Behind The Lens: Charlotte Sams

Rose Boardman

Meet, Charlotte Sams, UK based underwater & wildlife photographer. Ex media manager for Bimini Biological Field Station, Charlotte has spent many hours capturing these fascinating creatures.  This week we caught up with Charlotte to find out more about her life behind the lens......

Hey Charlotte! Tell us a bit about yourself

Hey, my name is Charlotte Sams. I’m an underwater photographer based in the Southwest UK. I have worked over the world with a number of marine conservation non-profits but have a particular soft spot for British marine life. I have been in the underwater photography industry for around 5 years now but also work in the videography and documentary industry.

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What inspired you to get into underwater photography?

I had been into photography for many years and had a natural love for wildlife.  I then went on to study Marine & Natural History Photography at university, which was a huge push for me to explore it further as a potential career. Once I began to discover underwater photography whilst studying, it quickly became something I would enjoy doing in my free time as well. Diving or being around the water most weekends is a sure way to become inspired.

What kind of gear do you use?

At the moment I use a Nikon D800 with a Nauticam housing and SEA&SEA YSD1 strobes. My lenses vary from 16mm fisheye or 105mm macro (underwater), to 70-200 or 50mm (topside). I rarely use tripods or flashguns for my topside work though.

Can you describe your most memorable encounter with a marine species?

This is a tricky one; there have been quite a few! Snorkelling with grey seals in the Isles of Scilly will always be a favourite of mine! Grey seals are incredibly curious and engaging, so it’s wonderful to share the water with them. Otherwise I’ve had a number of amazing shark encounters, as I previously worked at Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation as their media manager. Scuba diving with Great Hammerhead sharks in murky water is an amazing atmospheric encounter and a once in a lifetime opportunity that will always be memorable to me.

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Where is your favourite dive spot, and why?

It would have to be where I dived most frequently; The Silver steps in Falmouth, Cornwall. This spot is bursting with life and will produce something interesting or new every time you dive.

Whose work has influenced and inspired you?

So many people! As photographers we are constantly taking inspiration from others. Whether that is a professional underwater photographer, a friend who’s a nature photographer, or perhaps even from some art or illustration that catches the eye. However I will always love Tom Peschak’s work and Brian Skerry has been a big influence in my earlier years. His image of a yellow goby in a tin can inspired my final year project at university. Additionally, I love the work of Christian Vizl, I think his work is beautiful and I have definitely noticed my style influenced by his, especially when it comes to post-processing. 

What challenges do you face when capturing the underwater world on camera?

The challenges are varied and change depending on the day, site, and a number of other factors. Obviously, there are the environmental factors, which you have no control over, but poor visibility and strong currents do not make for easy work. Then, there is working with wildlife. Animals do not always move how you would like or expect, or often do not turn up if you are hoping them too! Finally, we have the technical challenges. This could be finding that your camera is stuck focusing on a speck inside your dome port, struggling with adjusting strobes or even equipment failure (flood, battery, etc.).

Are there any species encounters that are on your bucket list to photograph?

There are many, many species I would love to photograph. Currently top of my list is whales, preferably humpback. I have seen whales before from land but I have never shared the water with them. They are one of those creatures that I don’t think you can ever really imagine their size or being until you are physically there. But, having worked with sharks for so long, I also have a big soft spot them, so any sharks are always fun! Essentially, I love all animals and I get excited about seeing most things.

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What advice would you give to people who want to get into ocean photography?

Learn how to take photographs above the water first! If you know this and are confident diving or snorkelling, then explore underwater photography. It’s so important to know your camera and how to take images or watch species or frame up a scene properly before you attempt to do it underwater. If you’re diving, there are so many things to think about that you need to be comfortable with your buoyancy, air consumption and safety procedures fully before focusing your attentions to a camera as well. It’s hard, but possible to self-teach. There are also so many wonderful underwater photography workshops you can get involved with.

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The ocean has changed rapidly in the last couple of decades. Could you leave us with any words of wisdom about ocean conservation?

I found out recently that 1 million seabirds die each year from ingesting plastic. This is insane. Our love of single use plastic is what needs to change and I know it sounds hard, but I’ve learned there’s a lot of ways you can make small changes. Buying fruit/vegetables that aren’t in plastic is a first, choosing a glass bottle over a plastic one is also great. Carrying shopping bags, straws, cups, cutlery and all of that can easily become second nature. One thing I’ve recently started is making my own ecobrick; this is a way to reuse non-recyclable plastics in a beneficial way for building materials. Another thing I personally try do is buy second-hand wherever possible, be it clothes, kitchenware or household things. I think one of the most important things to remember is that these small changes do make a difference and will be worth it. Just to save one fish, one seabird, one coral colony from death, that is my drive to make a change and conserve our oceans.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview with Charlotte, follow her here @charlottesamsphotography // @charlisams and check out her website

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