Interview: Exploring the Ocean Depths with NatGeo Traveler Photo Contest Winner Anuar Patjane Floriuk

We recently announced the winners of the 2015 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. Now, we bring you an exclusive interview with photographer Anuar Patjane Floriuk, who took home the contest's grand prize for his breathtaking underwater shot of scuba divers swimming close to a humpback whale and her newborn calf.

Floriuk, who was born and lives in Mexico, captured the winning photo (below) while on a trip with friends to Roca Partida, a small island that's been ranked by divers as one of the most beautiful locales in Mexico. According to the photographer, the stunning shot wasn't planned, but was actually captured by chance when the whale swam towards the diving team of her own free will. Positioned only a few feet away, Floriuk documented the rare underwater meeting of assorted species.

In addition to the winning photo, Floriuk's other images from the Roca Partida expedition are just as marvelous to behold. Rendered mostly in black and white, the striking shots unveil the beauty of the ocean and its creatures, from whales to dolphins to sharks to fish. Illuminated in gentle sunlight filtered through rocking waves, the underwater world depicted through Floriuk's lens is both mysterious and lovely, flowing with life.

Scroll down to see the rest of the images, and to read more about the photographer's incredible experience and passion for his craft.

Whale Whisperers, Floriuk's winning shot.

What was your reaction when you found out you placed first in the 2015 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest?

When I woke up that Monday, turned on my smartphone, and saw the news, I thought something very weird was going on when my photo in black and white was there on the front page of the contest website. It was so exciting; I'm still very excited about it!

How do you think this NatGeo honor will change your life?

I don't think it will change the way I live. Right now, I'm doing what I love to do–traveling to faraway places to photograph them. But I do hope that this achievement will help me get into more crazy and unexpected adventures around the globe. Also, maybe now it will be easier for me to deliver a conservation message that, as an ocean lover, I'm always hoping to transmit: we are brutally overfishing in our oceans, and our attention should be concentrated on the way we fish as well as what we eat from the ocean. We see and care when a forest is gone because it is visible to everybody, but we don't see when we destroy life underwater, we don't see how nets from the tuna and shrimp industries cause damage to the sea. We are not familiar with this environment, and this needs to change very quickly so we can reverse this course.

Can you tell us more about your underwater experience near Roca Partida? What was it like swimming with creatures like whales, sharks, and dolphins?

Roca Partida is a beautiful place; it is too beautiful to believe, sometimes. Can you imagine dolphins, whales, and scuba divers interacting all at the same time? If you are lucky, you can see this rare sight every two or three years. It is one of the most beautiful experiences I've ever had, being welcomed to this “mammal party.”

I have seen comments like, “Oh, poor whales been chased by scuba divers, please give them some space.” I think that these kinds of comments aren't that accurate. The mother whale was comfortable, curious, and she and her calf actually slept at night next to our boat. She felt protected around us and the dolphins. There is a good reason for this: the more of us there are, the less likely an orca attack will happen. Orcas love whale calves, so we suspect that this is why she let us get so close to her and her calf.

All of your photos are stunning, but they really shine in black and white. What's behind your decision to shoot primarily in black and white?

When I photograph and my state of mind is on “photo mode,” I mostly see forms, lines, composition, and light, but color escapes from me most of the time. I like the purity of black and white; I find that in most cases, color won't add to the image, but will only distract the viewer. In my opinion, color should be used only when it adds to a composition.

Why do you photograph?

It is an urge, a necessity that I do not fully understand, It is a pulsation that surfaces from my subconscious. I photograph because I have to do it.

Anuar Patjane Floriuk: Website

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Anuar Patjane Floriuk.

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