Carlos Eyles: Freediving Photographer

By Tanny Peluso

I met Carlos Eyles about four years ago at a local camera shop; I was selling equipment and he was buying. The resulting business deal led to a lasting friendship. At the time I was most familiar with Carlos' epic account of spearfishing, The Last of the Blue Water Hunters. After meeting Carlos, I discovered his other books; Dolphin Borne, Diving Free, Sea Stalking and Secret Seas; a collection of whimsical, vaguely autobiographical short stories. Sea Shadows features stunning black and white underwater photographs; all taken while freediving. After a brief look, it was easy to see that Carlos' success as an underwater photographer resulted from his uncanny ability to interact with marine life. During a recent conversation, he revealed a few secrets.

Carlos began to freedive in Hawaii at the age of six and started spearfishing as a teenager. His freediving skills quickly made him a successful hunter. Carlos stopped spearfishing in 1987 after contracting ciguatera (toxic fish poisoning) in Fiji; the incident left him severely allergic to all seafood.

Today Carlos is a photographer and writer. When asked if he thought his skills as a hunter and a freediver helped with photography, Carlos replied, 'Enormously! I learned the behavioral characteristics of fish and mammals by stalking fish. They [the creatures] taught me more about the ocean than I ever could have learned doing anything else. At an early age I learned the ocean world reacts to two things; sound and movement. If I can dive beneath the sea without making a sound and with [minimal movement] then I become virtually invisible.'

When I asked Carlos why he felt freediving was more advantageous for photography then scuba, he explained, 'I take great pleasure in photographing large marine animals; dolphins, whales, sea lions, Manta Rays and seals. As a free diver I can swim with these animals, dive down to their depths and enter their world on an intimate level. The technology of scuba, that is the bubbles and the noise, separates and creates distance with the creatures of this quiet world.'

When choosing equipment, Carlos stressed the importance of streamlined gear and proper weighting. Carlos shoots with a housed camera and one strobe but admits, 'All that drag is a drag and makes for difficult diving.' He suggests that photographers only add gear to their system when their freediving skills and strength improve and they are entirely comfortable in the water.

When asked about technique, Carlos explained the importance of blending in. 'When you enter the U/W world from the surface, you want to make a quiet and smooth descent. Proper weighting is critical. You need enough to help you down but not so much that you will not level off mid-water, where you can glide and move with a minimum amount of kicking. To eliminate bubbles from the dive, pull the snorkel out of your mouth with each descent and replace it on the ascent prior to reaching the surface. Watch the creatures of the environment, see how they respond to your presence. They will be the best teachers, they will tell you, by noise or movement, if you appear threatening.'

On land, Carlos Eyles is one of the best teachers when it comes to freediving and photography. His books offer valuable insights into the art of both physical and mental stalking. They also delve into the mysteries of the sea and its connection to the humans that hear its song. Carlos offers a variety of seminars and classes throughout the year, including an annual visit with dolphins in The Bahamas. You can write to Carlos at P.O. Box 215, Cayucos, CA 93430.