Abstract images of the underwater world are transformed into statement artworks.
The magic and the mysteries of marine life in the Cayman Islands have been captured by photographers millions of times.
Now these images are being enhanced with software to produce striking modern art.
The pictures – the work of photographers Tom Williamson and Luxi Zhou – leap at the viewer in turquoise, yellow and bits of red or purple, with details magnified to become, in many cases, abstract art.
The unique pieces include a rainbow-hued juvenile queen triggerfish and lettuce sea slugs nearly indistinguishable from the pattern they form.
To begin this creative process, the couple relies mainly on a camera with a macro lens – and a certain measure of patience.
“We sit around (underwater) for a lot of the smaller things that most divers might not notice,” says Tom. “Sometimes we get one or two photos; other dives we get a lot to choose from.”
After the dive, they use Adobe Lightroom software to process the photos.
“That’s where we get creative, manipulating the photo editing tools to the extreme so we get some really interesting effects,” says Tom. “Every photo is different, so we have to edit many before settling on something that looks great.”
The art he and Luxi create came about rather by accident.
“We were editing some underwater photos after a dive and decided to have fun with the settings in Adobe Lightroom,” says Tom. “It was the squid image, which was very dark originally but came out bright and cheerful. The result wasn’t like anything we had seen before, more like modern art than typical underwater photography.
“It’s a blend of reality and artistic expression. We loved the way it looked and decided to build a portfolio.”
Rather than simply documenting what they see underwater, Tom says they look out for creatures, patterns and textures.
“(This includes) anything that may have an aesthetic that would lend itself well to turning into a decorative artwork,” he says.
In addition to enjoying their craft, Tom and Luxi share their enthusiasm for it.
“We always tell people that everything we’ve captured so far is from shallow water and observable via snorkelling,” Tom explains. “Some may think that seeing these amazing creatures is only the privilege of divers.
“We want people to know that they may be surprised if they just get into water, in any form, thanks to the crystal-clear water of the Cayman seas.”
The couple’s interest in photography started at different times, but led to a mutual interest, combined with diving.
Tom, who works at Picture This Studios, had been engaged in video production and motion-graphics long before he got into basic photography.
He was living in Leeds in the UK when he started photographing public events as a way of practising the craft.
Luxi, who was living in China, says she taught herself the basic techniques in university and began editing photos for families and friends, just doing some simple things like increasing the contrast or cropping the image. Later, she learnt a lot from Tom.
As for diving, Luxi tried it for the first time during a visit to Vietnam.
“I was a terrible swimmer, but the amazing marine life took my fear away,” she recalls. “When I decided to move to Cayman, I started attending swimming classes in Leeds and that’s where I met Tom.”
Luxi, an accounting manager at PwC, became scuba certified immediately after arriving in Cayman. “I’m still a terrible swimmer but luckily a good diver,” she says.
Tom was a little nervous about learning to dive since he has a history of asthma. “I’d mostly grown out of it, so I was still keen to try diving,” he says. “Now we dive together most weekends and I have no trouble with asthma at all, so no regrets.”
An added incentive, before he moved to Cayman, Luxi showed him the [underwater] photos she took. “As a photographer, I was itching to try it myself,” he says.
Both Tom and Luxi, who have set up the photo-art company Cayman Chromatics, are thrilled about living in the Cayman Islands, not only for diving, but also for the overall proximity to nature.
“Seeing the sunset and colours in the sky change rapidly, followed by the stars lighting up; it’s my passion,” says Tom.