Symphony Violinist Who Orchestrates Alien Night-Animal Images

Symphony Violinist Who Orchestrates Alien Night-Animal Images

Tan is a violinist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and between concert seasons, leaves his prized antique Italian violin at home to explore the Pacific.  

Tan will be speaking at this years Underwater Tour from 9 - 14 May, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide & Perth 

A world previously exclusive to scientific academia, if you've seen everything and dived everywhere, William’s images are guaranteed to pique your curiosity and have you wanting to set out on new adventures.

When you are younger, music is probably an outlet for your emotions. When you get older then there’s a responsibility of performing correctly. When you come to underewater photography, you learn to transcribe a sense of professionalism. As a working musician it’s actually a welcome change to enter the silent underwater world but there are a lot of sounds that are going on underwater as well … you become aware of your environment.  William Tan

He dives an night! A pioneer of blackwater photography, William Tan is a true master of the phototaxic movement of plankton and wonderfully bizarre marine critters in their nightly vertical migration from the deep or mid-water column to the shallows.   

Here we talk to him about his influences.



Who has influenced you most in your photography

To make pocket money whilst still a student in an US music conservatory, I played regularly at a local bookstore-restaurant. One night, I saw this book with a beautiful anemone fish on the cover; I borrowed all the tip money made that night from the other musicians to buy it. It was a book by Mr David Doubilet.

After I had started shooting underwater, it was during a photo competition in Lembeh watching fellow judge Ned Deloach’s impressive slide presentation on fish behaviour; at the opening of a newly formed underwater photographers’ organization in Guangzhou sitting through Kevin Woo’s presentation on local Chinese aquatic animals; and at the most recent Anilao Underwater Shootout at fellow judge Laurent Ballesta’s private slide presentation; I told myself I wanted to learn how to shoot like them.

What type of photography did you enjoy prior to discovering blackwater macro

I shoot just about everything. I am better known for my macro photography because the guides kept finding me rare and interesting critters that I cannot turn down. Since the reef scenes and big animals are always around, wide angle photography can wait.

How did you come to discover blackwater diving

Over the years, I had encountered and shot plankton during day dives and night dives without giving much thought to them. It wasn’t until when Scott Gutsy Tuason published his book “Blackwater and Open Blue” that I took to blackwater diving more seriously.

What were your first thoughts when entering the blackwater realm

Frights? I have always questioned my guides if we are already to far away from the shore! You really want to do these blackwater dives with a responsible operator who is interested and prepared to keep you safe. The last thing you want to worry about when shooting rare plankton, is to feel anxious about the boat’s ability to find you after an hour (or more) of drifting at night in a vast ocean.

What goes through your mind as you spot an interesting creature

I would almost always think about how to approach the creature without frightening it. The best, not to mention easiest, images can only be captured when these creatures are most relaxed. Good composition is only possible when the creature main priority is not trying to get away from you.

Do you find you need to use a lot of postproduction

I love my images clean, so yes, I do a lot of postproduction to rid the backscatters. Between postproduction and manipulating the creature for a “cleaner” background, I choose postproduction.

What creatures do you really yearn to find and where are they found

Larva forms of Oarfish, Jellynose fish, deep sea Angler fish, the list goes on… 

They have showed up recently in Anilao and Japan.

Where are you going next

I just came back from ice diving in Hokkaido, and will be going to Anilao for 2 weeks this March/April to gather more blackwater images for my Underwater Tour presentation. The pressure of having to show your images beside David and Jennifer.


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