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Darren Jew on dancing with whales in Tonga

Underwater photographer, Darren Jew has spent the last 30 years capturing and sharing the marine environments of the world. From a young age, he wanted to do exactly what he is doing now.

Of all the things I've photographed in my life, I enjoy photographing the ocean the most. It's my love. It's my passion. The creatures within it, the way the light falls in the sea. To be able to capture that and to show people what can be achieved with photography under the water is one of the things I really love to do.

Every time I get in the water, I just remember how lucky I am. Every swim with a whale is different and I'm still in awe of their power, and their grace, and their acceptance of me when I'm in the water and what they offer up in terms of photographic opportunity.

I've been in the water with people that have seen whales for the first time and their mask has been filling up with tears and it's such a powerful experience.

On shooting his most incredible image

The best encounters with whales are the ones where they're interested and curious about the swimmers in the water and they'll come right up, look you in the eye, and that's quite a profound moment when a whale looks you in the eye. It's like no other feeling that I've ever had before.

If you picture in your mind what a Pacific paradise would be, Tonga is it. The water there can be crystal-clear with visibility like I've never seen in the ocean anywhere else. The thing about the sea is that it's usually pretty silent. So to have the sea full of whale song is like nothing else. There's no other experience that I can think of that's like it. It vibrates through your body. Literally, you can feel the sound. It's probably one of the most poignant experiences you can have in the ocean.

This is the first season for me shooting with 1DX Mark II in Tonga and that has been a fantastic experience. This camera is so responsive. It's great in low light. I used to just watch pictures disappear in front of me within the dark, but now I can photograph in what seems like total darkness and still produce images that couldn't have been seen before, such as this one.

waited decades to capture these magnificent images. I had images of six and seven whales visible at once, but on this occasion everything came together – the weather, the light, the location, the water clarity, and free-diving superstar Ai Futaki joining in the pod of whales. We could not hesitate with this shot, and I immediately knew I had captured something very special.

On sharing his images and stories

When I exhibit, I'm trying to show images of the moments that are most important to me, the ones that touched me, the ones that I feel the most descriptive of the experience that I have when I'm under the sea. Being able to share intimate moments with these animals is a real privilege.

Imagine swimming from the boat over bottomless sea, shafts of light dancing through the water, and then the lip of a cave which opens up into a huge cabin the size of a cathedral. It's like another world and it's a sort of place that you can photograph for hours and hours as the light transitions. Time just disappears. You're just in there, you're photographing, everything's changing before you and you just don't want to leave.

Every photographer wants their work in a book and short-run books are no longer a compromising quality thanks to the DreamLabo. It's an amazing print device, as good as any large-format printer, so the vision of the original photographs can be delivered on the printing page. After 27 years shooting Canon, it's an integral part of my photography in the point at which I am with my career. So, that journey now is just getting better and better.

On shooting with Canon

I've been shooting with Canon since 1986. The thing about camera equipment is how I need my hands to fall in the right place and I need to know that my gear is going to be reliable, and I've never had a reason to use anything but Canon.

So I'm putting so much effort into the capture of my images, using the best gear I can. It's important then to transition that into final print. I feel that a photograph isn't really complete until it's been printed. It is the final expression of what my vision was when I took the picture. Every time a print comes off the machine, it makes me so happy.

On making photography his life

I can't imagine the time where I would stop doing this. As long as I'm fit and able to be in the water, keeping up with whales, I will be. I can't see any reason why you would want to stop.

If you've got a passion for photography, there's no reason why you can't make it your life. It's a fulfilling career. It gives you so much. You just need dedication and you need persistence. Even after 30 years of seeing these amazing creatures in the ocean, sometimes I still have to remember to take pictures because I'm too busy being in awe of what's going on in front of me.