Anianiku Chong is a Hawaiian photographer who is exploring underwater portraiture. Ethereal, serene, and effervescent are words that come to mind when I view his photos. They transport me to another world. Ani took some time to tell me more about his process and the draw he feels to do his work under the surface.

All photos by the author.



I love the idea of free-dive shooting - taking just a single breath - because it forces you really plan what shots you desire. Once myself and the subject are both underwater there's little communication and very limited time. The quietness of it all and the time constraints help me to really focus as well, and push me to work to get this shot I have in my mind. Anytime you shoot portraits underwater things can get frustrating and it isn’t the easiest thing to do but that's true of all art. Also not to mention youʻll more than likely get a little tan and bit of a good exercise by the end of your shoot, and really, I never mind extra time out in the water.


TS Hawaii outdoor

Photo: Anianiku Chong


TS Hawaii

Photo: Anianiku Chong



Having a clear photo makes the image so much stronger, so I have to track the weather reports and try to determine when the water will be clear, flat, and calm (with the exception of surf photography). Having clear water ensures the image will be sharp with nice contrast, and not flat or faded or murky.



Whether on purpose or just because the weather changes, sometimes that clear water just isn't going to happen. In these cases I try to capture the surreal look of a wave crashing, or even the clouds overhead from underwater. But personally I really love the look of surfers and swimmers diving under waves and the patterns and designs it can make in the water.



Other days I kind of do want a little bit of that haze because it can add to some of the more fantasy-type work that I like to do. I still want to be in some control over just how hazy and faded, but having a bit of that can lend to the fantastic world under water.



I generally work with family or friends so that there is a degree of trust and established communication in place. This is crucial when we can't talk under water and have just a single breath to get the shot. Good communication means less frustration and a better experience for everyone involved, and it's just a practical safety measure as well. That's the Hawaiian flag being planted, by the way.



I adore the feeling of shooting under the surface. It's what I imagine shooting in space would feel like - you're just floating, weightless like a feather. It's very freeing. I find the ocean to be my comfort, a comforting place for me where I'm immediately calm. I love that we cannot control nature and have to work with what we are given each time, and each time it's a bit different. Every time gives me a deeper respect for our oceans, their power, and their role in our world.