Kohei Ueno is an international award winning photographer from Japan, specialising in freediving and underwater photography. His obsession for the ocean started at an early age of 12 when he got his first open water scuba certificate, but it was not until the age of 30 when he discovered the sport of freediving which completely transformed the way he saw the ocean.
He continues to spread the beauty of the ocean and the intricacy of this sport as a freedive instructor, freedive photographer and athlete, while sharing his crafts through workshops and expeditions, inspiring more people to get in and start exploring, not only deep into the ocean, but deep within themselves.
Winning image in Beauty Photography category, shot by Kohei Ueno
Production Paradise: Tell us about the winning image – the idea behind it, how was it shot?
Kohei Ueno: This is a shot of an American Freediver at the 2022 Caribbean Cup Freedive Competition, where he was diving to a depth of 80m on a single breath of air. The idea behind the image was to capture a silhouette of him diving along the line using the spectators as background and whatever else that was floating at the surface on top. This shot is achieved by diving down to about 15 meters in advance, just before the athlete began his dive, in order to stand by with the right composition, and wait for the right moment.
Production Paradise: How do you feel about winning the Category Prize of Spotlight Awards 2022?
Kohei Ueno: It is an honour to win the Sports Category with this image of a freediver, as I am a passionate freediver myself and it is my mission to share the wonders of this sport to as many people as I can. Winning this award means a lot to me, as freediving is a sport that I believe deserves more attention, and freedive photographers like myself have lots of great advantages over typical underwater photographers that I wish more people could see and value.
Production Paradise: What makes your photographic style stand out?
Kohei Ueno: I believe that my style of photography stands out because I possess the technical skills to dive and shoot comfortably without having to use oxygen tanks, which gives me greater flexibility and mobility to get into positions faster, and find compositions that I believe most traditional underwater photographers may not be so comfortable with. I also believe that I have my own taste for spatial awareness, a style that values space, which is often reflected in my work.
Production Paradise: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Kohei Ueno: I often draw my inspirations from being present in the moment and finding ways to express that vision or emotion in the form of photography.
Production Paradise: How did you end up behind the lens? Tell us about your career path.
Kohei Ueno: My obsession for the ocean started at an early age of 12 when I got my first open water scuba certificate, but it was not until the age of 30 when I discovered the sport of freediving which completely transformed the way I saw the ocean. I picked up my first camera in 2014 when quitting my job at Google to travel the world, capturing images along the way that won me my first photography competition. This helped me obtain my first ever underwater housing as well as a trip to Tonga to swim with whales. I was already an avid freediver so it just made sense to take the camera underwater, and since then, I have won several photography awards, including IPA Sports Photographer of the Year in 2019, and Black and White Photo of the Year for Monovision 2021. Today I continue to spread the beauty of the ocean and the intricacy of this sport as a freedive instructor, freedive photographer and an athlete, sharing my crafts through workshops and expeditions, inspiring more people to get in and start exploring not only deep into the ocean but also deep within themselves.
Production Paradise: What do you think is necessary to become a successful commercial photographer?
Kohei Ueno: I think success means different to everyone but I believe that if I continue to pursue a craft that I truly enjoy and stay happy to continue polishing my own craft, then I am on the right track of being successful in living the life that pleases me. Being a successful commercial photographer on the other hand, will require a lot more consideration to what will please others, a specific client demand, so a balance of knowing what you are good at and have a passion for, versus knowing how to apply that skill to craft a successful product for your client.
Production Paradise: If you weren’t a photographer, what would be your alternate career path?
Kohei Ueno: If I wasn’t a photographer, I would probably be an architect or some kind of engineer, spending lots of time designing things that not only look good but function well from the inside. As much as I love the aesthetics, I love it when things are designed efficiently and effectively.
Production Paradise: We believe you are not resting on your laurels – what are you working on now?
Kohei Ueno: I am continuing to hone my skills underwater, both as a freediver and underwater photographer, while working more on shooting films and videos this time around to expand my horizon. Also I am currently on a road trip with my girlfriend, roaming around Australia living inside a van. This is something I have always wanted to do, and hopefully this will give me some new inspiration to come up with a personal project of my own.
Production Paradise: Spotlight Awards had a judges’ panel composed of potential clients for commercial photographers – did that influence your choice of image(s) selected for your entry?
Kohei Ueno: I submitted an image that does a good job of conveying the sport of freediving in both light, of danger and fear, and peace and calm. Not many people are aware of the irony of this extreme sport, where it may look crazy and adrenaline pumping from the outside, but in reality it could be the opposite, about lowering the heart rate to conserve the use of oxygen, and enjoying the feeling of calm and stillness.
Production Paradise: What made you want to participate in these Awards?
Kohei Ueno: As I wish to venture more into commercial photography and commissioned shoots, I believe this award is one of the best places to put my work in front of various panelists from all sectors of the industry. It is my first time participating in the spotlight awards, and I am looking forward to continuing doing so and making myself known in the industry.