A look through her lens; An interview with Stacy Groff, photographer extraordinaire
I recently had the pleasure of picking the brain of one of our very talented underwater photographers and fellow dive instructor with Florida Underwater Sports, Stacy Groff. Stacy is one of my go-to authorities on all things photography and she has won several awards for her photos. She is extremely dedicated to the sport of diving and serves as a source of inspiration for many. Read on to find out more about her, what excites her about diving and about underwater photography. Oh and she's a participant in the Girls That Scuba photography contest! Send some votes her way at the following links
Now, onto the brain picking and a sample of some of her outstanding photos...
Me: What is your dive background? How did you become interested in scuba diving? What drew you to the sport?
Stacy: I started diving in 1994, as a teenager. My dad did some diving as a police officer in Baltimore (search and recovery). We were on a vacation in Jamaica and I tried a pool course. He was thrilled that I loved it and got me certified (classroom style- no elearning then!) and I spent my teenage years diving with dad on vacation. It was me and a bunch of police guys in the class and our check out dives were in a quarry in the middle of winter, in Maryland. There were no dive computers then, we did paper tables on surface intervals and used stopwatches. It's pretty funny to look back at those pictures! I stopped diving for a while during college, but when I moved to Florida got back into it. My husband also dives, so we do lots of dive travel together.
Me: What do you love the most about diving?
Stacy: What don't I love? My "regular" job is in healthcare with a lot of compliance and regulatory work, formal public speaking, etc. Underwater is so freeing. I love the variety of people I have been able to meet because of diving and the cultures I've been exposed to. I love shipwrecks. Imagining what happened on those ships before they were sunk (and in some case the sobering stories about them going down) really connects you to a piece of history. Watching the undersea creatures mannerisms is also fascinating. I've spent entire dives hanging out with one little blenny that is playing hide and seek. There is also an unlimited amount of things to learn!
Me: You're a PADI Open Water Instructor now. What made you decide to teach diving? Stacy: We were on a trip to Truk Lagoon and a random guy was put on our boat. On the trip out to the wreck, we discovered that this was his first open water dive after certification and first saltwater dive ever. Mind you, we were headed to the Fujikawa Maru, with a dive plan at about 100 ft with tours of silty cargo holds. The guy was super excited and also had a go pro, and did not know how to adjust his rental gear. Red flags everywhere. We all helped him out. I watched his air attentively and aborted the dive early, getting him back to the anchor line when he was low. I won't ever forget him thanking me, asking some advice (things like not taking a go pro on a first dive with so many new things, about silting, etc) and having good conversation. As soon as we got back to the US I started my DIvemaster classes, did that for a summer, then did my instructor courses the next year. Of course, there was also some encouraging from the staff at our shop.
Me: How did you come into the world of underwater photography? How did your dive path evolve into it?
Stacy: I started slowly. I tell all of my OW (Open Water) students to get into things safely and gradually. I started with a go pro on a retractor on my BC so I never had hands occupied completely. I had my advanced open water and my own gear before even trying a camera. Then I added one light, then a second. I then upgraded to a still camera, then added a strobe, then extra lenses. It's an ongoing journey. Everything you add adds task loading and more things to divert your attention. I love photo and video for different reasons. Video is fantastic to capture the unique movements of sea life. Photo captures a specific moment. I flooded a go pro on a dive once and after that realized that I felt almost purposeless without a camera! I've also started looking at air consumption rates on different dives, and surprisingly my lowest air consumption has been when I'm purely shooting stills on a dive. It's also fun to be able to share memories from a trip with others. I still consider myself very much a newbie with photography- there is so much to learn. Me: What aspect of underwater photography do you love the most?
Stacy: No dive is the same. The photo I am most proud of may not be the best in a batch, but could be something I know I really worked to get or something I took on a dive that was personally challenging. I've always been a lifelong learner so any time something I worked hard for turns out well I'm thrilled. Telling the stories behind a photo is also fun. I have many friends who don't or cannot dive. Sharing a new underwater world with them via photographs is something I love as well. Me: What challenges have you encountered in regards to your photography journey?
Stacy: So this summer a few friends and I ended up trying blackwater diving. It was unexpected, as the night dive we had planned on doing got cancelled. Two of us considered ourselves pretty competent photographers. We got on this boat and everyone else had cameras that needed hand carts to be brought on board (not exaggerating). It was very humbling. We learned a lot from some really nice people. I definitely had camera envy... My camera and light set up is small but mighty! I also love photography a lot, but sometimes have to make a call as to whether taking a camera is a smart choice or not. For example, we were in the keys once and there were some pretty rough seas. I really wanted to photograph parts of the Spiegel Grove, but it wasn't a smart choice at that point in my diving career to deal with a camera pulling myself down a granny line to the mooring ball in hefty seas and current. Much less the reverse and trying to pass it up in the waves to avoid it banging the ladder. I am also a very Type A, total planner, very organized individual (which drives some people nuts, I'm sure), and the fact that some creatures don't sit still for pictures makes me nuts. Adapting to the proportion of "fish butts" to good photos was tough for me. High capacity memory cards let you take as many as you want, but it was hard to adapt to the number I delete. FYI, parrotfish and batfish are the most obnoxious. I've got in the habit of downloading photos after every day of diving and immediately deleting those I say "meh" about. It makes the post processing (which I don't do much of) more manageable at the end of a long trip, for sure! Me: Where is your favorite dive site and why? It depends on the time of
year. The Wreck Treck in Jupiter is fantastic when the Goliaths are aggregating, as is the MV Castor (but the current on the Castor can be a killer). For wrecks, I could dive the Duane in Key Largo time after time. I've started my technical diving classes as some of the Pompano wrecks are amazing... but deep and time is so limited in recreational gear and no decompresssion. The house reef at Sunscape Curacao had my favorite night dives ever. Tons of life on that reef and an easy hop off of the pier! Worldwide, I'd have to say my favorite sites are the Kensho Maru (my first engine room dive with a super cool descent through the galley and over the catwalks) or the Nippo Maru in Truk Lagoon. The Nippo was just an amazing ship with beautiful superstructure. For every day diving, I could dive Blue Heron Bridge every day. Awesome rare critters, shallow, great for photo ops...just a great site to dive. Me: What advice do you have for divers interested in underwater photography? Make sure you have good buoyancy and mastery of basic skills. Make sure you are essentially comfortable diving one handed. Make sure you have a tolerant and attentive dive buddy in case you get engrossed in some little critter and sort of ignore them. I can be a terrible buddy when I am doing photo! Start slowly. When I teach photo classes I always take students to the pool first to practice in very controlled conditions. Also invest in a good post processing program. We only get one shot at some underwater photos and sometimes cropping or a little color adjustment can save that special photo. Take a class with someone who knows your camera. There are so many features, it can be overwhelming. Me: What are you most proud of in regards to diving?
Stacy: I'm not afraid to try things. I'm currently taking my first tec diving class. I've done cavern classes, deep classes, ventured into small areas in shipwrecks (with proper training), hovered in black water over 500 feet of water to look at larval creatures, even took a class in regulator repair (I was terrible at it, but learned a ton about function of equipment!)... try it all, take as many classes as you can. You never know what will pique your interest... but anything you learn will make you a better diver.
Stacy you are amazing! Keep growing, learning and inspiring! Check out some of her favorite photos below.