Featured Photographer | Pete Atkinson
As a teenager growing up in Suffolk, I wanted Jacques Cousteau's lifestyle. Who wouldn't? I was accepted by Bangor University - by the skin of my teeth – and there I learned to dive and built a couple of underwater housings for Fujica ST801 cameras. After getting a degree in marine zoology I fell into a job as a technician, bought a house for £5300, renovated it and when it eventually sold, I went looking for a cruising yacht to sail the seven seas. I figured that this was the only way I could afford the peripatetic lifestyle that had invaded my dreams That I didn't know anything about sailing or navigation didn't deter me. There were books.
Eila was a beautiful classic yacht built by Moody's in 1935 and at £11,000 I could just afford her. So, in 1983 I sailed from England to Spain and Portugal where I rendezvoused with my partner who had just finished her PhD. We sailed across the Atlantic; no liferaft, no radio, no proper self-steering gear, uninsurable. In Antigua, she sensibly ran off with someone taller, richer, better looking and with a bigger boat. I sailed alone to Panama and then the 34-day passage from Panama to the Marquesas of French Polynesia.
The South Pacific was everything I had ever dreamed of. I spent 20 years sailing and diving all over Polynesia, sometimes alone, sometimes with girlfriends. I shot pictures underwater, wrote articles, delivered yachts, worked on boats. I made a small income from stock photo libraries but this changed in 1998 when I was accepted by Getty Images. I caught the tail end of the stock photo business and my income increased dramatically. I bought a bigger, drier aluminium boat in New Zealand and applied for and got a Distinguished Talent Visa for Australia. After 23 years and 60,000 miles on my two boats, I was keen to have a base of some sort, handy for the South Pacific.
So I sailed to Cairns, put the boat up for sale, bought a nice house and one day got an email... “My dive instructor says that you can teach me underwater photography...” I replied graciously, suggesting we meet for coffee, then Googled the name of the sender, Darin Limsuansub, without success. The next email said that she was studying in Sydney a thousand miles away, that she was Thai, 24, a communication arts graduate and a diver... I was 48, never married, always looking for a cute bright woman who could dive and had an interest in photography. By day three we were chatting on video and at the end of the week, I proposed to her. She accepted, we met, got married three months later and have been married now for 15 years. Once she got an Australian passport we moved to Phuket in Thailand. Her career as a wedding photographer has gone stratospheric (until Covid) and mine was a mirror image of steady decline as the stock photo business fell apart, with laughable prices.
Three recent open-heart surgeries slowed me down somewhat but I have resumed diving occasionally and downsized my Nikon D800 rig to a Nikon Z50 in Nauticam, a whole new learning experience. Lately, I have been shooting in swimming pools, particularly over/under shots. You can see these at www.facebook.com/phuketpools
My e-book, Polynesia ~ An Ocean Realm is available on my website www.peteatkinson.com
There was one of those meme surveys on Facebook the other day; if you could meet yourself at 18 years old and had only three words, what would they be? Mine would be 'Become a plumber...'
This grey reef shark at Beveridge Reef won the Innovation Award at the Wildlife Photographer of the year in 2004!
This was highly commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. I was just holding my homemade Nikon F4 housing over the side of the dinghy.
Tobi Bernhard and I would feed the grey reef sharks at one small coral head and you could dream up any picture you liked and create it. They were exceptionally well behaved.
This gives some idea of the clarity of water at Beveridge on a good day. My yacht is anchored in about 4m of water, well protected by the reef to windward.
From Beveridge Reef, we sailed to Niue which also has very clear water but a marginal anchorage. This picture of Tobi Bernhard with a crown jellyfish won the top prize at Oceanz in 2001 and a trip to Walindi in PNG. It is also the cover of my book, Polynesia - An Ocean Realm.
Long after I had sold my last boat, I was able to return to Tonga the sensible way, by air, with Darin. Swallow's Cave has beautiful light around mid-afternoon.
We used to anchor near the mangroves by Tongan Beach Resort and spend an hour each afternoon near their pier shooting macro. Travelling as much as 50m sideways on these dives was unusual as there were plenty of subjects and we weren't in a hurry.
This Christmas tree worm was shot in Butaritari, Kiribati in 1989 with a Canon F1n in a homemade housing. Although I don't shoot macro now, I like this one. I used to tell people that I don't shoot macro 'because it doesn't sell'. Truth was, I couldn't see it!
If you had been alone on a boat for a month, you might find this amusing too! Bubble coral and Thor amboinensis.
Neiafu Harbour in Vava'u, Tonga has a wreck, the Clan McWilliam. I dived many times there since it was a short dinghy ride from the anchorage and had a host of macro subjects, including thorny oysters. These usually shut just before you press the shutter but this one was too slow.
In June and July on the Great Barrier Reef dwarf minke whales come to breed. They are shy but curious. Remarkably, if you hold onto a rope attached to the boat, they feel safe enough to approach within touching distance. I was in Cairns, called around when the weather looked perfect and had an amazing trip on Undersea Explorer. My last outing shooting film.
This shows how close minke whales will come to a snorkeller in the water if they seem unthreatening.
Late one afternoon on the west coast of Fiji, we found a jellyfish in deep water. We had been looking for bull sharks so I was scared, but dropped in briefly and tried to shoot the jellyfish with the Snell's Window and the lovely clouds. Until I got the film back weeks later, I had no idea if there was anything worthwhile.
On a recent trip to the Philippines, I went to Oslob to see the incredible shark feed with whale sharks. It injects huge amounts of foreign money into a desperately poor economy and they have a vested interest in keeping the whale sharks alive.
Darin Limsuansub in the Similan Islands of Thailand. Best dived with a liveaboard between November and May.
On a trip on Spoilsport to the Great Barrier Reef, we found this green turtle about to have lunch.
Cod Hole on the Great Barrier Reef, two of the potato cod (Epinephelus tukula) were getting amorous but they were oblivious to Darin getting sandwiched between them.
Find Pete on his website