Finding personality under the sea

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Grant Stirton photographed marine life in the Andaman Sea near Thailand

His black-and-white images mimic the "eerie" water he sees when he shoots at dusk

CNN  — 

A quick Internet search of the Similan Islands in Thailand will yield a beach lover’s paradise – azure blue waters, lush greenery and pink speckled coral reefs.

But for one photographer, color takes a back seat to something totally unexpected: personality.

“I decided I wanted (my photos) to be black and white before I shot them,” photographer Grant Stirton said. “With black and white, I believe there’s a stripped-down, elemental aspect to it.”

Stirton explained that the monochromatic photos mimic the “eerie” quality of the water when he shot his photos at dusk.

“It gets kind of dark and scary, but it’s cool because all the animals wake up,” he said.

Stirton quit his career as an investment banker in Toronto to become a dive guide in Thailand. But his job was merely a mechanism to explore his true passion: photography under the deep blue sea.

Photographer Grant Stirton

And we’re talking really deep.

Anywhere from 50 to 100 feet under the surface of the Andaman Sea, you could find Stirton “hanging out” with a manta ray, his 20-pound camera in tow.

But it’s not always a manta ray. Sometimes it’s a pair of lionfish, a school of fusiliers, or a lone sea turtle.

“People don’t understand that even an octopus has a personality,” Stirton said.

Personality is perhaps most evident in the first photo from the gallery above. Oscar, an endangered green sea turtle, appears curious and friendly as he swims near the surface of the water.

Oscar was a frequent visitor near the dock where Stirton’s tour company stored their boat at night. Addicted to food given out by tourists, “this turtle would show up every single time,” Stirton recalled.

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    As the last bit of light clung to the end of a long day of diving, Stirton hopped in the water to give Oscar a friendly hello. With a swift flash of the camera, a crystal-clear portrait of Oscar was born.

    “It was a magical thing,” Stirton said.

    For Stirton, what started as just a way to capture his adventures to “show mom and dad” turned into something much more.

    “It’s a passion, like anything, when you find something that you love,” he said.

    But it didn’t come easy. He practiced a lot.

    “I did a thousand dives before I even picked up the camera,” he said.

    After hundreds of photos, Stirton said he now feels as though he is “one with the water.”

    Grant Stirton is a Canadian photographer and a member of Visura. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.