Underwater Photography
by  Yasmeen Smalley

When I think back to this last time last year, I remember feeling a combination of fear and excitement. It was a cocktail of nerves felt by most graduating seniors. At the time I was finishing up two degrees, Photojournalism and Biomedical Photographic Communications, and was hesitant to enter the “real world.” I wanted to pursue my passion, underwater photography, but was unsure how to get there.

My underwater adventures began as a sophomore at RIT, when I took the underwater photography course with Rene Piccarreto. I had grown up in the water, either at the beach or on the swim team, but had never experienced scuba diving. Breathing underwater and showing everyone what I saw seemed magical in a way that photography on land had never seemed to me before.

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A bass photographed in a quarry in Avon, New York.   Photo by Yasmeen Smalley, ‘13

After graduating I interned with the Dive Operations department at the Georgia Aquarium. This opened up a new field of professional dive maintenance. I had thrilling encounters with whale sharks and manta rays as I learned new diving practices such as full facemask diving and surface-supplied diving.

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Yasmeen Smalley (left) with her sister

Following my internship with the Georgia Aquarium I finished up a few remaining credits by studying abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Living in the Caribbean for three months was a fantastic experience, but it was academically challenging, especially for someone used to learning visually. The intense focus on marine ecology rounded out my skills as a photographer, as I am now able to view subjects with a scientific perspective, not just a photographic one.

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A Blue-spotted hind is host to a parasitic copepod. Global influences such as global warming and overfishing make fish stocks more vulnerable to parasites.
Photo by Yasmeen Smalley, ‘13

After finishing up my time studying abroad, I was officially out of school and in the “real world.” I took a chance and moved to New England to be closer to oceanographic institutions such as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. After a few months of cooling my heels (and getting used to winter again) I got a film internship in the Conservation Department of the New England Aquarium, where I am now. It’s a desk job editing underwater film footage from the Phoenix Islands, but it transports me to a pristine coral reef in the Pacific every day.

I’m now finishing up my internship at the New England Aquarium, and preparing for an internship with the National Park Service for the summer. This upcoming internship had an extremely competitive application process; this was my second time applying! Second time’s the charm though, as this summer I’ll be doing underwater photography, videography and research in Yellowstone, Biscayne, Dry Tortugas, Pearl Harbor and Channel Islands National Park.

The path of an underwater photographer, or any photographer for that matter, is not straightforward. The uncomfortable butterflies in your stomach that you get when you consider your future don’t go away, but they do lessen. The good news is you don’t have to know where you’re going, you just have to know where you want to end up.

Yasmeen Smalley, ‘13 is a freelance underwater photographer living in the greater Boston area. She blogs about ocean conservation and enjoys diving in the frigid waters of the Northeast. Her work can be viewed at www.yasmeensmalley.com.