Orange fish in the ocean - photo by Hiroko Yoshii - photo by Hiroko Yoshii

Hidden World: Photography of Mark Lightfoot

Approximately 70 percent of the Earth is covered by water. For most people, the creatures that inhabit this alien world are hidden from view. Diver and photographer Mark Lightfoot wants to bring this secret world into the spotlight. Like many divers, Mark was fascinated by the strange world he encountered underwater. He started documenting what he saw with photography and video in part because he wanted to share his excitement with people unfamiliar with ocean life. The more time he spent underwater, the more captivated he became.

With his photographs, Mark does more than just document undersea life. Using unusual lighting, angles and close-up shots, he brings out new ways of looking at his subjects. "I try to give them dimension, bring out unique details, and in some cases show the personality of the creature," he says. His photograph "Hideous Beauty" illustrates this approach. In it, a scorpionfish gazes at the camera, part of its face hidden in shadow. Even divers that have seen a scorpionfish have likely never seen one like this. Mark got inches from the fish's face and took advantage of offset lighting to bring out remarkable detail and personality. The result is both frightening and beautiful.

Underwater photography presents a slew of challenges. The preparation involves readying both the photographer and the camera, two things that are not designed to go underwater. One or two dives to take photographs can be an all-day endeavor, from gathering and prepping the equipment, traveling to the site, diving and searching for subjects, cleaning and drying his gear afterward, and then loading his digital photos to his computer to work on them. He says that even after all the preparation, he's lucky to come back with one shot out of every fifty with which he's really happy. But it's not just about getting those great shots. Mark loves experiencing the underwater world and interacting with the aquatic creatures. Capturing something special about them in a photo allows him to share his passion for a world few people will experience firsthand.

Through his photographs, Mark hopes to make people aware of the beauty and wonder of the underwater world and of nature in general. "The underwater photographer plays an important role by bringing myriad creatures out of this mostly unseen world and into our collective consciousness," he says. "Some of the specialized forms of photography I use can bring out surprising and unforgettable detail. When you see how complex and beautiful each creature is, it's hard not to be in awe."

With so many underwater species and ecosystems threatened by human activities, Mark hopes that showing people stunning photographs will make them realize what is at stake. He believes that people need to understand, both intellectually and viscerally, that each and every creature is vital to the health and long-term sustainability of the environment. Getting people in touch with the natural world by opening their eyes to its hidden beauty and charm is a step toward creating the changes necessary to preserve our world.

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Mary Bates
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