Featured Artist: Cynthia Hankins
From Architecture to Underwater Photography
By Cynthia Hankins
It all in started in 1997...
Spinner Dolphins dance in the sunrays
...because Kim was getting married. My friend thought it would be great if the whole wedding party could do some diving while in Florida for the wedding and suggested we get certified before we got there. Soon I found myself in an Open Water class at the Breakwater in Monterey, California. The first minutes were really spooky as we descended into the cold, cloudy, green water and it wasn’t until I could see the bottom that I relaxed. Suddenly I was fascinated by watching the sea grass and tubeworms swaying in the surge. There was life and color down here, and I was hooked.
Baby Green Sea Turtle
Divers showered by bubbles from the San Francisco Maru during a decompression stop
I soon found friends who were really into diving, dive travel, and underwater photography. They would dive with their cameras and I would be the spotter. Eventually I borrowed a Motor Marine II and tried my hand at capturing some of the fascinating creatures I was encountering. I had never been a topside photographer, and underwater I developed a hatred for film! So I set my sights on one of those new digital cameras and purchased a Canon G2 with an Ikelite housing. Soon I was learning new techniques and refining my methods, instant gratification was my new friend and my shots improved with each dive. I had a full time job with a commercial architectural firm and spent all of my vacation time on scuba travel trips all around the Caribbean.
Giant Trevally escorts a Tiger Shark
After every trip I was really frustrated about going back to my office to await the next vacation to dive warm, clear water and explore and discover new creatures. Finally after a trip to Palau and Truk Lagoon, I wrote my resignation letter and started packing. I’d made a plan; I’d take a year off and move to Kona, Hawaii, where I could be in the water and dive full time and see how much I could improve my photography. That was six years ago. I love living here and though I’ve done thousands of dives here, I’m still finding new species that I’ve never encountered or combinations of species interacting or behaviors I’ve never witnessed. As I improved my photographic skills, I began to sell prints to the dive charter guests at the dive shop where I was working. Eventually I created a website and wanted to see how far I could take this. I began doing a once a month craft/artist fair in downtown Kona as “marketing research." I knew how people I’d been diving with would respond to my images, but what about the rest of the world? I stood on the street and began to meet people and tell them the story behind the image. I found that even if people hadn’t seen the particular critter in the image, they’d respond to the story and frequently buy the photo. Now I’m a regular on the art show circuit and can be found all around the island.
A newborn Humpback Whale rides on its mother's back
Hawaiian Day Octopus takes flight
A male and two female endemic Longfin Anthias
Two jacks explode through a school of Big Eyed Scad, known in Hawaii as Akule
A 40' Whale Shark departs
A Manta Ray glides past two Spotted Eagle Rays
When I was getting started, everyone told me it’s really difficult to make a living this way and that a lack of marketing is the usual cause for talented photographers’ failing. It truly is the case. I’m constantly trying to find new markets and new images to produce.
My camera choice has always been Canon. My current set up is a Canon 7d with an Ikelite housing and dual DS160 strobes, and my favorite lens is a Canon 10-22mm.
Cynthia's underwater images can be found on her website at http://www.cynthiahankins.com/