When it comes to underwater photographer, Chiara Salomoni, sea-ing is believing! The Italian native has spent her life dedicated to the ocean, capturing jaws-dropping creatures on her camera. She currently resides in Hawaii, working as a photographer for One Ocean Diving, where she works daily to advocate for ocean conservation and shark education. She also founded Mermaids For Change, an organization that is dedicated to combining art, conservation, and education to inspire kids to help save the planet. So in other words, she’s like a real-life mermaid! We dove in with Chiara to learn more about her work, underwater photography, and how we can save the ocean. Splish, splash, and scroll to learn more about Chiara.
“Underwater Photographer” is such a unique job title. Can you tell us your story and how you fell (or dove) into the profession?
My career path first started with a crazy love for the sea. The water has been my happy place for as long as I can remember. Photography only became an option many years into art school, once I finally realized I wanted to find a way to work in the water for the rest of my life. I was graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and decided to move to the US to learn from the only school that offered underwater photography at the time. There, I started to explore underwater portraiture and made it my career. I eventually started using my photography for conservation and educational pieces and started the company Mermaids For Change. Moving to Hawaii to work with One Ocean Diving and sharks made it possible to work on art and with wildlife daily.
If you weren’t an underwater photographer, what’s another profession you could see yourself doing?
If underwater photographer wasn’t an option, reptile photographer would be my second choice. I still pursue this kind of photography on occasion as I’m enamored with the process that comes with looking for specific species of snakes and lizards that have evolved to hide and camouflage. Nature is my home, whether on land or in the ocean. Creating art with it as my backdrop makes photography so much fun!
The ocean is still such a mysterious place to so many of us. As someone who works in the water, what do you wish more people knew about the oceans and the fight for its conservancy?
Working in the ocean has given me the best life I could ever hope for, but also an insight on how quickly things are declining. I wish people would realize there’s a problem hidden away underneath the surface of our oceans, and that even if we don’t see this problem, an unhealthy ocean means an unhealthy planet. Our lives depend on the ocean. The air we breathe comes from it, the climate is regulated by it, and so much more! Even if we don’t live in proximity to the ocean, its wellbeing is linked with the quality of our lives and, even more so, our kids’ lives.
We’re guessing that shooting underwater can be a bit unpredictable! What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while shooting in the water?
Underwater photography and problem solving go hand in hand. Equipment error is my biggest nightmare, everything else I’ve been able to work around one way or another. Having to squeeze my assistant’s foot to manually sink my strobes to a slow shutter during a night shoot still takes the cake, but made for some fun artistic discoveries!
Lack of visibility in the water is the most annoying variable but it can mostly be worked around through a combination of lighting and post production. For me the craziest moments always involve wildlife, whether it’s a baby dolphin photo bombing my shoot chased down by an inpatient mother, or the occasional odd species of shark cruising by for a quick visit. Wildlife is the only thing that can really make things crazy. Most recently, I was shooting in a cenote in Mexico and I ended up turning my fashion shoot into a crocodile photo session.
How can the general public lend their support to ocean conservancy? What’s a small action we can all take to protect the oceans?
It takes very little effort to make a difference and that’s what really keeps me going. If you stop and look at the bigger picture, it’s so overwhelming, even for all of us working in conservation. The reality tends to be very disarming at times. Focusing on one problem at the time in your own home and life has a huge impact. It could be: avoiding single use plastic, choosing to shop locally and from companies with limited waste and packaging. Organizing a cleanup is always a fun way to get your community together, and teaching your kids is one of the most valuable routes to change you could walk down.
All it takes to change the world is creating a healthy daily habit and sparking inspiration in those around you. Change and conservation are contagious when introduced with a good example and kindness.