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Washington, DC - Baltimore Chapter Archives

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May 2008 Issue

Photographs from the Depths of the South Pacific
An Interview with Maria Di Paolo-Greer

Inspiring Appreciation of the Marine Ecosystem Photo of a clown fish

With the support of her three dive buddies and with a goal of sharing the underwater beauties to readers all over the world, author, diver, and underwater photographer Maria Di Paolo-Greer published her first picture book. A Delicate Balance: The South Pacific is over 150 pages of colorful underwater photographs, facts about marine life, and entertaining narratives. It takes the readers on a journey to the primitive reaches and depths of the tropical South Pacific. “The photographs provide a glimpse into the ocean’s soul,” says Maria. “Everyone is interested in learning what is beneath the sea,” Maria said. “No matter the person’s age, gender, or interests... what lies beneath the sea seems to captivate and fascinate everyone who comes across my photographs.”

Photo of coral reef under the water
View Photo Gallery
 “No matter the person’s age, gender, or interests... what lies beneath the sea seems to captivate and fascinate...”

Maria dives at every opportunity that arises, capturing that special magic found only below the glassy surface of the sea and sharing her work with others for education and enjoyment. Maria first embarked on her underwater experiences in the cold rivers of eastern Canada in 1999. Her passion for underwater photography emerged when she jumped into the clear blue ocean off the southwestern coast of Fiji. She has traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean and the South Pacific, perfecting her photographic skills in a variety of underwater conditions and locations. She continued her training and received her advanced diver certification in 2002 and Enriched Air Nitrox in 2006.

What began as a hobby with a point and shoot film camera turned into a professional pursuit following years of trial and error, formal training and work with a sophisticated digital camera system with strobes, focus lights, and lenses. Her specialty lies with macro (close-up) photography but she also uses various techniques to capture unique moments and sights.

An Ecosystem Awaiting Discovery

What lies beneath the ocean? “A spellbinding ecosystem awaiting discovery,” says Maria. Life underwater is much like life above. There are cities built upon strong sturdy foundations and habitants of all kinds living within them. Foundations are made of coral reefs and habitants include fish, marine mammals, sea stars, crinoids, and reptiles. The ecosystem’s complex nature and fine-tuned balance continually entice Maria and her underwater camera system is always ready. “To breathe underwater, completely suspended, is an adventure of its own. To interact with the ocean’s life in its natural habitat is a great privilege not experienced by many,”says Maria.

To learn more about how this fascinating book was created and published, see my questions and Maria’s answers below.

What are your influences as a researcher, photographer and writer?
The travel and dive books I saw didn’t have the kind of photographic or environmental details that excited me. I decided to channel my passion for travel, the marine ecosystem, and underwater photography into this picture book and describe to a general audience what life underwater as well as life on land surrounding those waters are really like.
What was your goal and who is your audience?
My goal with this book is to inspire divers and non-divers to appreciate the marine ecosystem. Divers will appreciate the photographs and the expertly presented technical details around them; the general audience will appreciate the sense of adventure presented by the photographs as well as the compelling story. My hope is that these pictures along with the narratives will motivate people to do what they can to protect the ocean’s fragile balance. My target audience includes everyone who loves the underwater world or is intrigued by its mysteries, and can appreciate its delicate balance through photographs.
Describe your photography methods.
My writing method involved three major steps:
  1. The selection of 133 photographs out of thousands taken over several trips to the South Pacific. Ensure the photographs excite the reader and capture their imagination.
  2. Extensive research on the marine ecosystem in the South Pacific as well as life of the local habitants living on the land surrounding those waters.
  3. The creation of a compelling story that would appeal to people who care about the ocean. The research and story is based on the photographs I selected and the key messages that I wanted to develop.

To capture the marine life for the book, I used a Fuji digital camera with an Ikelite housing, an Inon strobe, and macro lenses. My research materials included biology books, research papers and publications, newspaper articles, consultation with marine science institutes, and discussions with other photographers and researchers.

For the most part, I used two Apple computers and several Apple and Adobe software applications to develop the outline, compile the research, develop my narratives, organize my photographs, and build the layout. Using a large monitor to view my photographs helped to ensure that the colors, composition, focus, and frame were captured correctly.

How long and complicated was the period between first idea and publication?
Writing and publishing a book is a complicated process that requires rigor and patience. The total amount of time from the initial idea to the publication was four years. The four year time period consisted of maturing the idea, traveling to the other side of the planet to capture the photographs and developing the story, maturing the material, soliciting the right publisher to represent my ideas appropriately, and finally working with the publisher to create the book. Two of those years were dedicated to writing the book. The total time spent under water was approximately two months. A lot of research when into selecting the right publisher for the kind of book I had in mind. I solicited the publisher, spent some time negotiating the production process and the schedule for publication. Once the publication process began, I maintained frequent communication to ensure that the publishing schedule and my high standards for quality were being met.
What was the worst part about being a novice author?
The process of writing and publishing a book, as a novice author, was filled with challenges in all phases of the project. One of the more difficult challenges was the handoff of the manuscript to the publisher. It’s easy to constantly second guess oneself as to whether or not the book was complete and ready for publication.

The publication process was perhaps the most challenging, frustrating and difficult part of the entire process. My lessons learned include ensuring that the contract protects the writer. In many cases, publishing contracts only favor and protect the publisher. Another lesson learned is to stay in constant communication with the publisher so the schedule remains on track. If a deadline is missed, the author must communicate with the publisher right away.

Now that the book is published, an interesting challenge is the business aspect of managing all available sales channels. There are many options available today such as website, direct book sale, book signings, and in-store sales. Managing them and maximizing opportunities require business savvy and entrepreneurship.

What was the best part about being a novice author?
First, the research involved in developing the book; the travels to remote locations; the continued exploration of the underwater world. Second, having a book in publication after years of hard work; seeing how the book and the photographs inspire and excite adults and children. And then of course meeting people with similar interests at book signings and lectures and sharing my experiences.
What is the question most often asked by audiences, for example at bookstore signings?
The most frequently asked question is “What inspired me to write the book.” I always try to convey my passion and excitement for diving and underwater photography. I also encourage people to develop a passion for the underwater environment and diving by sharing my experiences and expertise in taking great photographs and then developing a story around them that motivates people to try it for themselves.
What will your next book be about?
This experience has inspired me to explore other oceans in the world and perhaps tell a story in the context of a children’s book.

Contact Maria Di Paolo-Greer via email.

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