Ralph Pace didn’t plan on becoming a photographer. While pursuing a master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, he started using a camera passed along by his brother to document his time in the field. As he worked, he continued making photos to show his family the incredible things he was seeing underwater and started telling stories that were important to him.
Pace has been a photographer for about four years and sees photography as a tool to share a message about issues such as climate change and to help “translate” more complicated scientific matters to others.
“Unfortunately, our planet is changing pretty fast,” Pace said. “The people that are trying to figure out how it’s happening are some of our heroes but are super underfunded, and their voice isn’t always heard.”
In Monterey, Calif., Pace continues to work closely with scientists. He spends his winter months in Maui documenting humpback whales with Whale Trust.
By spending time with marine animals, Pace has learned how best to cover them. His favorite animal to photograph is a swordfish. They are elusive, smart and “known as the king of the ocean,” Pace said. He also likes being in the water with whales, because they are curious and take notice of divers. They are friendly creatures. If an animal is swimming away, Pace said there is no point in chasing it. He treats his animal subjects with compassion to create intimate, empathetic pictures.
Photographing underwater presents challenges that are different from those people face on land. In addition to limited time and the density of water, Pace is also working next to animals that are adapted to thrive in their environment. They are stealthy, fast and can be dangerous. Although it’s a completely different world, Pace said he has learned to work better underwater than on land.
“One of those things that you get enough success to live with it but enough failure to keep coming back,” Pace said.
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