Underwater photography: I didn’t envisage the reactions – Kureng

Twenty-eight-year-old Kureng Dapel went from being a welder, mechanic, bulldozer driver and theatre arts student to becoming Nigeria’s most talked about underwater photographer. He spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday about photographing at Yankari Games Reserve and his other exploits with the camera.
Underwater photography: I didn’t envisage the reactions – Kureng
Kureng Dapel

How did you become interested in taking photos?
My life as a photographer started with my father, Mr. Ronald Dapel, unfortunately he passed on before I found my feet in the industry. He was a photographer, so it’s natural to say he passed on those DNA traits to his son.
I discovered this beautiful gift in 2008 when I noticed an uncontrollable attraction to a device called a ‘camera.’ Luckily, my very first gear was handed over to me by Pastor Esther Ibanga. I volunteered in her multimedia organisation.
I was excited and eager and swung into action immediately. I began by exploring my immediate surroundings including my family members. I’d hounded them constantly and gladly they accepted to be my canvas. They wanted it printed or done with some graphics. I’d shoot anything and everything I could find. 
Then, I limited the power of what was in my hands, an eight megapixels Canon until I met Lawrence Olalekon. He was the window of opportunity I had. Where others had to pay a fortune to learn, he tutored me and laid that perfect foundation I’ve now built upon.

What did you do before going into photography?

It was really tough in the beginning. I didn’t think I had any talents or unique qualities that I could develop. I did all sorts of jobs including welding, being a mechanic and even driving a bulldozer. I got into the University of Jos and studied Theatre and Film Arts and now photography.

Underwater photography can be really expensive to get into and it’s rare, especially in this clime to run across photographers who go into shooting underwater. How did you start?

Humbly, my work gets a lot of attention. I’ve put so much personal work into building myself as a professional photographer.
Just because one is referred to by many as a ‘master of photography’ doesn’t mean it’s a title. Rather, to me, it’s a sense of responsibility. You’ve got to live up to people’s expectations. This means constant challenge.
 The underwater shoot sprung up as an idea from a group of people who sought to do more in our respective fields and be better at what we do. So team KJV comprising of Jaru (Makeup/Stylist), Vera (Model), and myself decided to try it out.
Next was getting the perfect gear which I didn’t have. Fortunately, a friend and co-photographer, Ditomatic, had just acquired one. Then it was time to search for “the” perfect location.
It got better. Now this project wasn’t about showcasing our skills alone, instead we sought to tell a story while changing the perception of people living outside the northern parts of Nigeria.
Yankari Game Reserve sounded perfect. It has the warm spring called ‘Wikki Warm Spring.’ So we jetted off and the result is what you see.

Please share the experience?

It was the most difficult shoot I have done. We used the most basic of gadgets and improvised a lot. It was Vera’s idea that we did the underwater shoot even though she was the only one without goggles. The shoot took hours because we kept coming out of the water to view the photos. We couldn’t do that in the water. Sometimes there would be so much water in the camera, we’d have to come out and let it dry. Even Vera’s costume was curtain we borrowed from the Yankari staff and Jaru did her magic and turned it into that outfit. There was a lot of improvising but we got great results. 

What was your first underwater photography setup?
This is my very first under water shoot.
Aperture or shutter priority, what are your base or default settings on your camera when you get in the water?

Not just for an underwater shoot, my default settings are always on manual mode. Then I set my ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
For the underwater shoot, of course I used the manual, setting my ISO on AUTO, since I was underwater plus the weather went from sunny to cloudy within moments.
With a lot of movement, my shutter speed was set on 250 to 300 so that I wouldn’t have blurred images. Aperture on wide and lens on F10. It’s very important you use a wide angle lens staying very close to your subject

What gear do you use now and is there any gear you have your eye on that you haven’t pulled the trigger on yet?

Basically, I use a canon camera with a 50MM sigma 1.4 and a 35MM at 1.4. I always tell people it’s not about the camera but the person behind the camera, the best camera is the one that you have.
I’m pleasantly surprised by how people are amazed with my photos. They find it hard to believe it’s achieved with the barest and most minimal effort. The secret lies in improvisation. With that, you can achieve anything.

When did you realize that this was something you wanted to do in a professional capacity?

An opportunity presented its self in 2009 when a relative had just opened a makeup studio and needed some professional shots with models, and that was it. I took on the challenge, rented an extra camera and got my first pay cheque. 

How much was it? 
I don’t quite remember. But the first photograph I sold was for N50 even though it cost me N200 to produce it. I wanted to give the client quality. 

You shoot almost exclusively colour for your professional portfolio, why is that? Are you ever tempted to keep a photo in black and white instead?

Everyone has a style of photography they like to focus on. For me it depends on the object being shot. Besides, the world wasn’t created in black and white, look around. It’s an amazing canvas with lots of colours.
That doesn’t mean I don’t shoot black and white photos. They say the simplest of things are the most complicated. These styles of photos look plain but carry so much emotions and information.
Ultimately, black and white to me defines what photography is all about, which is painting with light, exactly what black and white does. Metaphorically, it says no to racism because thinking about it, it doesn’t show the colour, what you see is a wonderful picture.

What does your post-processing routine look like?

I love to work with loud music, the picture, light room and my beloved Photoshop.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From God and nature. I learn balance from nature, especially with composition. The elements which make my compositions believable lie in that co-relationship between man and nature.

What does your typical workday look like?
 Does work ever cease? Most times it’s buzzing from sun up till sun down. Editing takes the most of my work hours because I spend a lot of time on one picture especially when retouching. Photoshop compositions take more time though, which involves creating the environment and giving that surreal look.
Yes, if I’m asked to summarize my achievements my goals, four words – ‘Jos to the world.’
I would want to take photography to the next level, to be known and recognized internationally. Ultimately, I’d want to go as far as possible and be in a place where my work inspires others to be creative.
For me it’s all about the mindset not about owning the most expensive gears. Block by block builds a mansion right? We’ve got to learn to be content with our current situations while working on the bigger picture.

Any projects in the works, or specific goals for your photographic career?
I’m developing a series which involves tourism exploration in Nigeria. The underwater shoot is a start and we’re hoping to do more with other discovered and undiscovered locations.

Where are your favourite photography locations?
Nigeria is an amazing place besides all that the media paints. I can’t say anyone particular place because everywhere I have been has offered something beautiful and different from the previous location.