the playground. I ended up turning circles around myself, fighting vertigo and looking up to see where divers were descending.

But in the midst of the mayhem at one point, I looked up to see the lovely Sofia Uribe Gomez, a multiple freediving national record setter for Colombia, gracefully descending. And as luck would have it, at the same moment, a rather large, very pregnant Caribbean reef shark swam towards her. Fighting a pre-disposed fear that she had of the sharks initially, Sofia paused for a moment as she watched this beautiful, docile creature glide past her. I waited for the instant when relief found her as she realized that this animal was not a predator, but rather another living creature, full of life and curiosity, just as she was.

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