Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Photographing the Ocean: Joseph Tepper (CAS '14)


Joseph Tepper (CAS '14) is an ocean-loving, adventure-seeking A&S undergrad and underwater photographer. He is also the assistant editor at, a popular underwater imaging website, and Scuba Diver- Through the Lens, the world's only underwater photo magazine. Since his first dive at the ripe age of ten years, he has fallen in love with exploring the underwater world and capturing his dives with beautiful images. In fact, last year, Tepper was honored by the 2011 38th Festival of Underwater Images Marseille as the recipient of the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society Prize.

This fearless diver has seen a lot down there--sting rays, sharks, and even penguins! Just take a look at some of his photographs...




Pretty cool huh? Well, we knew you'd think so--so, we contacted him and asked him a few questions. In the Q&A below, we talk to Tepper about the diving experience and what his time at NYU has been like so far:

You’ve stated before that you first started diving at age ten. When/where was your most memorable/life-changing dive?

While I have accrued more than 1,000 dives in the last ten years, one of the most special remains the first time I strapped the tank on my back and jumped in the ocean. Only ten years old, I was on vacation with my family in Hawaii where I saw a handful of people learning to dive in the resort pool. When I had tired of holding my breath and diving down 12 feet to say “hi” to the neaveau divers, I tried signing up for a lesson of my own, only to discover I was two years too young. Luckily, my devoted mother and accomplice convinced the staff that I was actually 12 years old who happened to be 4-feet tall and weighing in at 95 pounds soaking wet (which I soon would be). Wading into the water off the hotel beach I remember feeling the weight of the 50-pound tank on my back disappear and thinking, “see, this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.” It was only after crawling hands and knees back onto the shore after my first dive that I realized two things—diving in the ocean was much better than watching people in the pool, and I was ready for a growth spurt.


Have you ever been in a dangerous situation underwater?

tepper%20image%20manta.jpgDespite fears of sharks, claustrophobia and the lochness monster, diving is a very safe pastime—sharks rarely bite divers, the ocean is surprisingly open and we’re still waiting to hear from “locky.” What people may look at as dangerous underwater – getting caught up in a feeding frenzy of sharks or fast moving current, for example – photographers see as prime shooting opportunities. It is safe to say that, in general, what separates photographers from the average observer is the gut-wrenching urge to run towards danger to get that one shot.

When did you become interested in photography, and how has it changed the diving experience for you?

I purchased one of those blue, disposable underwater cameras from the hotel gift shop and began snapping away on my first dive, running out of film only minutes into the water. Needless to say, I have improved my equipment slightly since that first camera, but my eagerness to capture the underwater world on a dive in the middle of the South Pacific, waterfall in central park or a quarry in southern Illinois is just as strong as the day I bought that disposable camera.


Can you talk a bit about your typical process when going on a dive?

The thing I love most about underwater photography is the absence of anything typical. Some photo-shoots involve weeks of scouting, coordinating with human models and hoping the elements cooperate, while some of the best opportunities are found by just grabbing a camera and winging it. During a break on a photo expedition to the Galapagos I noticed about two dozen “Silky” sharks hanging off the back of our boat and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jump in. Unfortunately, the crew was not to thrilled with my idea of jumping in and tying myself to the ship, so I had to settle with dunking half my body and camera off the back deck while a lucky volunteer held my feet. The end result was a series of dramatic shark photos and some unhappy parents.

What made you choose to attend NYU?

tepper%20image%20ghost%20pipefish.jpgThe college search for me was very much a blur: applications going out, letters flying in. By the time all was said and done, I realized that going to college in a place that allowed me to explore myself mattered as much as my major. It’s funny how things work out. You can have a plan to be a biology major at a school in New Haven, Boston (well outside Boston) or any of those other places where people don’t actually say the name of the school, but sometimes the best thing to do is not follow a plan.

How have your studies at NYU influenced or changed your approach to underwater photography?

I have actually only taken one photography course at NYU so far, but so much about photography cannot be learned in a classroom. Having daily access to one of the world’s most active and photogenic cities has been as valuable as any formal training. Much of the technique and artistic flare used in underwater photography can be applied land-lubbing subjects. I also took an Environmental Journalism class Junior year, which allowed me to use my writing as a tool to compliment my photography in my efforts to show the beauty of the troubled underwater environment

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

tepper%20image%20goby%20fish.jpgI would like to say I have a clear picture of myself in ten years, but there are some images that I just can’t visualize. Photography and journalism are experiencing tumult with the transition to digital media, and the ocean is in similarly troubled waters. The good news is powerful photography and poignant journalism continue to affect change in our world—so all I can hope to do is get a little closer to that level in the coming decade.

Be sure to follow Joseph Tepper on Twitter and Tumblr!

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