People and Places
30/07/2021
Dive into the fascinating world of the underwater photographer
by Mornington Peninsula Magazine

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Daniel Di Manno, foreground, and Malcolm Nobbs explore Lonsdale Wall, the west side of the canyon inside Port Phillip Heads and one of the most popular wall dives in the bay.

Sam Glenn-Smith’s love of diving runs as deep as the oceans he explores. After moving to the Mornington Peninsula in 2002, he met Alan Wiggs, an “incredible teacher” at The Peninsula School who shared with Sam his passion for diving and the underwater world. In Year 10, Sam and his dad, Rod, joined Alan on a trip to Fiji, where the young student learnt to dive – and he was hooked. “Alan referred to me as a natural and has told me from that day onward he knew I would be in the water for the rest of my life.”

Our piers are home to a wide variety of marine life, including the seadragon, making them popular sites for divers.

After meeting photographer Daniel ‘Doctor Frogfish’ Geary during a 2017 trip to the Philippines, Sam decided this would be his career. “Daniel and I found a harlequin shrimp, one of the holy grail critters of the photography world. Daniel was taking photos while I was watching the shrimp with awe. Then he handed me his very expensive and very complicated underwater camera. I clicked a single photo of this incredible shrimp and spent months staring at it every day. Not long after, I bought my first underwater camera and have not looked back.” Two years later Sam started work as a dive guide at The Scuba Doctor Dive Shop in Rye. “I still pinch myself that I get paid to take people diving and take photos of one of the most incredible underwater worlds I have ever seen.”

The 26-year-old has dived around the world, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Fiji, and the Great Barrier Reef, and rates his first dive with a shark as his most memorable encounter to date. “We were in Fiji and I had been a certified diver for two days before we embarked on the world-famous Beqa Lagoon Shark Dive. I was the first of our group in the water, and while waiting at the surface for the rest of the group I put my mask on and looked under the surface to see a 5m tiger shark swimming towards me and the boat about 10-15m away. We had the most incredible experience as the shark continued to stay with us and grab a bite at the feeding station. My love for sharks and for the underwater world exploded.”

However, Sam says his heart belongs to the cephalopods – in particular, the octopus. “Everything about octopuses fascinates me, and I am particularly fond of the blue-ringed octopus. The species we get in Victoria is known as the southern blue-ringed octopus, and they are truly a photographer’s dream. Unfortunately, they have a bad name in the media for their incredibly potent venom, tetrodotoxin. However, they are like any animal – respect them and their space and they pose no threat. The biodiversity we get within our bay is incredible – 82 per cent of what we find in the bay and along the Great Southern Reef is endemic to the area. The Mornington Peninsula is finally receiving interstate and international fame through photographers and videographers visiting, as well as two features on BBC’s Blue Planet 2 that showcased the annual spider crab aggregation as well as the weedy seadragons of Flinders Pier.”

If you still haven’t taken the plunge, Sam has a simple message: “Do it! Diving is the closest thing to visiting a new planet that most of us will ever experience. Photos and videos do great things to ignite passion and wonder, but nothing will ever give you the same experience as being underwater and seeing these amazing sights for yourself. As for photography, the digital age has opened so many doors for divers. Compact cameras are more affordable than ever, so getting into the water with a camera is no longer a pipe dream for most. Work out exactly what you want to get out of your photography and purchase appropriate equipment. From there, the biggest investment you can make is your time. No one becomes an expert overnight and we all start at the same level, so get in the water and practise. Four years ago I had never picked up a camera, so there’s nothing stopping anyone. Be passionate, be creative, research, experiment and don’t be afraid to fail. For every good photo there are hundreds of bad ones, but every shot taken is a learning experience.”

Especially popular with novice divers and visitors to the Peninsula, a seal poses for the camera.

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