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BEAUTY UNDER WATER

The most impressive photographs of the seabed

Last year, British photographer Steve Jones photographed the well-preserved shipwreck of the American B-17G Flying Fortress bomber from World War II off the island of Vis, Croatia. The plane crashed in 1944 after being hit by anti-aircraft fire, killing the co-pilot, Ernest Vienneau. Diving in such places can be "stimulating and spectacular", "somber and sad" when there have been loss of lives, says Jones; something that hit home particularly hard in this session. The images that Jones captured ended up having a surprisingly personal impact after he entered the photographs at the Underwater Photographer of the Year awards. His entry was published and discovered by the co-pilot's family who contacted Jones. "They had never seen images of their resting place," says Jones. "Follow-up correspondence meant more to me than immersion itself."

"From down to the huge cylindrical armor turret battleship HMS Audacious World War, until you see the cover of the wreckage of World War II SS Empire Heritage covered with Sherman tanks, I often wonder what I've seen" He says.

But these relics of one of the bloodiest chapters in human history are slowly disappearing. "In the next few years, many of the ships and planes lost during the World Wars will disappear forever," says Jones. Since the wreckage deteriorates over time, he says, photographing them is "capturing a point in history that will never be seen again."

"When you dive into a shipwreck that has been at the bottom of the sea, sometimes for more than a hundred years, it's as if time has stopped," says Anders Nyberg, an independent photographer on the Swedish island of Gotland. His favorite technique is to show familiar objects in the strange environment of another world of the depths.

"It can be a door handle, a vase or a binocular, furniture or a wall with a tool hanging neatly on the wall, so I like, without touching, to get the best images," he says. Shipwreck sites as the SS Thistlegorm, one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world, are among his favorite places to photograph, as the diverse marine life and beautiful corals in the area make the subject of wide angle photography are rich Nyberg's most amazing experience, however, was not one he managed to capture on camera.

He and his wife were plunging into the President of the SS Coolidge, which sank in 1942 off Esparto Santo Island, Vanuatu, when the cargo compartments were flooded with flashing blue lights. "Little by little we were surrounded by this brightness and completely disoriented," he says. The peculiar blue lights turned out to be the bioluminescent eyes of a school of fish. The phenomenon, which is believed to attract or illuminate prey, can only be seen in total darkness, so lighting a torch would have stopped the effect. The advice of Nyberg to get the perfect shot underwater is to master your diving equipment and camera before entering the water. For safety, it is important to use a line to follow, in case visibility is poor. Diving in shipwrecks is exciting and demanding both physically and mentally, but it can also be "a form of meditation, to relax from the stress of everyday life and work".

The photographer, designer and author, Jennifer Idol, is the first woman to dive in 50 states of her native country, United States. "I enjoy particularly large intact remains that are historical and not artificial reefs, each shipwreck tells a story," says Idol. She describes her experience photographing the U-352 in North Carolina: a German WWII submarine sunk by the US Cutter Icarus, which rests 35 m (115 ft) below the surface. "It feels like descending in time until you get to a ship much smaller than you expected." To take successful photographs, Idol advises focusing on the recognizable characteristics of the shipwreck. "The remains of shipwrecks seem easily abstract and unidentifiable," he explains. "The bow and stern are obvious exterior shots, while a control tower a wheelhouse or a unique feature of a shipwreck work inside. Use models in scale helps show the image of a shipwreck."

THE ONLY IMPOSSIBLE IS WHAT YOU DO NOT TRY

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