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Ocean view, from within

Stephen W. Director has been scuba diving for 25 years, and he rarely takes the plunge without his camera.

For Director, Northeastern’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, underwater photography is a passionate hobby. Over the last two decades, he’s encountered a rich variety of remarkable sea creatures on dives in heavenly locales across the world, most recently in March on a trip to the Maldives, an island nation southeast of India in the Indian Ocean.

“We lived on a boat for a week; we ate, slept, and dived,” said Director, who caught his first ever glimpses of a unicorn fish and Napoleon wrasse in the Maldives.

Director’s fascination with photography began in childhood. Soon after he started diving as an adult, he felt compelled to capture the extraordinary subaquatic sights he encountered. “I’d go underwater and see all these incredible things,” he said. “I wanted to share what I saw with my family and friends.”

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(More images from Director’s Maldives dive and other dives can be found on his website.)

Honing his underwater photography skills has been a stimulating and rewarding journey. Once he got comfortable with diving, the first camera he brought along was a disposable—with real film—and protected by a waterproof case. The trouble with film cameras, he said, is that you have no idea if your subject is in focus or if the lighting is right until after you surface and have the film processed and photos printed.

In the last eight years or so, advanced digital cameras and computer editing software have dramatically changed the ballgame, according to Director. Now, using a digital camera’s display, divers can see how well a picture came out while still underwater.

Most of Director’s diving has been in the Caribbean in places like the Grand Caymans, Belize, Bonaire, and Roatán—the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. He’s also dived off Australia and Hawaii and in the Red Sea. His dives typically last about 50 minutes and depths typically range between 45 to 100 feet. He noted that the maximum depth for recreational diving is 130 feet.

His strategy for capturing ocean life is simple: Just find something interesting. He’s always searching for new fish of different shapes and colors or unique landscapes to capture. He notes that the vivid colors seen in his photographs are not visible at depth where most colors appear as shades of black, blue, green, and brown unless you shine a light on the subject.

Director said he’s often asked if he feels he’s missing out on experiencing the ocean’s full sweeping beauty while peering through only a tiny lens. For him, it’s actually the opposite.

“I’ve thought about this a lot,” he explained. “My underwater photography has actually helped me focus. I think of it like visiting the Grand Canyon. It’s so vast that it’s hard to truly grasp the entire setting, so you try to focus on something in particular. This approach actually helps me get more out of the dive because I’m focusing on and experiencing specific subjects, rather than being overwhelmed by everything.”

So what’s the trick to photographing fish? “The most important thing is getting the fish’s eye in focus,” he said. But that’s easier said than done, and the question leads him to discuss another challenge of underwater photography.

“One of the big differences from land photography is that not only is the subject moving underwater, but you’re moving, too, and so is the water, the other fish, and everything else between you and your subject.”

Director said he rarely feels threatened by his underwater subjects. He’s come across a variety of sharks—though no Great Whites—and says his interest in them is seldom reciprocated. However, he described one instance in which a moray eel, whose bite can be severe, approached him head on and bumped his nose into his camera.

In the Maldives, Director encountered several of the species on his underwater bucket list, including the whale shark and giant manta ray. But he said you never know what you are going to see. “It’s fun to be surprised on every dive.”